Commissioner's Blog - Sandra Alofivae
Malo le soifua maua ma le lagi mama, Talofa lava
It’s Samoan Language week, and a real pleasure to greet you with a Samoan welcome phrase. It feels great as a nation to be at Alert Level 2. While a number of restrictions are still in place, it’s allowing us as an organisation to engage closer with our survivor communities, stakeholders and the general public. There is a greater sense of optimism around and a real relief that “we’re getting through this together.”
The past nine or so weeks haven’t been without tragedy for those who have lost loved ones, endured difficult times, experienced moments of illness and many who have made a number of sacrifices including our essential workers to get through the lockdown stages of the pandemic. We have felt this acutely at the Commission. We want to acknowledge and honour those families.
In some of our Pacific communities, I know it has been a tough time either working through the challenges of COVID or worrying about the future of jobs and paying the bills. I know many of us have gathered strength from our families and friends either through our bubbles or by technology. In Samoan we have a saying: Ole galulue fa’atasi e mama ai le avega (if we work together, it lightens the load/burden). I think this has been so important as many of us have faced up to the highs and lows of recent weeks.
Overall, I have enjoyed the time in my bubble, even if it did make life a bit more difficult and some of my work more challenging. I am grateful for my wider aiga (family and friends) bubble, and the support we were able to give each other.
The postponement of private sessions due to COVID-19 was unavoidable, and I acknowledge this would have been stressful for survivors, especially those who had sessions booked in. The good news is that Private Sessions are starting up again from 2 June. Commissioners will see people in the Auckland and Wellington regions initially and then in July we will look at visiting other regions throughout Aotearoa, Covid-19 restrictions permitting. While we are still in COVID alert levels, we will be taking extra care, providing additional support where required in relation to the well-being of our survivors and their supporters.
Providing a safe and supportive environment for survivors to share their experiences is very important to the Commission. I recognise the intense emotion and pain this can trigger while saluting the courage and fortitude of those who take part. As a Royal Commission, we ensure everyone has the wellbeing support they need through all stages of this incredibly personal journey. While we know many survivors want to share their story face-to-face, there are other options for those who do not want to attend a private session at this stage, such as a private session via audio visual technology or sending in a written account.
In another piece of good news, we can confirm our Redress Hearing which was deferred in late March when COVID-19 hit has now been rescheduled for a split state and faith-based hearing later this year in September and November (COVID permitting).
Over the past couple of months while we have been working remotely, Commissioners have been considering the valuable information we have received from our completed private sessions, our research and the evidence presented at our contextual hearing. This and other information will be brought together to inform our Interim Report that will be presented to Government in the next few months.
We have also been using this time to think about the future and how we will conduct the remainder of the Inquiry. There’s still so much to do and many people to talk with. If you are a survivor, we would love to hear from you and whānau, your aiga and those who knew survivors or might want to share their knowledge or observations.
The power of a shared story can never be underestimated. The assurance I and my fellow Commissioners can give you is that you will be heard with aroha and respect. In sharing your experiences, you gift a very valuable taonga or mealofa to our nation, that will contribute to helping us build a better future.
Soifua ma ia manuia