A short documentary about the life of NZ poet Alistair…
Since 2012 I have been volunteering with Wellington Women’s Refuge. At first I volunteered on the 24 hour crisis-line, which meant four shifts a month taking calls from women wanting support with domestic violence as well as going and picking up women from hospitals, the police station and various other locations and taking them to the safe house. Since I grew a little weary of getting up at all hours of the night, for the last year I have been on the board of Wellington Women’s Refuge instead.
I have found working with Refuge a profoundly life-changing experience. The 8 week training that I took opening my eyes to a whole lot of injustices as well as helping me develop as a card-carrying feminist. Learning about the power struggles in relationships helped me to understand systematic violence against women and I have viewed the world through this lens ever since.
Through this work I have met some of the most caring, hardworking and heroic women I have encountered in my life. The women who work and volunteer for refuge have honed the skill of non-judgemental support. This warmth can be felt upon entering the office and carries over into all the work that they do.
I want to say that working with clients gives me the same warm fuzzies, but it’s more complicated than that. Meeting a women on one of the worst days of her life is never going to be the kodak moment you imagine. Women in domestic violence situations are scared, find it hard to trust, feel ashamed. They carry emotional wounds alongside the physical ones they may carry. Many of these women have poor mental health as a result of their experiences. Many have young children they are worried about. Suffice it to say that all of these things are weighing on their mind and how the refuge worker they encounter is feeling about them may not always be an important factor. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are wonderful, warm and kind. However some women are defensive to the point of rudeness. Others are survivors that are out to improve an awful situation, even if it means taking advantage of the organisation trying to help them.
This work gives you a thick skin. There is a reason there is a high turnover of staff and volunteers at women’s refuges the world over. The work is emotionally demanding and workers are not compensated enough for how exhausting it is. Wellington Women’s Refuge receives around half of the funding it needs, so relies on donations for the rest. Our annual street appeal is very important. It’s the chance for this often invisible organisation to raise both their profile and some funds. This July, for our appeal week, I offered to make some videos for Wellington Women’s Refuge and her sister refuge Te Whare Rokiroki Maori Women’s Refuge. I did this for free knowing that the organisations wouldn’t be able to afford to pay. Elodie Berthe, another board member and I interviewed a bunch of people involved with the organisation, including staff members, volunteers, a former client and an annual appeal collector. We posted the videos on Facebook and almost all of them received over a thousand views! Below are the videos we posted.
The give-a-little page for Wellington Women’s Refuge is up year round. You can make a donation here: