Habitat Women: A conversation with Theresa, our calming force

Mar 6, 2023



Hi, Talofa. My name is Theresa. I work as the Home Repair Programme Administrator.

What led you to work with Habitat for Humanity Northern?

I’ve always loved helping people. I’ve worked in the retail industry, I’ve worked in the education sector, at childcare centres. In all of these industries I loved helping people. So when the job came up at Habitat for Humanity Northern I looked at what they do, the organisation as a whole and how they provide services to families, and the community. That’s what I love, that’s my passion. Helping people.


What sort of challenges do you face within your role? And how do you overcome them?

In my role, it’s dealing with the different people that come through our programme and being open to hear what their situation is. It’s getting to understand that, yes, families will tell you about what they need to repair their home, but it’s also important to assess and hear what they need emotionally. They will share their stories with you, so you need to have an understanding of where they’re coming from, and what they’re facing, right then and there. It’s about understanding the community and being open to listen and help emotionally as well.


Right, so it’s more than just doing a home repair?

Oh, absolutely, because they share a lot of their stories with you. It’s definitely an honour being able to help them and give advice.


As you know, Habitat is all about supporting whānau into homes. Often these families have very strong women at the heart of them. Is there a wahine in your life that has, or continues, to inspire you?

The women that have affected me and inspired me the most would be my mother and my sisters. Growing up in a big family I was lucky to have support from my different sisters, I have different relationships, you know, with each of them.


How many sisters do you have?

I’ve got three sisters. There are four of us and I come from a very, very big family of ten.


So you kind of stuck together?

Yes, absolutely. They are much older than me, but I can talk to them, share with them and be very open. They kept an eye out for me, and they all still do in some way.


If you had one word to describe your sisters and the women in your family, what would that be?

They’re very, very strong, the women in my family. They all have different values that they bring to the family, but all of them are very strong women.


Through your work with Habitat Northern can you think of a time that you have felt empowered or have seen another woman being empowered through Habitat’s work?

I’ve got several. One that comes to mind would be a lady that I visited for our Home Repairs Programme. She was here from overseas because her father had passed on. She gave me a summary of her role in the family and what she was doing to help her mother, especially with the passing of her dad.

She got really emotional. It can be quite raw when you hear peoples’ stories and what they go through. She had the opportunity to open up to me, to finally grieve. She was really taken aback by my response because she was able to share her story. It wasn’t just a home repair.

Overall there are a lot of families that have been empowered by Habitat Northern’s work. They really do appreciate the work that we do in helping them. It’s not just doing the home repairs, it’s giving them the hope and also sharing with them the knowledge that we have. They are grateful that they can learn, to then do it on their own. That’s a whole part of the home repair programme, helping people to help themselves.


You’re in a team that’s very male dominated. I wondered if you ever think about this, or have pros and cons about working in a team like this?

No, I don’t notice it too much.

I’ve realised it’s just about understanding each and every person. To me, that’s important. Plus, I know that the team are very respectful and having that respect for each other really helps. This is the second job that I’ve worked in which is a male dominant space, so I guess I’ve learnt to just work with that. Alongside this I try and get them to understand where I’m coming from, then slowly start to change the perception of these spaces. So yes, it’s very important to me, having the understanding for each and every person.


Yes, for any woman who’s going into a male dominated industry, would you just say, think of everyone as people? It’s not about gender.

Absolutely, yes. To the young women that are coming into a male dominant industry, you just have to be open, understand each person and then also let them understand you and your boundaries. It comes down to that. Having respect for everyone, including yourself.


My last question is, what’s one word you’d use to describe the woman that you are?

As a woman, oh my gosh, I haven’t ever thought of that. Well it’s not just one word but the sentence that comes to mind is a Samoan proverb. “O le ala i le pule o le tautua” It means “The pathway to leadership is through service.” I really believe that.


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