Heading into Christmas 2011, Aia had a challenge. Her husband had left her that year with six kids and thousands of dollars in debt. Unable to afford market rent, she was living in Housing NSW accommodation, facing the Housing NSW’s condition that she search for a rental place of her own. She worked hard to meet the requirement of looking at a minimum of seven properties a week with children accompanying her. Unable to afford even public transport after the rent was paid Aia and her children would troop from place to place without success.
No-one wants to travel all around Sydney on public transport to look at properties with six hungry children in tow and no-one wants to rent to a mum alone with so many children—and no job. “It was the hardest thing I could ever imagine,” she said.
Two days before Christmas, one of Aia’s brothers died of cancer. Reeling from the separation with her partner a grieving for her brother, she spent Christmas Day 2011 just with her children. “My other brother invited us to his place, but I just needed that time with my kids,” she said. Sure that her family would not accept the breakdown of her relationship, she kept the difficulties from them, only confiding in her pastor.
Lifted by love and generosity
Even in that dark time, she experienced the love and generosity of those near her. The local school donated presents for the children and a hamper. “It was like a present from God,” Aia said. Through it all, the pastor of her church always ensured she had support and someone to look out for her.
Finding a home at Wesley Noreen Towers
However, finding a home was still pressing on her mind. Eventually, she was referred to Wesley Mission’s accommodation for families, Wesley Noreen Towers in South Western Sydney. There Aia has found a place to live until she finds her feet. She has received counselling and attends parenting classes and budgeting workshops. The three-bedroom apartment that she shares with her children at Wesley Noreen Towers has minimal furniture and bare walls, but it is safe and welcoming until she can find the strength and opportunity to move on.
It’s been a difficult journey for Aia, but she said she has turned a corner. “Every time I used to meet with my Wesley Mission counsellor, I cried, because I was so angry with my partner,” she said. She now feels happier within herself so no longer sees the counsellor.
Wesley Mission’s support continues and, after a suggestion from her counsellor, Aia started volunteering two days a week at Inspire Community, another local community organisation that provides support for those in need in Aia’s local area. There she sorts donated clothes and food. For her the most important thing about volunteering is helping her community. “I get help and so I also give something back,” she said. In return for her volunteer work, she receives cheap clothes for her children and the experience may help her get a job. The budgeting workshops at Noreen Towers have taught her how to save and understand how she spends her money. “I live pretty simply and cook every day,” Aia said.
Learning to forgive and trusting God
To find the source of her strength in tough times, Aia reflects on her childhood in Samoa. Raised as a Christian, she has developed a deep and enduring faith. She said the most important part of faith is to trust “If you trust in God, everything is possible,” Aia said. “That’s the most important part of faith. “I believe God lets things happen for a reason, often to test you. You can’t keep thinking, ‘why does God let these things happen?’” she said. Her faith has given her the confidence to move ahead with her life, despite all the emotional and financial difficulties. Aia said this is the key message that Christmas has for her. “Life is hard, but when you think of Jesus coming into the world, and all that he gives us, then you can move on with your life,” she said.
Planning with confidence for the challenges ahead
Aia struggled with her anger at her former partner, especially when he started a new relationship. “For me, forgiveness is the key to everything,” she said. “If you don’t forgive, you will never be happy.” Through this forgiveness she has been able to talk regularly with her former partner about how the children should be raised and to allow him to spend time with the children. “At the end of the day, the most important thing is for the kids to be happy,” she said. With her eldest daughter in Year 7 and her eldest son starting school next year, the children themselves have a lot to deal with. Having to leave the family home last year meant the school-age children had to face all the challenges that change brings.
Aia can receive Commonwealth Rental Assistance from the Centrelink but to do so, she needs to find a three to four bedroom apartment for not more than $350 per week. In an inflated rental market, this is difficult. Add to that the challenge of finding a place close to the schools her children now attend and you can clearly see the position Aia is in.
In the meantime, Wesley Noreen Towers provides plenty of activities for her children. The Wesley Noreen Towers staff take the children to the local PCYC, the local arts centre and the movies. With the experience Aia gets from volunteering, she’s looking for work in a supermarket that will enable her to rent a place of her own. She is planning for the future with confidence. Aia said that before coming to Wesley Noreen Towers, she relied on her partner to pay all the bills. “Wesley Noreen Towers has enabled me to rely on myself,” she said.
“And if I have a problem, I can talk with a case worker.” She remembers when she was not able to buy school lunch for her children. However, a call to her case worker meant the children did not go hungry. “This is an amazing place,” she said.
Aia’s time at Wesley Noreen Towers has also been about getting to know the other families and making friends. Sometimes all the families will enjoy lunch in the backyard of the accommodation centre. She said it has been heartbreaking to hear the stories of the other families. “It reminds me of how I was,” she said. Aia said that many of the families feel ashamed of receiving help. “You need to keep an open mind,” she said. “You don’t have to wait for the case workers to help you. You can go out and do things to make your life better, but it’s good to know they are there if you need them.”
Aia ensures that her children help her keep their apartment and the yard clean. It is as a way of teaching them the value of doing things for themselves. Her extended family now know of her relationship breakdown and are finding it hard to accept. Rather than letting it get to her, Aia is focusing on creating a happy and stable environment for her children. Aia and her children will spend this Christmas Day at her brother’s house, celebrating with a big Christmas lunch and then church at night. The best thing will be not needing to worry so much about where she is going to live. “The most important thing for me is that the kids are happy,” she said. “As for the rest, I put my trust in God.”