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Transgender advocate driven by faith, sense of motherhood

By Katherine Armon

Spirituality and a drive to help others have helped Mama Tere survive a harrowing childhood of sexual abuse and prostitution on the streets of Auckland.

Mama Tere

Today Mama Tere is an advisor to the Manukau council and runs her own social service, Te Aronga Hou Inaianei. Mama is also an outspoken advocate for transgender people.

Born male, Mama Tere ran away at the age of 11 onto the streets of Auckland to get away from the sexual abuse she faced in her own home from an early age.

“The abuse happened from as far back as I can remember. The perpetrator would come home drunk and abuse me. I must have been about four when it started.

“What has helped me through this is being able to talk about it. When I did start talking about it other kids at my school came forward who were also living through this kind of abuse in their homes – the flock of silent lambs,” says Mama.

Her childhood was ripped further from her when she was raped and prostituted by the people who took her into their ‘care’ on the streets.

“It was a choice for me: to be molested in my own home or raped on the streets. I thought to myself which of the two could I deal with more. I choose the streets because at least the perpetrators were strangers and not my own family. I was introduced to drugs to dull my senses and spent the next few years in and out of prison and various institutions.”

After many attempts on her own life Mama ended up in a psychiatric institution. She spent some months trying to pull her life together with the help of her mother and other members of her family who had appeared back in her life desperate to help her.

It was when Mama was placed in charge of her sister’s baby that life really began to change. Her sister already had six children and entrusted her baby gratefully to Mama’s care. In return, Mama turned her life around.

Motherhood made Mama feel alive and needed. Her new life was one of hope and great promise until tragedy struck. Diagnosed with leukaemia her baby was admitted to Starship hospital and after fighting the disease for a year and a half, she died.

It was at this point in Mama’s life that her biggest choice took place.

“People from the streets told me to come back, that less pain was on the streets than the pain I was going through with the loss of my child. I decided I would return to the streets but not in the same role.

“This time I would go back and help those who are still there. There was now this motherly instinct in me that I knew would never go away. It wasn’t about replacing it with another child it was about using it to cope.

“My experiences have made me strong and have put me on the path I am on now. If these events had not happened to me then I probably wouldn’t be on this road helping others.

“The other thing that makes me strong is my spirituality. I have a very close relationship with our creator and without God’s help a lot of what I do would be too hard. He is my support and through him I have my baby with me always.”

Mama Tere has touched a great many lives with her extraordinarily positive outlook and help. Through the Mangere East Family Service her group Te Aronga Hou Inaianei (TAHI) supports gay and transgender people, prostitutes, and other at risk youth.

Trinity Theological College student David Poultney did a placement at TAHI as part of his ministry training.

“My time with Mama Tere enabled me to work with a group of marginal people and see how they support each other,” David says

“Mama Tere is a strong advocate. She is a powerful speaker and has mana. She is very much at home in both Maori and Pacifica culture and has created and organisation and environment that reflects this.

“Part of her strength is helping people connect to concepts of gender and sexuality in Maori and Pacific culture that are quite different from our Western understanding. She is also a great host who welcomes people in with both generosity and grace.”

Mama’s passion for life and her unwavering faith in our creator are truly inspiring. She deals with prejudice and discrimination from many directions on a daily basis but she takes great comfort in her faith.

“I strongly believe what has happened to me was supposed to happen and that God had a purpose for me and I am doing it and he will provide&he is providing,” Mama says.