Refuge programme offers steps to freedom


ONE of the first things each person is asked to do when they enter Invercargill Women’s Refuge is draw themselves as a tree.

Ten weeks later, at the end of the educational programme, they are asked to do it again.

While it initially may seem like an odd suggestion, once the women compare their drawings, the exercise makes total sense.

Trees which were once just lines, half trunks with broken branches and leaves weeping off them, end up blossoming into strong, tall structures with birds living among their foliage and beams of sunlight surrounding them.

Invercargill Women’s Refuge services co-ordinator Cathy Robertson said seeing the “incredible” difference between the two pictures each time was a testament to how powerful the Steps to Freedom programme was.

“Watching people grow and find themselves again after going through so much is just amazing.

“Women lose sight of who they are when they have experienced abuse.

“When they have the support, they start to have fun and laugh with their kids again.”

With the Zonta Says No to Violence Against Women annual campaign launched in Invercargill this week, as well as internationally, it was the perfect time to reiterate Women’s Refuge’s main message, Mrs Robertson said.

“There is help and support out there. It’s hard for people to accept it [the situation they are in] but picking up the phone and making that first phone call is often the first step.”

It was 1984 when the Invercargill-based Women’s Refuge was first established.

Since then, thousands of women had come through its doors through self-referrals, hospital and doctors’ referrals, as well as friends and whanau recommendations.

With room to accommodate up to six families, people were welcome to stay there as long as they needed to, without being hindered by a six-session-limit counselling service, she said.

“We make sure they have a whole safety net around them and then look for housing in the community [when they are ready].”

However, there were also many local women who, if it was safe to, remained in their own homes while receiving support from the refuge a solution which can be beneficial to families by maintaining their routine, rather than having to uplift their lives entirely.

A minimum of three educational programmes were held at the refuge each year, all of which aimed to cater to every woman what their age, background or learning ability was.

As well as these 10-week programmes, the refuge held sessions for children and offered relationship counselling for a family to work through together.

“We see a lot of generations of a family come through… the relationship around you are role models so people mimic the behaviour they’ve seen [because they don’t know any different].

“Eventually they start to step out of that cycle and start a new life.”

Throughout the several decades Mrs Robertson had been with the refuge, she had seen too many success stories to count.

“We’ve had so much positive feedback… our work is all about keeping families safe and supporting them to get back on their feet again.”url clone30 Teddy Bear Coat Outfits to Brave the Cold in Style