Pepi Fifield (pictured with her kaiārahi Michelle Naepi) has navigated a life for herself away from violence and chaos to one where she is now running her own business with her whānau, thanks to Te Whānau o Waipareira and Ngā Tini Whetū.
Pepi grew up in the Far North town of Kaeo with her grandparents. Her mother had a terminal illness while her biological father had been banished for being Pakeha. The divide between the families originated when her biological parents first met and her mother fell pregnant. Once she told her family the news they refused to accept him and told her to choose between him or them. She chose her whānau but would sneak away to meet him whenever she could. Subsequent years saw them drift apart and he moved further south after being diagnosed with mental illness.
The Kaeo property run by her koro was a working farm and plantation with a lot of animals Pepi used to feed and cows she helped milk before school. She attended a catholic church, learning karakia through her bilingual grandparents who also taught her the value of working hard, something she would never forget especially when she got older.
Unfortunately death surrounded her from an early age with older and younger brothers both tragically stillborn. Then when Pepi was five her mum passed away. Three weeks later her grandmother died and life instantly changed. Her late mother’s older sister arrived announcing that Pepi was coming to live with her. In the many years that followed she was subjected to physical, emotional and mental abuse that she could not escape from.
“My aunty had her own children who were openly loved and cared for, but I was rejected and bullied. I did all of the housework, I had to vacuum and if it wasn’t done exactly the way she wanted I would get the bash. It started happening almost every day, no-one outside of the house knew so no-one helped me, including my cousins who watched it”.
For the next nine years Pepi lived in fear and when she turned 16 she ran away.
“My cousin came up home in a stolen car so I asked her if I could go with her and we went to Auckland. I tried to hide when I heard my aunt was in the city looking for me but a couple of days later they found me. I told my other aunts what was going on at home but no one would do anything because she is the oldest and they were afraid of her”.
By now the Police were involved, and with more whānau arriving at the courthouse including her koro, Pepi issued an ultimatum.
“I said to them that if they make me go back up north to my violent aunt’s house, I would kill myself. I knew my uncle was living in Hawkes Bay so I asked if I could go and live with him”.
Authorities recognised Pepi could not return to Northland and they allowed her to move to Napier to live with her uncle and his family. She quickly settled in getting a job at the local bakery and making new friends.
“I was good with my uncle, his wife and their children, but I wanted to find someone who loved me. When I was 17 I thought I met someone who did love me and we were together for a year. As my Pakeha family is Mormon, you can’t have any sexual relations without being married. So when I was 18 we got married, he was 19. He became very abusive and very jealous, always needing know where I was and who I was with. I tried to commit suicide a few times”.
The pair were married less than a year when Pepi grabbed her things and left. Her estranged husband demanded she return, but when she refused to go back he found out where she lived and smashed up her car.
Pepi moved on with her life and soon met another man who was heavily involved in a local band and surrounded by a life of alcohol and drugs.
“While I was working in an apple pack-house I started doing marijuana and drinking. I knew all of this behaviour was wrong and I would pray all the time for some protection as I was in unknown territory”.
Pepi asked her boyfriend to choose between a clean life with her or a life of drugs and alcohol. He chose the latter and she asked him to leave. She soon ended her next relationship after discovering he was unfaithful. Wanting a fresh start Pepi moved to Rotorua, getting employment in a takeaway shop while attending hospitality courses. And as a means to an end, she also took a job in a strip club.
“I moved into a place on my own and just kept working. I then managed to find my father who was in a local facility and I brought him to live with me while I took care of him”.
Pepi soon left the strip club after being introduced back into the church through new friends.
“It was weird, all of a sudden I met three different guys from church who wanted my phone number. One called me saying he was the best choice as one of the other men was married and the other was a “player”. It was 2005, I went out on a date with him and we are still together today”.
The pair married and settled adopting two of his nieces from Samoa and having two of their own, a blessing because Pepi thought she was unable to bear children. They have a son and a daughter who are now close to becoming teenagers. The family moved to Auckland and four years ago Pepi received devastating news that her husband had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, something she has managed to come to terms with.
“I feel lucky. I have two lovely children, my husband is very caring and he allows me freedom to do what I want without worrying where I am or who I am with. He trusts me which is awesome, compared to my previous relationships as they always wondered where I was and what I was doing”.
A few years ago Pepi needed guidance with the household budget so she reached out to Te Whānau o Waipareira who helped her manage her income and expenses. Waipareira kaimahi also enrolled her in a business course and found her extra financial aid.
“I met Liz who works within WINZ which was mind-blowing because she quickly discovered I was entitled to more financial assistance. I am so grateful she did that for me because I knew I could get more, but I got treated so badly at the WINZ offices I just stayed away”.
Waipareira supported Pepi as a mama with blankets and home furnishings while also embracing her desire to run her own business.
“I wanted to be my own boss so I went on one course which showed me how to be financially capable. The next thing I knew I was being told to go and get invoices for things I needed for my mahi. It took me a while to process that!”.
Pepi exceeded her own expectations by completing a few courses and then moving into the Ngā Tini Whetū programme which had a more holistic approach.
“I enjoyed doing the practicals with Ngā Tini Whetū as it allowed me to open myself up more with my manaaki and my wairua as well as my wellbeing and mental mind. They even had this relationship exercise that I did with my husband which taught us both a bit more about each other”.
Her uncle visiting from the UK told her he used to sell candy floss at the markets back in England and found it fairly profitable which encouraged Pepi to start selling kai. She joined the local Kelston Club which held a lot of sporting and community events. One day the Kelston Club Manager told her there was a vacancy at the local high school in the Food & Hygiene Certificate class so Pepi went. On her birthday she celebrated with the news she had passed.
“I started off making and selling popcorn and candy floss at Henderson Baptist Church which went okay. I felt embarrassed selling that type of food because I was quite overweight. Then my husband suggested I sell my chocolate afghan biscuits which quickly became popular with people”.
Pepi started to make the biscuits for schools, then church and a local restaurant. She went from presenting her food on a table to creating a stall underneath a gazebo. One day she was approached by a wahine selling similar kai who asked if she was licensed as Pepi was at risk of getting fined by the Council.
“I thought she was going to dob me in. But she actually showed me how to get my license and said it was going to cost $900.00. I’m on a benefit but over three months of putting a bit away each week I managed to save the full amount. So I called this lady and she took me through what the inspection was going to look like and how I needed to be prepared”.
Pepi passed her license with an A+ certification and after a local business gave her a very generous deal on her signs, she became a regular at the Night Markets.
Things soon progressed after one uncle, who used to be in the food business, generously made her a self-contained food cart. Not only could Pepi tow this to markets and events she now had equipment on board to make hot food and coffee. Her two children are often on hand to help out, something Pepi is grateful for as she began having problems with muscle spasms in her back.
Since approaching Waipareira a few years ago, Pepi has not only set up her own business, she has also completed some parenting courses and is still stunned at the wraparound services on offer.
“Throughout this journey I had the chance to invite my friend to do some courses with me and that helped us both. I couldn’t believe how much Waipareira helps me. At first I thought I had to pay it back and was blown away that it was genuine. I feel embarrassed sometimes that I have been given too much, and maybe I don’t deserve any more. One time while I was setting up my business I really needed a food parcel, but my pride stopped me”.
Feeling proud is a new feeling for Pepi. She is proud that she spent some with her father before laying him to rest up north, proud of her strong work ethic inherited from her late grandparents, proud of her children, her business and proud of her journey with Waipareira.
“Ngā Tini Whetu, wow. I am amazed at all the awhi. And my kaiārahi Michelle is just like a sister to me, I feel like I can actually talk to her. It’s been really awesome and I also appreciate being invited to go along to other events out of the blue. This support has really helped my confidence and my skills, I’m very lucky”.