Making a difference

Inieta Benaca. Picture: MATILDA SIMMONS/FILE

AFTER 28 years in the teaching field, primary schoolteacher, Inieta Benaca, called it quits last year. She was tired of the monotonous work and felt there was more she could do to make a difference.

The Kocoma, Qamea native who liked to refer to herself as a mother of “half a dozen” instead of six children (because six sounded too much ) said it was a big move for her.

“I stayed home for about five months, before I was told about Homes of Hope,” she shared.

Homes of Hope, a Fijian charity founded in 1996, is dedicated towards identifying women on the streets caught in sexual exploitation and provide refuge for young single mothers.

It was a big career change for Inieta who didn’t expect to find herself working as a social worker.

“I had known about Homes of Hope since its inception, in fact, I knew the directors Lynnie and Mark Roche from church. Coming to Homes of Hope, I believe is a divine calling,” said the former teacher.

“Lynnie asked me if I could come here and hold basic literacy and numeracy classes for the residents of Homes of Hope. The vision of Homes of Hope touched me, they’re all about restoring and empowering the broken lives that enter through its doors. I knew this was where I belonged.”

Many of the young girls that come to Homes of Hope are survivors of rape, sexual abuse, incest, and trafficking to name a few.

Inieta said it was an eye-opener and an experience as she dealt with some of the cases.

“When I came here, I saw the need was great, and they asked if I could help with other things for example the community outreach, so at the moment we go out to communities and create safety nets and help build that relationship not only with the communities, but with the civil societies as a whole and other stakeholders.

“Working with the young girls is challenging especially having to pick up the broken pieces; but they are not beyond repair. I believe you can restore lives through guidance and faith.

“We’ve developed a tool kit called Thumbs Up, it’s used to train primary teachers, per-school level teachers and even Sunday school teachers to identify cases of abuse at early stages.

“As a former schoolteacher, I have come across such cases and it helps to know the indicators of abuse,” she shared.

“Fiji has passed a Child Welfare Decree where we are mandated as first professionals to report if there’s any case of abuse.

“For those reading this — we at Homes of Hope are encouraging parents and community leaders to intervene or report, they see indicators of sexual abuse or exploitation. It’s worth an intervention because lives are precious.”

Inieta added she had found a home at Homes of Hope, and the work has been a fulfilling one.

“I am making a difference, and that’s what matters most,” she smiled.

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