Pāharakeke: Hope behind the horror headlines

Pāharakeke, or Flaxmere, is a Hastings suburb that makes news headlines for all the wrong reasons.

But local heroes are fighting to save their community's reputation, offering a helping hand to hundreds who have fallen on hard times.

From putting a roof over their head to putting kai on the table, local couple Lynsey and Haira Abbott are bringing some good news to the people of Pāharakeke.

"From our hurt, our trauma, our pain, something big has come out of that," says Lynsey.

"We're not here to change the world, but if we can change one person's life, that means the world to us," adds Haira.

Visit the Abbotts' home in Pāharakeke and you'll see the generosity of spirit in abundant supply. The pātaka kai, or community street pantry, they set up two years ago does a roaring trade in kindness. It works on a simple philosophy - people come and drop off kai and take what they need.

"I wanted to create the pātaka so that they were able to have that confidence for a lot of people that need that awhi to be able to get their tamariki a kai, but most, most importantly the pātaka was built for our babies," explains Lynsey.

"I wanted to create a space for them where they knew at any given time, any hour of the day, that they could come in and get them a kai if they didn't have a kai at home. But it's the community that fill up the pātaka every day."

Lynsey and Haira Abbott
Lynsey and Haira Abbott. Photo credit: The Hui

How it began

Forty-five-year-old Lynsey Abbott was born in Pāharakeke and except for a few years spent in Australia, she's lived in the Hastings suburb all her life.

She works full time in care support services but her passion is 'One Voice', a community outreach project she runs with her husband from their Flaxmere home. 

"Our home doesn't belong to me and my husband, it belongs to everybody. Anybody that walks into our home and they're in need of help, they just come on in and we awhi them in whatever way that we can," she says.

The idea behind the service came to Lynsey 10 years ago when she led a roadside protest that started with a hand-written sign.

"I had found out that a teacher had caught another teacher inappropriately hurting someone that I love, so that brought a lot of trauma into our lives".

Her 'Stop the Cycle of Sexual Abuse' campaign encouraged survivors to speak out against their abusers.

I held up that banner and that was the first time that 'One Voice' was fully launched, that day. The idea behind it is that it only takes one voice to speak up, to make change, you've just got to want to do that. I was ready that day."

Pāharakeke, or Flaxmere
Pāharakeke, or Flaxmere. Photo credit: The Hui

Growing up, Lynsey had survived sexual abuse and was surrounded by domestic violence. When she returned to Flaxmere in 2012 she was determined to help others break the cycle.

"If I needed to support them going to the police, or going to the doctor, or going to court, then I would do so, wherever the need was," she says.

But a year later it was Lynsey and Haira who would need support when tragedy struck their whanau.

"We lost our son Kingston to suicide in 2013. It left a deep hole in our hearts and it took a long time to find a place, talk to somebody to be able to relieve a little bit of pressure off our shoulders," says Haira.

As they went through their own grief having lost a beloved boy, the idea of a support group for men was born.

"After my own personal healing, I talked to my wife about it, well there's other men that are going through the same hurt, let's start a men's group that they can come and sit down and talk about their grieving and their loss," he adds.

"There are so many young men, elderly men, all sorts of men who have sought my husband's advice or support and he's been able to awhi them, where I may not be able to. He's got that brotherly aroha, he's been amazing my husband," says Lynsey. 

The couple now offer a range of support services. And the demand for their help has never been higher.

Pāharakeke, or Flaxmere
Pāharakeke, or Flaxmere. Photo credit: The Hui

Pāharakeke's problems

The Hawke's Bay region has the second highest rate of methamphetamine use in the country, and 'One Voice' has been supporting people like 44-year-old Francis Smith, who was addicted to P for 10 years.

After numerous failed attempts to get clean, Francis met Lynsey in November, and he says he owes them his life.

"I found myself at my sister Lynsey and my brother Haira's whare, and I was there for the reason that I had an addiction issue. I felt that was the best place for me to go to," Francis says.

"We have people staying at our home for up to six weeks, and then from there we nurture them back into their own home and support them daily, slowly help them support them back into the community and with a lot of support. We do all that here," says Lynsey.

It's Haira and Lynsey's lived experience of overcoming hardship that sets 'One Voice' apart from other agencies that work with high-needs whānau. The couple have walked the same path as many of the people they awhi.

"We don't have a piece of paper to say this is our qualifications, life is our qualification," Haira says.

"I was a solo mum for 16 years, lived off $34 a week for quite a few years, I was working and I had to make that $34 work for myself," says Lynsey.

Lynsey hopes the people she helps will go on to support others.

"Once they come out of that struggle, the mamae that they've been going through that they end up becoming the beacon of light, that's what I believe in my manawa, that they become the beacon of hope. So that anybody else that walks into their life that may be going through what they were going through, they'll be able to support and to awhi them," Lynsey adds.

And through the toughest of times, the people of Pāharakeke are there for one another.

"There's so much beauty that's in our community, we have so much love within our community," says Haira

Local leaders' backing

Local Councillor and community leader Henare O'Keefe is right behind the good deeds Lynsey and Haira do for Flaxmere's families.

"They go beyond the call of duty, they don't have to do that. It's a hard road, it's a lonely road, you look around there's no one there. That's what they do, they go beyond the call of duty, they do it because they love Flaxmere. They love it, they love it with a passion," says Henare.

And he's making his own contribution - each week he runs a boxing academy for disadvantaged rangatahi, turning the challenged into champions.

"They haven't been brought up, they've been dragged up, through no fault of their own, right from the get-go they've been up against it, the odds have been stacked against them. Together we're saying we're not going to break the cycle here, we're going to smash it to smithereens," he adds.

They just want to be loved, we work on the proviso that everybody wants to be loved, they want to feel important, they want to feel valuable, and that's what this is about".

It's not the first time the 77-year-old has taken matters into his own hands - in 2008 he was behind the 'Enough is Enough' hikoi - a 5000-strong march he organised after his daughter was a victim of a violent home invasion in Flaxmere.

"This is a community that have taken ownership and responsibility. We're not in grievance mode here, we may be victims of our past, but we've decided we're not going to be prisoners of it," Henare adds. 

Plenty to be proud of

Flaxmere has become synonymous with violence, gangs, drugs and deprivation. But Henare says that's only half of the story. O'Keefe says there's plenty to be proud of here but the positive stories don't lead the news.

So he's lined the walls of the gym with success stories to show the kids here what is possible.

"Don't judge us til you know us, if you had the inclination to judge us, come and spend the day with me and I'll show you the real beauty that resides here," Henare says.

"I know no community with a spirit like this, I've yet to come across it".

But that spirit was tested again in January following the brutal bashing of a four-year-old boy who lived around the corner from Lynsey.

"I felt guilty because I wish I had of done something," says Lynsey. "I wish I had of known, what could I have done to protect this pepi? Why couldn't the family reach out to me? I'm here just a few streets around the corner, why couldn't they reach out to me and my husband if they needed help? But that baby plays in my head along with a lot of other pepi that are out there that have been sadly abused in their homes."

While she couldn't save that boy, Lynsey is helping change the life of 17-year-old Kayden Huirama, who turned up on their doorstep before Christmas.

"I basically had nothing - no shoes, just the clothes I had on my back. Aunty put out some help to give me some clothes and then heaps of people brought me some," says Kayden Huirama.

With their help, Kayden is now enrolled in an agriculture course and is grateful for everything Lynsey and Haira have done for him.

"I think Kayden can't believe that things have moved so fast for him. It's absolutely wonderful and I have got hope for him, I know that he's going to be alright," Lynsey says.

"Aunty and Uncle are bloody angels, I love them. I've got pretty attached pretty fast to them," he adds.

Since 'One Voice' has been running, Haira and Lynsey have helped hundreds of people in desperate need. Haira says his wahine has become a guardian angel to the people of Paharakeke. 

"She is a beautiful lady, she has a lot of mana not only within our home but with our community, and we as a team we walk hand in hand, side-by-side," says Haira.

Lynsey says that we could all do more to help those less fortunate, and that you don't have to be a millionaire to lend a hand.

What the couple don't have in money, they make up for in the aroha they have for their community.

"I feel that it's my calling, this is my why," says Lynsey.