Pacific youth are being urged to join the talanoa about the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in Care at an upcoming Zoom fono.
Honouring the needs of survivors and ensuring they are at the centre of her work is essential for Lawyer Reina Vaai.
Of Samoan descent and raised in South Auckland, Reina is part of the Pacific Investigation team working on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in Care.
Established in 2018, the Inquiry has been exploring what happened to children, young people and vulnerable adults in care in Aotearoa.
Over the past three years, the Inquiry has engaged with survivors, and heard their stories, ahead of the final report being issued in January 2023.
Reina and her team work alongside Pacific survivors who have experienced abuse in state care and/or faith-based settings, the Solicitor explains.
“As a Pacific team, the barriers our people face when coming forward to disclose abuse is not taken lightly.
“We wholeheartedly appreciate the many difficulties of acknowledging abuse so when survivors and their loved ones share their stories with us, we do not take that for granted, not for a second.
“Honouring their needs and holding the survivors at the centre of our work is so important.”
This Royal Commission is the first of its kind in New Zealand, while the team also boasts the only Pacific Commissioner Ali’imuamua Sandra Alofivae.
Steering the vaka as Lead Counsel Assist is Tania Sharkey.
On November 24, a Pacific Youth Fono is being held via Zoom, aimed at discussing aspects of the final report, which will inform the Government on how to care for Pacific children in the future.
“This is our first fono in the community and due to COVID restrictions, we decided to hold it over Zoom,” Reina says.
“This zoom fono is for the general Pacific youth population – it is important to distinguish this fono from our future targeted fono, for example, we will be meeting with young people that have been in care, as well as survivors and other community groups at a later stage.
“We are not encouraging participants to disclose their own experiences of abuse in this fono - we are only asking for their general feedback and responses to systems and processes that have impacted Pacific people in care.”
While working on the Inquiry has certainly had its challenging days, Reina says even the most difficult days at work are nothing compared to the experiences of the Pacific survivors.
“It’s an absolute privilege to be working in this space.”
To take part in upcoming fono on November 24 at 5:30pm, use this Zoom ID to attend: 823 2179 4888 and password: 2021.
Pacific survivors are still encouraged to come forward and register at www.abuseincare.org.nz or phone 0800 222 727.