Mana Wāhine is a charitable trust created by Adele Keefe that provides support and advocacy for wāhine who have experienced domestic violence, family harm and other forms of abuse. Based in Whakatū, Adele and her team work with wāhine who have left their abusive environment and are on the journey towards healing, restoration and transformation. “These are wāhine that want to grow,” says Adele. “They’re wāhine that are grasping every little bit of support they can get, they’re there to break the cycle. They’re cycle breakers.”
Mana Wāhine delivers Te Ara Wairoa, a twelve-week wānanga that acts as an empowerment programme focusing on identity, purpose and healthy boundaries. “Our main focus is identity, because until we know who we are, how can we walk in our mana? If we don’t even know the mana that we possess within?” says Adele. “I try to spark the ahi kā, and before you know it, they’re soaring. And they’re teaching me too.”
Te Ara Waiora provides a safe environment for wāhine to connect with others in similar circumstances, to free themselves from past trauma and move towards a future in which they are strong, confident and empowered. This includes building better wellbeing habits, learning critical life skills and navigating other services and agencies to ensure they are accessing the resources they need. There are seven wāhine in each intake, who have access to wrap-around support including one-on-one mentoring, fitness sessions, budgeting and financial advice, and support meeting basic needs.
A recent addition to the Mana Wāhine offerings is māra kai support, thanks to a collaboration with Kōanga Kai. As well as supporting ten whānau with māra kai at their homes, Adele is hoping to start a small community garden to provide kai for wāhine living in emergency and transitional housing. “I’m trying to think ahead in getting us skilled up to feed our whānau like our tūpuna did,” she says. “A lot of us, myself included, weren’t brought up that way. We’re excited to start that journey because it’s not just a māra for us, it’s how we nurture our tamariki, it’s the new soil, the new growth, the sustainability, the connection to Papatūānuku, to our tūpuna.”
Adele’s background has been the inspiration for Mana Whānau, being brought up in gangs and experiencing abuse for more than 20 years – an experience she says is a crucial part of her ability to build trust with the wāhine she works with.
“All I really have in my hands to use is my testimony – what I’ve overcome, what I’ve walked through,” she says. “I can speak from a place of having been there and done that, and here I am now. Rather than say those 20 years were lost, I’m flipping the script and I’m using my past experiences for good.”
"We’re excited to start that journey because it’s not just a māra for us, it’s how we nurture our tamariki, it’s the new soil, the new growth, the sustainability, the connection to Papatūānuku, to our tūpuna.”
Based on her own journey, Adele is very familiar with the position most of her participants find themselves in – desperately needing support but not knowing where to turn. “What I noticed through my own experience and the hīkoi that I’ve been on is a distrust in government agencies, as well as a feeling of intimidation at marae because not all of us were brought up to kōrero Māori or know the kawa,” says Adele. “So they’re locked out from the support that government and iwi can give them – that’s what I’ve experienced, and what I’ve also seen. Mana Wāhine is a bit of a bridge to connect them to those things.”
Adele has been proud to see many of her participants choosing to remain part of the whānau even after their intake has come to an end, offering support to new participants and becoming anchors to the quickly growing Mana Wāhine community. “We’re raising up leaders to raise up leaders,” explains Adele. “It’s te amorangi ki mua, te hāpai ki muri but it’s also tūruki, tūruki, paneke, paneke. It’s about moving forward when it’s our turn, and then stepping aside so that others can move forward.”
Mana Wāhine has become a well-respected kaupapa in the Whakatū area, receiving referrals from Oranga Tamariki, ACC, Te Piki Oranga and Crisis Pregnancy, as well as by word of mouth. They have the support of the community, establishing their premises and māra kai on land they have been gifted the use of and receiving sponsorship from local businesses and community members.
Next year Mana Wāhine intends offer its first service for tāne, holding true to the underpinning philosophy of their work: when the wāhine and the tāne rise, the whole whānau rises – including the generations to come.
Adele says she is always so proud when she sees her wāhine begin to dream beyond the reality they’ve faced for many years. “When they talk about their goals, I truly believe I’ll be helping them apply for Wave funding and start up their own businesses,” she says. “That’s where I want to see them go. It’s a privilege for me to part of their journey, seeing them grow. I just get so passionate about it, it’s what I live for. This is what I was born for.”