06 Mar Someone to lean on – Deborah’s story
Shortly following the March 15 Christchurch terror attacks, Victim Support management put out the call asking who would be willing to travel to Christchurch to help support the victims. Auckland-based support worker, Deborah Du Toit, immediately put her hand up.
“My initial thoughts were that anyone who could go should go. I don’t have young children, so I could get away,” says Deborah.
Deborah travelled to Christchurch, where Victim Support and other agencies were working together to establish a collaborative hub, providing a safety net around the victims.
Previously a volunteer support worker for Victim Support and now a full-time staff member, Deborah had spent many years’ working with victims of trauma. Even with that experience, she was grateful to receive additional training on arrival in Christchurch.
“Imams from the mosque came to talk to us all about Muslim protocol and cultural norms. It was incredibly helpful for me to know how to approach people.”
“Some of the witnesses had seen the gunman drive away, while others lived nearby and heard gunshots or saw the deceased or injured.”
Deborah feels her background growing up in Cape Town, and her training helped prepare her for Christchurch.
“I have learnt a lot about crime scenes and the impact of homicide on the bereaved, and I had been exposed to several incidents previously.”
Victim Support’s response to the Christchurch terror events included placing a team of senior management at the hub alongside support workers.
One particular client visit stands out for Deborah as an example of Victim Support’s commitment.
“I was so thankful for the opportunity to work with our top management on the ground with our clients. Kevin Tso, the CEO went with me to go and talk with one of the families – that was just awesome,” says Deborah.
The role of the support worker is broad. It ranges from providing emotional support to practical help attending appointments or helping to navigate agencies such as the health or justice systems. One year on, she is still working closely with many of her clients from that time.
Reflecting on the events as the anniversary approaches, Deborah says aspects of the work have stuck with her.
“I have been supporting people who were not at the mosque at the time of the shooting, where they normally would have been. These are the ones that I have found need as much support as if they were there. That stands out for me.”
Deborah visited Christchurch for ten days at a time, returning home in between. She continues to travel to spend time and help when her clients need her. As the anniversary approaches, Deborah reflects on what she learned, saying:
“I am more resilient and stronger than I thought I was. Especially having gone into the Deans Avenue Mosque. The floor was covered for obvious reasons. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what it was like for the people there when the incident happened. It was quite overwhelming.”
The visit reminded Deborah of what’s at the heart of the Victim Support service.