Flourish through hardship

NEW START: Donna Maki and her son Ishmael Lolo are doing well thanks to the help of Flourish Australia, which supports mothers with mental health issues. Picture: Simon Bennett

NEW START: Donna Maki and her son Ishmael Lolo are doing well thanks to the help of Flourish Australia, which supports mothers with mental health issues. Picture: Simon Bennett

Seven years ago, Donna Maki didn’t see a way forward.

Escaping a violent partner in New Zealand, she came to Australia with no money, no support, and struggling with mental health issues.

Now Ms Maki is giving back to the organisation that helped her – and encouraging others to do the same.

Formerly known as RichmondPRA, Flourish Australia helps mothers get support for mental health issues. It is one of the few programs in the country where mothers can receive 24-hour care without being separated from their children.

Blacktown is home to six villas where mums can stay with their kids for up to six months while they receive treatment and support, and get connected with services.

Ms Maki needed the service in 2009 after fleeing New Zealand to escape her violent partner.

She had been sending funds to a friend who promised a fresh start – but upon arrival, the money was gone. 

A unit for her and her 14 month old son Ishmael turned about to be a three bedroom house shared by 20 people. The pair were sleeping on the floor.

“I was trying to make a new life but there was so much stress there that my anxiety, my depression, my post-traumatic stress – just instantly all my symptoms came back,” Ms Maki said.

“I was telling everybody in the house, ‘I need help, I need help’. Nobody helped.”

After just six weeks in Australia she was hospitalised, and separated from her young child for more than a month.

Ms Maki was unable to communicate but through an art program at Nepean Hospital, she eventually opened up. The staff helped get her and Ishmael into a Flourish Australia villa in Blacktown.

Over the next four months, Ms Maki said she learned a lot about her condition and the support available in Australia.

She successfully made it to a transition house, and then Housing NSW accommodation, but stayed in contact with the people who first helped her get on her feet.

Ms Maki and her Seventh Day Adventist church in Doonside deliver bread once a week, and care packages once a month, to the families using the service.

She is also deeply involved as a peer mentor, helping other mums in similar situations.

“I lacked my own understanding. I had absolutely no family support,” she said. “I had to do this journey on my own.”

Ms Maki said she wouldn’t change anything though, as her hardships gave her the persistence and passion to walk alongside other women.

Her testimony speaks to the invaluable work that Flourish Australia does in the lives of countless women at risk. The charity is now seeking volunteers to take part in the 2016 Wellness Walk to raise $25,000 for women’s and children’s programs in Blacktown.

The walk will take part at Government House, Sydney, from 10am on Sunday, October 16. Find out more at wellnesswalk.org.au. 

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