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Opinion

Together we can build stronger, more peaceful families

in Domestic Violence

The Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC) was born more than 25 years ago through the efforts of passionate women who held a deep desire to address the suffering of families impacted by domestic violence here in Hawaiʻi. Since its founding in 1990, DVAC’s range of services has grown dramatically. DVAC now offers supportive services for survivors that run the gamut from prevention and healing programs to legal services, systems and social change advocacy. DVAC has worked tirelessly to gain an understanding of the needs of survivors in order to develop programs in a way that best fits a survivor. With it’s client-centered approach, it was not long before DVAC noticed a severe over-representation of Native Hawaiians in the population of domestic violence survivors.

With an understanding of the colonial history of Hawai‘i and an understanding of how colonization plays a tremendous role in the trauma that affects Native Hawaiians today, DVAC considered a path to design a program aligned with Native Hawaiian values. Abuse has been normalized in many cultures, including the Native Hawaiian community. Ho‘oikaika ‘Ohana is supported with a Family Violence Prevention and Services Discretionary Grant from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Family and Youth Services Bureau and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. This has enabled DVAC to convene cultural navigators, community leaders and content experts to design a program aimed at healing through cultural practice.

Communities and the resources they provide are vital to addressing intimate partner violence. Western care systems of support to survivors have been successful, but these systems alone—including shelters, support groups and treatment—do not address the historical trauma of colonization. Acknowledging the importance of place, its meaning and “belonging” to that place is a significant factor in the healing process; this is unique to indigenous people. This concept is foundational to the work underway through Ho‘oikaika ‘Ohana.

Dialogue led to the formulation of a program to bring together families who are beyond crisis and interested in connecting with their culture. Input and examination was spirited and holistic. Ho‘oikaika ‘Ohana has three phases, each three months long.

The first phase, Lehua ‘Apane, helps survivors create stability in their current situations. Self-healing and personal growth is the focus of the participants and leads to a place where children and ‘ohana can be embraced fully.

Lehua Mamo, phase two, gives survivors and their children a time to heal together. Survivors lived with the awareness that their children were impacted by the abuse they observed or experienced. One mom says, “My son doesn’t listen to me anymore. He doesn’t understand why we left his dad and thinks he can talk to me the way his dad did. I just don’t know what to do.” Bringing them together to rebuild and renew relationships that had been worn down by the terror and torment was a key objective for the program. Culture-based activities are offered to parents and children of all ages. Another mom shared with the facilitator, “Sometimes I don’t know what to say to my babies. So we just work on things together in class. They see me trying. I see them happier.” Each activity carries knowledge and stories from Hawaiian history and connects the family unit to move forward in strength.

Phase three, Lehua mamo ‘O’a ‘Alani, emphasizes the connection and importance of ‘ohana by inviting a family member of the survivor to join them on their path of healing. Domestic violence is a strong culprit that divides families. This final phase creates the space and the opportunity for ‘ohana and survivor to revive the beauty of their relationship, understanding each other better and paving a way forward with shattered relationships rebuilt.

“People don’t get it sometimes how much it hurts to lose your family when you dealing with abuse,” says another survivor. “Everybody asks why you stay. Sometimes I don’t even know why I stay, but I do know it hurts when family turns your back. This program helped me and my family come back together.”

DVAC has been listening to program participants and deeply understans the ambivalence and immobilization that can result from abuse. One Ho‘oikaika survivor shared, “Even after being out of the relationship there are some days I am strong, but there are some days I miss him. Ho‘oikaika never makes me feel bad for the feelings I have. They help me be focused on myself which reminds me that I am in a much safer place now. I look forward to what my future brings. I look forward to connecting with people I didn’t connect with for a long time.”

In December of 2015, the first group of families (including children and ‘ohana) included 21 participants (of 27 who initially started the program) who completed the 9 month program and participated in a Ho‘ike in honor of their strength, dedication and perseverance to their healing. In attendance for the celebration were Hui members, SMS Research team members, DVAC management, Ho‘oikaika ‘Ohana staff (child care, facilitators, recorders), site hosts and all participants in the program. With food, flowers, chants, costume and personal statements of achievement, the celebration was rich and profound for all those present.

The bi-weekly meetings were held at the Living Life Source Foundation (LLSF) nestled in the plush and sacred Mānoa Valley. LLSF’s mission is “to perpetuate peace and thanksgiving in all of nature’s living spirits by restoring Aloha spiritually for all humanity and to alleviate world suffering and increase happiness.” This site was essential to promoting healing as the women expressed their appreciation for the energy, calm and soothing environment, green mountains, frequent blessings of light rain and access to fruits and vegetables on the farm.

Not many people can say “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some kind of connection to domestic violence.” We have learned that domestic violence does not discriminate. It is the kuleana—the responsibility—of all of us as a community to address this issue, but DVAC is here to help.

The journey to freedom, understanding, self acceptance and family-building is no small undertaking. In the spirit of culture, respect and community, Ho‘oikaika ‘Ohana seeks to continue serving its Native Hawaiian island families in ways that hold value and promise.


Chelsie Haunga is the Program Manager for Ho‘oikaika ‘Ohana

If you are interested in getting more information on DVAC and the Ho‘oikaika ‘Ohana program please call (808) 534-0040.

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