A Journey of a Thousand Miles Starts With One Small Step

Speaking to audiences has long been in my professional DNA.  From delivering presentations and training courses to a wide variety of audiences, I have always thrived on helping people learn new skills and knowledge.  But something was telling me I could do more.  That I had bigger and more important stories to tell than those through a sometimes-stuffy corporate presentation. I’m a domestic violence survivor.  And that’s a much more important story that people need to hear, because if I can help one person overcome a dark and painful situation or leave an abusive situation, then I’m doing something right in this world. Little did I know, my journey into becoming a public speaker and voice and advocate for domestic abuse survivors started long ago.  It started when I myself personally experienced domestic violence.  It started one night sitting with other women in a women’s refuge.  It started when I wrote my book chronicling my experiences I’ve had with it.  But perhaps it started even before that.  Maybe it started centuries ago with my ancestors who have also been plagued by tragedies.  All of these personal and cultural factors have paved the way for this very moment, and in some way, have served as my motivation for wanting to share my story and help others heal. After I left the corporate world and began my journey into being a healing and motivational influence for women, especially those from our Māori culture, I attended a speakers institute boot camp in February 2018 to acquire the skills I needed to be able to connect with audiences everywhere.  Here I learned not only the value of vulnerability, but the challenges of it, too.  It’s especially challenging to be vulnerable when you have a painful story to tell.  But motivated by a quote I heard at a Speakers Tribe gathering, I am reminded that “It is better to take ‘imperfect’ action than ‘perfect’ inaction.”  That was just the reminder I needed, and I still use this mantra to guide me in my work today. It has been a rewarding experience connecting with audiences, sharing my experiences and hearing about theirs.  I’m always in awe of the vulnerability of my audiences, too, as so many men and women come to share their experiences with me after a speaking engagement.  Their stories of survivorship and their feedback on how my talks have helped them, make any uncomfortable moments I may have on stage worth every second.

Speaking Themes

Domestic and family violence is an unnecessary evil that plagues communities across the globe, and it’s one that’s close to me, having personal experience with it.  You may be a domestic violence survivor, or you likely know someone who is.  And the problem is rampant in Australia and New Zealand, and globally.  As the Australian Government Strategy reports, domestic violence is often driven by gender inequality.  So it starts there.  We must even the playing field in our communities in terms of gender so we can get to the root of the problem.  And I hope to play a role in that change, no matter how small. To that end, I share my personal experiences to connect with audiences and to get them thinking about the roles they can play in helping eradicate this epidemic. I use my own experiences to respond to commonly misguided questions such as:

  • Why does she stay with him?
  • Why doesn’t she just leave?
  • How can she put her children through that?
  • Why doesn’t she report the violence?
  • Why does she keep taking him back?

Understanding is the first step to doing better and making a change. And I strive to help my audiences understand the answers to these very critical questions.  In addition to these questions, I also speak to a number of other cultural and global concerns regarding domestic violence, including:

  • “Mana Wahine” in relation to domestic violence. Mana Wahine is a NZ Maori concept that can be loosely defined as ‘the innate power and strength of a woman’;
  • “Emerging from the Shadows” – my book published in July 2018 about my journey through domestic violence and Transcending Fear to Freedom;
  • the inter-generational effects of colonisation, historical trauma, and outdated traditional westernised beliefs around the role of women in society; and
  • in addition to sharing personal experiences of domestic violence, I share our family’s experience with an IPV tragedy perpetrated by one of our own including some of the underlying factors and external influences that contribute to these tragedies.

My presentation reflects my New Zealand Māori culture, and my presentation will resonate with other indigenous cultures as well. Though difficult, the story of DV and IPV tragedies MUST be shared if we intend to find a solution to the problem.  Far too many valuable lives have been lost through this entirely preventable epidemic, and I seek to help tell the stories of those who may not be able to tell their own and help others see their roles in helping put an end to the shocking violence in our communities.

Just want to give a big shout out to this beautiful wahine toa who touched the hearts of all those who attended our Pacific Fashion Festival this year.  Elaine you are truly a precious gift from God who has been used to shine the light in those hard places. You have emerged from the shadows and transcended into light.

May God always be the lifter of your head and your greatest Source of encouragement. Kia kaha! You were the perfect guest speaker for our show. Thank you for raising the platform of awareness for domestic violence and for being brave and courageous enough to share your story with hundreds of people
(Nola Louise Rasmussen)

 Pacific Fashion Festival
This year’s keynote speaker Elaine Lees founder of Ahuatanga, author, motivational speaker and domestic and family violence survivor shared her personal story and encouraged women to reclaim our natural birth right of “Mana Wahine”.  This is a Maori term Mana meaning power and Wahine meaning woman.  Elaine reminded me that there is power in womanhood.

She spoke about her book Emerging from the Shadows and her journey from fear to freedom. The abuse had robbed her of her mana, the violence had taken away her power. She reaffirmed how sacred we are as women and how violence against our women turns Sacred women into scared women.   Not a dry eye in the house when Ms. Lees used the analogy of weaving to reclaim her mana. Strand by strand she started to weave self-love back into her life.

Listening to Ms. Lees I wondered how many men and women in the audience contemplated how they can regain their power and mana, how will they contribute to ending violence and the silence within our communities?

How can we as a collective group of people help rehabilitate our scared women and transform them into their true form, as Sacred women?
It is much more than a fashion show.  (Vanessa Gordon)