Fighting suicide, Maori style

Ashley Jez

Having spent 10 days on the island of O’ahu, 16 people from New Zealand called 2FACE Drama visited local area public high schools, along with Honolulu Community College, to spread awareness on the issue of suicide awareness through skits and demonstrations.

This event was part of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September. HonCC hosted 2Face in collaboration with Aunty Pua Kaninau-Santos from Lili’uokalani Trust.

Sally Rye of the New Zealand group said “we are interested in working with the Indigenous cultures of the world. We believe our struggles with this issue of youth suicide are similar and in many cases stem from a loss of culture, identity and purpose. We also have a connection with Hawaii and this was our 3rd visit.”

2FACE performed skits in the HonCC cafeteria with storylines crafted to convey the message of suicide awareness, intervention and prevention. A dance showcased by the New Zealanders at the beginning of their performance was uplifting, and all about having fun. Danny Poa, one of the performers, said, “it was a lyrical dance that takes you down then brings you back up.”

“When you feel weak, believe it’s just a phase…everyone will get past it,” said Tiana Poinga, another performer. “Choosing dance can be another form of expression to help ourselves communicate how we feel.” Poinga said that people aren’t always good at expressing themselves through talking, but there are other ways like dance to express oneself.

The group was established five years ago by a group of friends that had been involved in similar social movements as teenagers. The initial message they were driving to get out was prevention of family violence and bullying in schools. But two years ago, the focus changed to raising awareness on suicide prevention when members of the group lost a sibling and a close friend to suicide. New Zealand has the highest rate of suicide in Polynesia. The other members realized that they had been impacted by this episode, along with other individual episodes they had experienced in their own lives. Charlizza Harris, founder and director of the 2FACE Drama group, lost her father to suicide when she was three years old. These events made suicide an issue close to their hearts.

Every year the group is involved with two major events. The first is the unSPOKEN word conference with young leaders throughout New Zealand over a period of a week, involving 50 youths that come together for seven weekends to put together a major production/show based on building resiliency through identity, culture and purpose. Similar to a camp, the goal is to build leaders to take initiative in communities to raise awareness about suicide prevention. The time period runs from March-June each year, with the next event starting in October and running until December. Harris is in charge of creating new stories that young people can relate to.