The year was 2003. Four sisters were ‘brought’ to New Zealand for a ‘better’ future. Imagine those four young girls. Imagine that they were separated from their mother. Imagine they came to New Zealand with their father who they hardly knew. Imagine that the oldest one among them was 16 years old. Imagine that the first thing they remember about New Zealand was getting slapped by their father.
Imagine that they were terrified. Imagine that from September 2003 to November 2003 they were constantly abused. Imagine that they were slapped for no reason, hit for no reason, slaved at their own house for no reason, told that they were not good, forced to eat what they did not want to, forced to not make any friends. Imagine all this.
Imagine that they had no understanding of the world outside their home but they still gathered enough courage to break-free from the violence. Imagine that they were brave and resolved to get help from their school.
I want you to imagine that they ran away from the house in two months of getting here. Imagine that they got in touch with CYFs. Imagine that they were in a motel unsure of the future. Imagine that they were constantly opposed in their decision to leave the abusive household. Imagine that despite of all their fears and anxiety of not facing their father again they were told by the adults that the situation can be mediated by having a ‘meeting’ with their father. Imagine that they were sitting in a room which was grey or that is what they remember it as and their father was sitting across from them. Imagine that he was openly threatening them in their own language right in front of the person who was the mediator. Imagine that they were terrified but had to go back with him because the adults thought that was the best plan of action.
Imagine that they got back home and the whole cycle of abuse continued. Imagine that instead of asking the young people if they are safe, the CYFs asked the father about the progress at home. Imagine that those four young girls had given up on the idea of safety. Imagine that one day their father comes home with a friend and one of the young sister is busy in cooking and forgets to greet him. Imagine he drags her by the hair into the living room and pushes her head into a bean bag suffocating her. Imagine the oldest one who is scared that he might kill his sister stands up to him. Imagine that she gets hit in return and then the cycle of abuse just continues.
Imagine they had lost all hope.
Imagine that they are all ready to die. Imagine that their future looks bleak because they are about to be sent back to Pakistan to get married and live there. Imagine that since the first time they ran away the father had been perplexed and his ego had been hurt. Imagine that since then he has been hatching a plan to get rid of them, to teach them a lesson. Imagine they were ready to be forced into underage marriage.
Imagine they are terrified and do not think that there is any hope left. Imagine that they hear about Shakti. Imagine that they pull all their courage together and put their trust in Shakti for the second time. Imagine that they are treated like adults and were not forced to sit with their father to reconcile. Imagine that they were not told they would go to foster homes as a bid to crush their spirits. Imagine they were immediately removed from their house and placed in a safe house. Imagine that they were protected against their father. Imagine that they were understood. Imagine that they were supported by getting a protection order against him. Imagine that they were supported in getting back into the community.
It is hard to imagine all this but this is what my sisters and I had gone through. If Shakti had not come to our rescue back then I would not be here telling my story. I would be married or perhaps dead. It would not have been the fate of one person but four people. I am not here to criticize the mainstream organisations but emphasizing the importance of having culturally appropriate services for migrants and refugees. My personal experience with a mainstream organisation which displayed a lack of cultural understanding had put all of us at risk.
I have been hearing about Shakti Wellington and that there is no need for it since there are other mainstream organisation which are doing the same “job”. I beg to question the understanding of these people who are thinking in such a way. We, the people of color, may have the same issues, but it is important to understand that a model based on Western understanding of family violence cannot be imposed on us. What you are doing by that is putting us at risk. What would it require before understanding that we need these culturally appropriate services? A forced marriage or a death?
I want you to imagine if there was no Shakti in 2004, four of us would have been either dead or forced into underage marriage.
Mehwish is a longstanding volunteer of Shakti whose ongoing commitment and contribution to our organisation is invaluable. She took on a significant role in writing and putting together the Break Free handbook – a guide by migrant/refugee youth, for migrant/refugee youth escaping violence; A project headed by the Shakti Youth Unit.
Mehwish has specialised in mental health, and works with at risk youth at university. She is currently also completing her Masters focusing on depression and suicide and improving accessibility to support services for those who need it.
Mehwish and her sisters run a website on depression, Your Fight Is Over to connect people who are struggling with invisible issues.