Aharei’s story

A mum to two children by the age of 17, Aharei had a very unhappy childhood. She spent most of her early years in foster care with relatives, where she was sexually abused. Today, with the help of the Iosis Whānau Centre, she has transformed her life for her two tamariki. 

“My childhood was all about survival – I had two younger siblings who needed care and I stole and did lots of things I’m not happy about to feed and clothe them,” she explains. On top of being the main caregiver, she was sexually abused and left home when she was 12 years old. She lived with her father for a while, but, sadly, things went from bad to worse as he was an alcoholic. 

She returned to the streets for the next three years, eventually meeting the father of her first child. “When I found out I was pregnant I suddenly had a sense of purpose and something to live for. Up until then, I had often felt suicidal and an incredible sense of hopelessness. I had been self-harming and using drugs because I didn’t care.”

Aharei knew that this was her time to change. She sought help from the Auckland City Mission and was put into interim housing. However, she didn’t feel safe there. “There were a lot of people using (drugs), a lot of violence and I knew I needed to get out of there’,” she says. 

With nowhere else to go, she returned to live with her father and had her baby, Aroha. However, it wasn’t long before the violence started up and she had to leave again. She sought shelter at a gas station with her baby for a while and then went to live with extended family. 

Making the choice to change

“During this time, I was very up and down. I didn’t have the support I needed to be a mother. I had problems managing my anger as deep down I was so upset,” she says. Eventually, Oranga Tamariki became involved. “They gave me the choice of giving up my child or entering the Iosis Whānau Centre. 

It wasn’t a difficult choice to make,” she says. She arrived at the Whānau Centre with just the clothes on her back and her child.

Aharei says she felt numb for the first three months. “I was in a bad way and at first I didn’t engage with any of the programmes.” While living at the Centre, Aharei discovered she was pregnant with her second child. “It was then that I stopped self-harming and started to realise that this might be a chance to make some changes.”

Gradually, she started to engage with the programmes and counsellors. “For the first time in my life, I realised I was surrounded by people who didn’t put me down, criticise or judge me.
I was surrounded by people who wanted to help me. I started to talk about things that I had kept hidden for my whole life.”

Aharei has completed the programmes at the Centre and will be graduating soon. “It hasn’t been easy having to face leaving Iosis – the girls and I have been so happy here. I’m surrounded by love and support and finally feel like I have the mothers I never had,” says Aharei. 

Ready to be a better parent

At 17 years old, Aharei will soon leave and start her journey as a single parent. She knows she can do it on her own with the new skills she has learnt. “I am happier than I ever have been. I am a totally different parent now and I feel more at peace – I didn’t know it was possible.”

“The people at the Iosis Whānau Centre have shown me how to be strong and I am determined to break the cycle of neglect and abuse I experienced as a child and to provide something different for my beautiful girls,” she shares. “This is a happy place … there is lots of laughter here.”

Aharei knows there are so many young women out there who have had a similar start in life to hers. “I hope they can find the help I did. There are wonderful people out there like the Iosis team who don’t judge; they just want the best for you.”

Aharei has dreams for her two girls which she now knows are possible. “I want a healthy, happy, and secure house for them. I want them to know that they can always come and talk to me whenever they need to. I never want them to feel trapped, hopeless, and isolated like I did – that is my purpose now.”