Volunteers and staff give out free sausages on New Zealand Gamblefree Day 2015. Photo: Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand
A young Samoan boy stands confidently on stage and proudly recites a poem he has written for the Gamblefree Day poem competition. Entitled ‘Choose me not gambling’, the poem is a heartfelt expression of his thoughts about gambling. The first line is: ‘I am only a little child without a voice’.
At the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand we recognise the benefits of providing a means for people’s voices to be heard and strive to incorporate users of our services into the work we do.
How we approach this differs not only between ethnicities but also between individual clients.
For example, Mapu Maia, our Pasifika unit, developed the poem competition to encourage people to speak out and help break down the stigma associated with gambling issues in the Pasifika community.
Pesio Ah-Honi Siitia, Pacific manager at Mapu Maia, says the competition provided a perfect forum for the Pacific community to share stories.
‘It created a safe and non-threatening environment that fostered open dialogue about the issue of problem gambling. We worked with Radio Samoa to promote the competition and had one of our team on air daily during the children’s program, when children and their parents could phone in and read their poems on air.
'The competition didn’t single anyone out or label community members as gamblers. It was part of building rapport and trust before we could work with people individually,’ she says.
The power of personal stories
Our clients often feel anger at becoming victim to a dangerous product and want to speak out and warn others of the hazards as part of their healing process.
One of the ways they can do this is to share their personal stories, and we facilitate this in a sensitive and respectful way, being mindful of where they are at in their journey.
The media often requests interviews with people with lived experience to add depth and reality to gambling-related articles. For most people this is empowering and they often view it as a rewarding part of their therapeutic journey. Many clients have told us that sharing their story through the media has reinforced their resolve to be truthful, open and honest.
We recognise the benefits of providing a means for people’s voices to be heard.
Gambling policy reviews at local councils also give people the opportunity to speak out and share their personal stories as part of the submission process. We have seen firsthand the power of these stories, enabling councillors to ‘walk in the shoes’ of someone who has had serious problems with the pokies.
Helping clients to help us
The Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand uses client input in planning and program development in many ways, including focus groups, consultation with representatives from these groups for specific purposes, and client evaluation of services.
Laurie Siegel-Woodward, our national operations director, says client feedback helps us monitor the accessibility, quality and outcomes of our services and make improvements to best meet people’s needs.
‘It’s invaluable to us as a way to inform our service delivery,’ she says. ‘Our counsellors have found that using outcome measurement improves the alliance with the client and our ability to help. This is true across all client demographics.’
Passion for change
Brenda McQuillan is a problem gambling consumer advisor based in Nelson at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. A former client, Brenda has been involved with the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand since 2004. She has also been a member of a ministerial advisory group on problem gambling and harm minimisation for the past twelve years and has spoken and presented workshops at a number of the International Gambling Conferences held in New Zealand.
Brenda says her participation has enabled her to present an authentic voice in environments where sometimes that voice is overlooked.
‘I've spoken openly and honestly about the harms my family and I suffered,’ she says.
Brenda has spoken out about pokies in many different forums, sharing a passion for change driven by her lived experience.
Her participation has enabled her to present an authentic voice in environments where sometimes that voice is overlooked.
‘There is a harmful product in our communities and, while it is legal, there needs to be more awareness around the often devastating harms pokies can cause,’ Brenda says.
Many clients want to ‘give back’ as they are grateful for the changes they have been able to make in their lives. This includes volunteering with the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand.
Our Asian Family Services has an extensive and committed team of volunteers who help out with events, office work and anything else that fits their skills.
John Wong, national director of Asian Family Services, says they couldn’t do without their dedicated team of volunteers.
‘We provide training for them for specific events and activities so they feel confident in what is required of them, and often it becomes a social occasion that everyone enjoys.’
Mapu Maia manager Pesio Ah-Honi Siitia agrees volunteers make an invaluable contribution.
‘Traditionally, Pacific people consider volunteering as serving others, as this is a way blessings are received. We are brought up to serve in the church, serve our families and especially serve our elders,’ she says.
‘The Samoan proverb “ole le ala ole pule ole tautua” – the pathway to leadership is through service – depicts this. So when we ask our Pacific people to participate in our cause it is a natural part of who they are to serve the community.’
At the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand we believe consumer involvement enriches our services, benefiting the organisation and providing a platform for authentic voices to be heard.