Meet Irene. A while ago she was in a relationship that was abusive, but at the time she didn't realise it. Now, together with another Welly-based social entrepreneur, Liv, she’s on a mission to spark social change across Aotearoa by giving our young people the access to education about relationships and early stage abuse that she never had.
The pair are using Live the Dream, a 9-week accelerator programme run by our partner charity Inspiring Stories, to supercharge their project, and Irene generously took the time to share her story with us below.
Four years ago, Irene was waiting to board a plane when she stumbled across an article online about mental and emotional abuse. The moment quickly became confronting, as Irene realised that the behaviours she had encountered in a past relationship were classed as abusive.
She remembered having to ask for permission to hang out with her friends, and being hassled about what she chose to wear. She had hardly used social media, because liking a post from a friend seemed to cause an argument, and she wouldn’t even think about talking to a guy – because she was told that was disrespectful.
“It was easier to change myself, to keep him happy.” Says Irene. “I became isolated, I lost my friends and my family started to become distant. I knew for a long time that I was unhappy, and when I would think about leaving, I was told, ‘you will never find someone who loves you like I do.’”
She describes that moment on the plane as a pivotal point in her life, where she was forced to get comfortable in her own company, and to face some truths, alone, in a foreign country.
“I was surprised that I hadn't been taught about mental and emotional abuse before. I left school knowing how to do algebra, but I was unable to identify that this relationship was abusive. I made a decision that day, to ensure that others knew this information earlier, before it was too late.”
In December 2015, Irene founded Prepair NZ – an organisation designed to offer the education that she didn’t receive about relationships, and early stage abuse.
After 6 months of working alone to get things set up, Irene met Liv at a retreat, where they realised they both had very similar ambitions.
Liv had also experienced mental and emotional abuse in a romantic relationship. Both Irene and Liv had felt that the word ‘abuse’ was reserved for physical abuse only. Neither had received any education about these behaviours, and they both wanted to prevent this from happening to others.
After researching the issue, the pair were stunned to find that in a 12 month period, over 5000 NZers between 13-24 years old reported being victim to domestic abuse. Sadly it’s estimated that only 30% of cases are reported to NZ police, and on top of this, the pair asked themselves “how many more had been in situations similar to ours, where they were going through non-physical abuse, or simply not given the education to know what abuse could look like?”
This information fuelled the girls even more.
“We both felt that if our relationship with ourself had been stronger, our past would have looked very different. A strong sense of self worth is where confidence comes from, and where boundaries are set. We didn’t have that.”
Prepair have already worked with women of all ages across Wellington in the past 12 months, to encourage a healthy relationship with self.
Irene has run workshops at the More than Rubies conference, seminars for teens, and workshops which have attracted guests from as far as Palmerston North to the capital.
The feedback has been positive, and women have contacted later on to explain how valuable they found taking time out to focus on themselves.
After the retreat, the girls decided to seek some help to accelerate their work. This is where they heard about Live the Dream, a 9-week programme run by Inspiring Stories that’s designed to help young people in New Zealand develop entrepreneurial skills so that they can make a change in the world.
Irene was fortunate enough to be accepted on to the programme earlier this year, and is already five weeks in as of writing this.
“Even at this early stage, I can say Live the Dream has been instrumental in the development of Prepair NZ. The opportunities we have had are amazing, we are just so grateful.”
Irene during a Live the Dream venture planning session. Photo provided by Inspiring Stories.
Irene has already met with other organisations that deal with late stage abuse, including “It’s Not OK.”, and was recently interviewed on Radio NZ - opportunities the pair say would not have been possible without the support they’ve received.
“If we can spark a desire for young people to have a healthy relationship with themselves, and pair that with some good quality information about mental and emotional abuse - we think this will make a difference for our country. Imagine if this education could help prevent domestic violence in New Zealand.”
Live the Dream kicked off again on January 9th, and runs until the end of February where participants will pitch their ideas to an audience at the final events in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The events will be held in all three cities on Tuesday 14th February 5.30–7.30pm, and all of the generous people supporting Inspiring Stories with their 1% through One Percent Collective will be sent an invite to head along and hear the outcome.
We have no doubt these two will definitely go places.
To follow the progress of Prepair NZ, check them out at facebook.com/prepairnz