By CATHERINE MASTERS
Jim Moriarty, veteran Maori actor and director, has a stash of sad stories he can tell, gathered from the powerful drama therapy programme he runs in social welfare homes.
One youth pulled out a third of the way through the 12-week programme.
"He said, 'There's no point. My family don't want me to succeed. They'd get rough on me if they knew I was doing something like this'," says Moriarty.
"He was telling me how as a kid he'd take home his swimming certificates and stuff and they'd just rip them up and say 'That's no good to you. Our lifestyle, our crime background - that's the one you're in, you know'."
The story illustrates the "massive culture" these young people have come from and to which some will return after their time in the home.
But Moriarty believes the programme Purotu - The Magic Within transforms them from being defensive and fearful.
The Maori theatre company Te Rakau Hua O Te Wao Tapu and 20 facilitators run it at the Northern Residential Centre in Manurewa for 14 to 17-year-olds.
Eventually the youngsters will give live performances that Moriarty says are so full of humour, pathos and drama that people will leave "bawling their eyes out."
Some of the stories are pure horror: "It's a miracle they're alive. They're like some of those little kids you read about in the papers recently who've been killed already."
Moriarty's 35-year acting career has taken him around the world, but he says this is the most profound and satisfying work he has ever done.
He knows it is not a miracle cure and that the young people will need more support mechanisms when they leave. But it is a start.
The programme, provided through a contract with Child, Youth and Family Services, is hard work - "This is like a military campaign for them. They're working 12, 14 hours a day, six days a week" - and some will stumble and fall when it is over.
But Moriarty says that to see a light go on in their eyes, to be part of a process that restores the magic that has been abused, battered and bruised out of them is incredible.
The first year of the new millennium has seen some brutal cases of child abuse, but Moriarty and his programme are one example of people doing their bit to help break the cycle. He is the last to feature in the New Zealand Herald's Light in the Darkness series, which over two months has featured just a few of the many organisations and individuals who battle family violence.
We learned of courses run throughout the country each week attended by men and women wanting to learn how to stop abusing their children, and their partners.
Women also learn it is not a "woman's lot" to be bashed and abused, and they do not have to do it back to their children.
Mentoring schemes came under the spotlight, such as the one run by Kelston Boys High School, where younger students are buddied up with older students for advice and friendship.
Parents Centres around the country offer help and support to thousands of parents every year who want to make a better job of it and learn what to expect and how to cope.
At the Domestic Violence Centre in Auckland a new group has been set up to make sure that a child is not reduced to a tick on a box in some paperwork when a mother is bashed by her partner and police called in.
And we learned of a unique therapy programme for child victims of trauma - such as children who have witnessed the murder of their mother - at the Auckland City Mission's Children's Trauma Centre.
Dame Silvia Cartwright, soon to be the next Governor-General, paid tribute to New Zealanders for bothering to lift the lid on family violence, saying many other nations simply had not looked.
A former police Youth Aid officer brought a programme called Youth Insearch from Australia. It provides camps for young people who are going off the rails, or have had difficult or traumatic pasts.
And, last but not least, a Beyond Violence conference on the issue was held in New Plymouth this month involving delegates from a range of organisations.
* Purotu opens at the Northern Residential Centre, 400 Weymouth Rd, Manurewa, next Saturday at 7 pm.
By CATHERINE MASTERS