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Samoan artist hopes her story will bring better outcomes for disabled

Friday 22 July 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Regional, Samoa

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Samoan artist hopes her story will bring better outcomes for disabled
Lusi Faiva Photo: Supplied

She's an award-winning dancer, an artist and a proud Samoan.

While Lusi Faiva may have soared through her adult life on top of living with cerebral palsy, her experiences as a child in state care was revisited during her hearing at the abuse in care inquiry in Auckland, New Zealand.

Faiva explained that she was admitted to the Kimberley Centre in the Lower North Island and lived there until she was seven. It was at Kimberley that Lusi experienced emotional, medical and cultural neglect.

"The doctor instructed my mum for me to go to an institution and said 'it'd be better this way'," she said.

"I only remember a small amount from my years at Kimberley. I shared a room with other children there but there were no activities going on and we hardly interacted with each other. There were people of all ages with different disabilities and the institution felt dark and cold."

"I didn't know how to express myself and it was assumed that I didn't have the mental capacity to communicate. It was assumed that I had an intellectual disability. No-one ever talked to me about my Samoan heritage either and it felt like people didn't know or care about my Samoan culture. There was no respect or effort to recognise me for who I am."

Faiva further explained that medical neglect was felt through the lack of care from her nurses and did not recieve any specialised care until she left the centre.

Despite the poor quality of care, Faiva said that it was in school that she began to thrive once her teachers realised she was a bright pupil. The impact Faiva's teachers had in her life is something she treasures to this day, especially when it came to reading for the first time.

"It was strange to see words in the beginning," she said.

"But as the time went on, I could understand what they were teaching me - I was a fast learner. I eventually left Kimberley, yet the teachers still remain significant people in my life. Their regular interactions with me taught me that I was someone, I was Lusi and I deserved to be loved."

Watch documentary on Lusi Faiva here

Hearing is over, but normalisation process starts now

Looking back, Faiva believes that the negligence she experienced at Kimberley Centre is a reflection of how institutions fail the disabled community.

"I think that the concept of institutions are not set up to care and look after the disabled people because it is built on a system that dehumanises disabled people and I think that hasn't changed much for how the current state care works."

After her hearing, Faiva said she hopes her presence at the inquiry is a push for state care to improve their disability support services.

"The hearing is over but it's a start of a process," she said.

"There is an absolute desperate need to normalise everyone to live freely. People need to recognise the humanity in everyone.

"At the moment there is no consistency or security in the system. The system needs to be reliable and people deserve the right to feel secure and supported in their community.

"I would like to emphasise the six words I used at the start of my statement: freedom, choice, expression, routine, respect and affection. Those are the things that needs to be included in the system of care."

The Royal Commission will publish its final report based on the hearings in June 2023.

# Wellbeing support is available click to find out more