02 March 2022
as seen on stuff.co.nz
Jerry Seuseu and Ben Henry experienced violence as kids, and want to help make things different for future generations.

Domestic violence was just part of the reality of growing up for former Warriors star Jerry Seuseu.

“Whether it was my neighbours or relatives or siblings, we were very familiar with what is called a hiding,” he recalls.

Now, he’s on a mission to change things for future generations.

Seuseu, along with fellow former Warrior Ben Henry, is a new ambassador for Le Va, an Auckland charity that helps support Pasifika families.

Workshops at Le Va are now co-facilitated by the New Zealand Warriors and the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL), and funded through ACC.

“These days, we are looking at different ways of parenting,” Seuseu says.

Seuseu said growing up, domestic violence was his reality – something he wants to change for future generations.

Henry, who now works as the wellbeing and education manager for the New Zealand Warriors, says it’s important to connect with Pasifika dads.

“Fathers Fono for example, is a two-hour workshop where we just sit down with fathers that come from all walks of life, mostly Pacific islander and Māori men, and the challenges they sort of face as fathers,” he says.

Henry says the challenges the dads face range from lacking connections to their children, balancing work and family time, to how discipline a child without using violence.

“They come up with the solutions, and we just help them along the way in the workshop to discover, or to articulate what those solutions are.”

He says the Fathers Fono programme centres around themes such as building pride around being a Pasifika dad, enhancing the mana of Pasifika men, and reminding them of the importance of their role in their homes and in their communities.

Seuseu, now the NZRL’s wellbeing manager, says the league decided to partner with Le Va because of the work it was doing in the community.

“Our NZRL demographics are 80 per cent Māori and Pasifika, so it’s good to have a programme that caters to them and outlines some things we should think about as fathers,” he says.

“Especially as it relates to violence and addressing some of the violence we do have in our families, and our relationships with our partners.”

An Auckland University study in 2016 looking at the health and wellbeing of secondary school students found young Pasifika people were twice as likely to be physically punished compared to Pākehā children.

“We first address these issues by calling out the elephant in the room, using facts and the current rates,” Seuseu says.

“Then we look at tools and strategies we can use to become better fathers and part of that is just to switch back to the values we have as Pasifika people.”

Seuseu says those values incude love, kindness, and reciprocity.

“We’re reminding people that hey, these are the values that helped build up our community in the past, and we should uphold and practise these values on a daily basis.”

He says his past as a Warriors’ player helps him gather men in the community to have that conversation.

“When they see someone like myself talking about it, it makes it alright for them to share their story and for us to come together and bond as men and discuss ways we can improve.

“It is still difficult because some people don’t want to talk about it, but I think the more we do these things and promote it, the easier for us to come together and talk about our shortcomings and where we can improve, mainly as fathers but also as husbands.”

Henry says the New Zealand Warriors partnered with Le Va to address stigma around mental health.

“One in every four Pacific Islander or Māori has got some sort of mental health challenge that they’re facing,” Henry says.

“In a rugby league team, there’s maybe three or four of your teammates that are maybe going through some mental health challenges.

“This is why an organisation like this is so crucial. It’s getting rid of that stigma and talking about mental health and coming up with solutions.”

Justine Solomon, manager of strategic Investment at ACC says the agency, along with 10 others has been funding Le Va for about four years as part of a national strategy, Te Aorerekura, aimed at eliminating family and sexual violence.

“We know If we want to address these problems, we need to invest in the multiple reinforcing factors of prevention. We need to do not just behaviour change campaigns, but community mobilisation much like what Le va are leading here.”

Solomon says inspiring role models like Henry and Seuseu play an important role in connecting with communities to promote positive roles for men.