Pacific Islands Womens Refuge creating safe bubbles

Ani Vahuacoordinator of the Pacific Island Womens’ Refuge (PIWR) reflects on how they’ve responded to the calls for help by Pasifika women during Alert Level 4 and beyond by communicating with family members online and through the phone, telling Cook Island stories and singing songs to keep connected


Although in a bubble on her own, PIWR coordinator Ani Vahua, ensures their operations continue to ruas smoothly as possible, despite the challenges presented during the weeks New Zealand was at Alert Level 4 Lockdown.  

It’s been challenging for some of our refuge residents who are frustrated because they don’t fully understand the impact of COVID-19,” informs the proud Cook Islander, who herself had been in self-isolation.  

They miss their wider circle of family and friends, and it was hard for them not being able to have that face-to-face time with our staff.”  

Ani says newer clients showed an anger toward the disease, blaming it for their situation.  

Some new clients blamed COVID-19 for their abuse and violence as partners were laid off work, impacting their relationship further by leaving them in a vulnerable position and needing refuge help.  

“It’s a common theme we saw … a loss of jobs meant less income, along with the added issues of alcohol and drugs, which contributed to problems within the relationships.”  

PIWR’s own facilities were at full capacity with families before the end of April 

“We couldn’t bring anyone in by that point because there was no room.”  

They’re grateful for the funding that came through MSD by way of their National Collective to provide for the women and children seeking refuge during lockdown which began at in Alert Level 3.  

It enabled us to house those needing shelter in motels, so that’s what we did.” 

PIWR arranged a room for women who felt unsafe and were at risk of violence. 

Being a 24-hour crisis intervention service for women and children experiencing family violence and abuse, PIWR has emergency accommodation, support, advocacy, telephone counselling and community programmes 

They also assist in setting up families in their respective communities, keeping women and children safe and building their confidence and knowledge through community education programmes. 

During Alert Level 4 lockdown, however, and even in 3, they’ve had to modify operations 

“We put them in contact with our legal team online, providing all the first things we do when women seek our services at the refuge ... it’s just a new way to adhere to protocols of social-distancing in order to ensure the safety of their health and those of staff and support people.”  

For Ani, it’s important women are constantly looked after by PIWR during lockdown and that they know they can leave their home if they’re in danger 

In her own time, Ani is making sure not to break any of her family or friends bubbles as she self-isolates, while she and the PIWR create safe bubbles for women and children experiencing violence.  

“I communicate with my family, especially my mokopuna ma and Inarere, by telling Cook Island stories and singing all sorts of songs through online communication.”  

If you or anyone you know are experiencing Family and Domestic Violence and would like to talk to someone 24 hrs, please call or contact Ani Vahua, Theresa Peto and Tania Petelo on 0800 733 843, 09 634 4662 or email address is 

If it is an emergency call 111.


As we continue to self-isolate for a few more weeks under COVID 19 Alert Level 4 and 3, it is important that we continue to keep our families and children safe in our homes. 

Some Pacific families may be feeling vulnerable, remember that family violence support services are available during the COVID 19 Level 4 Alert lockdown. For emergencies please Dial 111. 

Pasefika Proud is a Pacific response to focus on community-led solutions that harnesses the transformative power of traditional Pacific cultural values and frameworks to encourage violence-free, respectful relationships that support Pacific peoples to thrive and to build strong resilient families.