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Late in 2013 I met with the CEO of the Waikato Women’s Refuge to explore how I could assist and connect them with securing additional funding from the private sector. Never one to go into anything lightly, I asked to be taken to the safe house to establish a more informed view of the women who sought out the services of Refuge. It would be fair to say that this visit became one of those ‘defining moments’. I was introduced to a world that I had no real understanding of, save the images created by the media. It was a world where young Maori mothers, many not much more than children themselves, were deeply immersed in a lifestyle of violence and crime. It had become their normal, and it would become their children’s normal too unless there was some radical intervention.

There was no turning back. I was no longer on the side-line, my visit had plunged me to the forefront of what has become a huge social challenge in New Zealand. It was an opportunity to break a destructive pattern and redefine normal for group of socially disadvantaged young women.

And so I began….

I examined the pain points that drove these recurring patterns of anti-social behavior and I witnessed firsthand the hopelessness of the situation for these women. They knew of no other way of life, many had been born into this legacy and had dropped out of school before they could acquire any formal qualifications. Their options were limited from the get go and integration into mainstream living was as foreign to them as moving to another country. I was determined to apply new thinking to create choice and a way forward for women trapped in this cycle but who were ready to find a way out. It was the start of RAW – Reclaim Another Woman (raw.org.nz)

Real Change requires Real Change

In the ensuing two years we experienced our fair share of success and failure, and learnt what it takes to achieve progress. For example; unless a woman is completely removed from her disruptive environment there is very little likelihood of sustained change occurring. All of her focus is on navigating and surviving the chaos that reigns in her life on a daily basis. To achieve the change required to become a contributing member of mainstream society – i.e. capable of caring for her family while generating a legal and adequate income – she must be granted three things:

  1. Total removal from her home environment
  2. Dedicated guidance and support
  3. Space and time to focus fully on herself 

RAW’s initial mentoring programme did not cater for this breadth of care. Despite having 40 women (from the original 90) in fully functioning mentor/mentee relationships with mentees in education and or in employment, we knew we hadn’t gone deep enough to achieve sustained change, so RAW entered the

women’sprison.  This environment gave us the opportunity to begin working with women while they were in a safe, calm, disciplined and secure space. Often this was in dramatic contrast to their life on the outside.

raw ambition reclaim another woman annah stretton2From Incarceration to Incubation

RAW’s next move became obvious; to provide a place and space for this journey to continue on the outside. In March 2015 we opened our first Incubation House in the Waikato – far removed from any background noise from their old environments that had the potential to disrupt progress. Today we have two incubators operating with 4 women in each. All of the women are in study or employment, and are making excellent life choices on a daily basis. The model is working!

What’s next?

Integrating these young women back into mainstream society will require an ongoing stream of acceptance and support from the community (not just the Government). Our goal is to grow the number of incubator houses in operation up to 15 by the end of next year and have over 50 women in study and/or employment. The reality is we need help to make that happen.

The Integration Investment

  • Each incubation house takes $20,000 to run per annum
  • Each woman on the programme requires $5000 pa funding to cover basic living expenses
  • Each house relies on the community’s support to furnish

Many hands make light work

If you are in a position to hold fundraisers, to donate goods and services and/or to directly contribute to the collective funding pool required to support the RAW incubator model please contact us.

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