To be a Christchurch Auntie you have to be kind and you have to be non-’judgey’. Founder Heather Milne adds “and you have to be OK with us being a little bit sweary at times.”
As Milne reveals to Frank Film, the Aunties’ unofficial motto is “we don't take shit, but we get shit done.”
Established to provide practical support for women and children who’ve experienced domestic violence, the Aunties community now numbers 2500, with members donating cash, goods and time. The giving is co-ordinated via social media.
“We work directly with the refuges,” says Milne. “They let us know what they need and we fill those needs.”
The refuge wish-list is mainly clothing, bedding, toiletries and furniture.
Not surprisingly, Lois Herbert, chief executive of Christchurch’s Battered Women’s Trust, says the Aunties are “wonderful.”
Each month the Trust’s two safe houses in the city accommodate up to 40 women and children seeking safety and shelter.
“We can’t provide everything they need because, more often than not, if they come into our safe house they come with nothing.”
Herbert says the Aunties provide practical help, but the gesture itself is often what means the most to victims escaping violence.
“The empathy and caring spirit that says we’re actually here to support you that shines through from the Aunties is really critical.”
The Aunties movement was first founded by Jackie Clark in Auckland in 2013.
Heather Milne began following Clark on twitter and went on to launch the Christchurch chapter at a time when the city was reeling from the devastating earthquakes.
Herbert says, as expected, the earthquake trauma resulted in a spike in family harm in the city which has never returned to pre-quake levels.
She says the Trust’s refuges have been full for at least three months, during what is usually a quiet period.
“There will be a reason behind this, possibly the mosque attacks. Anything that raises emotional stress in the community tends to be reflected in our numbers in the safe houses.”
In May alone, 297 people called the Trust’s crisis line.
Milne says people in Christchurch know what’s it’s like to go without. “We have a little idea of what it must be like for women and children who have to leave their home in the middle of the night. We can’t have their experience but we get an idea of the grief and loss they’re experiencing, and I think that motivates people to donate.”
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