It’s not easy being a young woman in today’s world—the development of a healthy sense of ‘self’ is not a given in this era of fickle social media influences and pressures. The erosion of wellbeing and decline in mental health among young women is, sadly, increasingly common.
Growing up in a Christian home, or being part of a church, doesn’t necessarily make you immune to some of the challenges of life. But there is hope!
Kerry Petrie is the Director of A Girl Called Hope, a programme run by a dedicated team of professionals who provide support, care and offer life-development training for young New Zealand women aged between 16 and 28 years, with a view to strengthening their resilience, self-esteem and wellbeing.
‘Girls come to us for a variety of reasons, but what’s most common are young women facing considerable challenges because of anxiety, depression, dis-ordered eating, self-harm and suicidal thinking. Many of the young women have low self-esteem, which can be caused by a lot of things, such as hardship, abuse, unrealistic expectations, bullying, trauma and so on. There’s always something behind what they are experiencing,’ Kerry explains.
Hope believes in finding freedom and a future, is the clarion cry of A Girl Called Hope, and the team is passionate about seeing young women restored to full health, discovering their lives’ purpose, and bringing value to their world as productive and thriving individuals. Based on the Te Whare Tapa Wha model of health, A Girl Called Hope aims to provide a place to heal and grow in strength, by showing the girls they are valued, have purpose and, above all, have a reason to live. The unique programme uses an holistic approach based on Christian principles and values that address the physical (tinana), emotional and psychological (hinengaro), spiritual (wairua) and relational (whānau) wellbeing of each young woman.
Gabrielle Herbert (Session Community Church, Pakuranga, Auckland) was 18 and the child of Salvation Army officers when she entered A Girl Called Hope in 2018.
‘Nothing was working. I was struggling with anxiety and depression as well as self-harm. I needed something a bit more intense and focused and to get away from my normal circumstances where change seemed impossible. I felt stuck. And while I found being away from family very hard, going to the ‘home’ gave me the gift of time to reflect without distractions, work on my stuff and rebuild my relationship with God.’
Time to Heal
Holly Cormack of Upper Hutt Corps was 27 when she entered the programme in 2017. ‘I was dealing with bad depression and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and was lost as to what to try or seek next. I felt like I didn’t have any more options.’
A close friend suggested the programme during a group counselling session that included Holly’s husband. But when Holly discovered it was a 6-month residential programme based in Auckland, her initial response was, ‘Nope, I can’t do that! We have a young family—a 2-year-old, 4-year-old and a 9-year-old—how on earth could it work?’
Holly was astounded when her corps family came together to provide support. ‘We had a big group meeting with people who I see as family—friends and wise people who know me and my journey. And it just so happened that out of that meeting everything for my husband and kids was worked out. To this day, I believe that the only reason I was able to go, given my set of circumstances, was because God made a way—I was meant to go there.’
Holly found being away from home extremely difficult, but she says that the team was ‘incredibly accommodating, because it wasn’t just about me but also my kids and husband. Being in a community with other girls and all the support systems in place meant that I was more willing to share, because I felt completely supported and safe. It helped knowing that what I was going through was okay and I wasn’t alone on that journey. My eyes were opened to what I was truly capable of because of the tools I was given. As hard as it was being away from my family,
I would do it again in a heartbeat,’ explains Holly.
Gabrielle says, ‘I learnt so much about myself during my time at A Girl Called Hope and now have a really good tool kit that I actively and regularly use. The mood-tracker tool helps me live my life with greater confidence. I’m able to recognise when things are going to custard and get help before it becomes a crisis. That’s the biggest learning—being able to recognise my emotions, own them and process them appropriately. My life had also been ruled at the time by the lie that I was stupid. Because I dropped out of school to attend the programme, I had to work extra hard to replace that lie with the truth that I’d made a wise decision to invest in my mental wellbeing. I spent hours every day practising saying that truth out loud. It took the full six months for me to believe that I was fearfully and wonderfully made and not stupid’.
Motivated to Heal
Acceptance into the programme is based on self-referral. In other words, a young woman must willingly choose to apply and engage in the intake process, because motivation to change is imperative to healing. Kerry explains that there are three phases: intake, residential and transition. ‘During the intake phase the coordinator is trying to identify if the girl has made a decision that she wants to change, and that she is motivated to do the work for change.’
Both Gabrielle and Holly agree emphatically that if you’re considering applying, you have to be ready to do some hard work. ‘Don’t think it’s going to be easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done—facing my stuff. But it’s worth it in the long run,’ says Gabrielle.
‘You also need to understand that the ‘home’ is not a quick fix,’ affirms Holly. ‘You’re not going to go and come back completely better. The journey continues when you get home. You have work to do there and also work to do with your family and friends after the residential part is over.’
MORE INFO: www.agirlcalledhope.org.nz