It would be fair to say that life has thrown Ema* more than her fair share of challenges. She grew up in a home where money was scarce and addiction was the norm, and was subjected to physical abuse from a family member from the age of seven. She was bullied and felt trapped, so it was like a dream escape when she moved with her father to Australia at the age of 13.
Touching down in Australia felt like coming home; “it was the best feeling!”, and for the first year life was good. But low self esteem and unhealed childhood trauma have an insidious way of rising to the surface, and alcohol and drugs soon became Ema’s norm too. Despite having no fondness for study, she was a straight-A student but, found drunk and stoned at school on her 16th birthday, Ema was expelled. She met the father of her first five children the same year and was pregnant with a daughter at 17, followed by three more daughters and two sons in the next 10 years. The relationship wasn’t a happy one, and with her continuing addictions causing her to be deemed an unfit mum, Ema’s kids were taken out of her care. At 28 she found herself in prison; sometimes literally fighting for her life. Upon release, Ema was returned to Aotearoa under Section 501 of Australia’s Migration Act. Given that had she had spent more than half of her life in Australia, returning to Aotearoa felt like coming to a foreign country. Leaving the kids was the hardest part, and for Ema it felt like grieving a death.
Now in her early 30s, back in the country where her abuse began, and many miles from her children, Ema is philosophical. Life on return to Aotearoa has not been without its challenges but as she says, she can’t change what’s happened so she doesn’t dwell on it. Meeting the team from PARS was a turning point in her life as they got her “through the tough stuff”, and she is deeply grateful.
“They made everything so much easier. I would have been lost without PARS’ support”.
They were always welcoming and, most poignantly, carried no judgement – Ema never felt treated ‘less than’; a unique experience in her life. “They spent so much time and effort going out of their way to work with me”, supporting her with all of the everyday needs; opening a bank account, ensuring she made it to appointments, and connecting her to all of the services needed to set her up in her new life.
With the support of PARS and her personal determination, Ema says her life “has done a complete 360”. She has a partner now who is a father and koro, and as “a 501” himself can understand much of what she has been through. Early in 2020 she secured herself a job she loves as a property manager where she gets to be the helping hand in times of need; supporting the vulnerable homeless, advocating with Work and Income and working with Probation in regards to tenants who are under sentence.
While self effacing about her own contribution, Ema is effusive about all that PARS has done for her. Even more importantly than the help with day-to-day needs, she found healing for her soul. Her PARS case workers took on the role of maternal figures, with what she calls “’I’ve got you’ parenting and guidance”. She describes one of the PARS team as having a way of looking at her “that felt like a mother’s hug” – something that all kids should be able to take for granted but that Ema herself had been denied.
With her own children ranging from toddler to teenager, Ema is painfully aware of the milestones she has already missed. The birth of her first daughter was profound for Ema who had never had a strong maternal influence in her own life. Never before had she experienced such unconditional love. All six children currently live with her aunt in Australia and they talk to their mum weekly. Ema’s ultimate goal is to be reunited with her kids and “to be the shoulder they cry on. My kids are so unique and precious in every way; they are the meaning to my happiness”.
* Name changed for privacy purposes