Loves-Me-Not takes flight in Fiji

Loves-Me-Not takes flight in Fiji

Thanks to a young Kiwi teacher, the Loves-Me-Not healthy relationships initiative has reached the small Fijian island of Ovalau.

When Nicole Lowen was a student at Waitaki Girls High she went through the Loves-Me-Not programme. Now a volunteer teacher at a catholic secondary school on Ovalau - about a two-hour boat ride from the main island of Viti Levu – Nicole is using the programme to educate her students about healthy relationships.

The Sophie Elliott Foundation – founded and chaired by Lesley Elliott, whose daughter Sophie was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 2008 - partnered with Police to develop Loves-Me-Not.

Used by schools across New Zealand, Loves-Me-Not reached about 11,000 students in 126 secondary schools in 2018.

Nicole says she was motivated to try to make a difference for the next generation of island women after becoming aware of the prevalence of domestic violence on Ovalau, including seeing the effect of an assault on a woman she knows.

She decided the Loves-Me-Not messaging could be used to present an alternative narrative to the young people at her school.

“I knew I could take the opportunity to make a difference in the younger generation.

“I first proposed the program to the principal and she loved it - she thought it would be great for me to present it.

"I asked her if it was a topic that is ever spoken about, she said ‘No, we don’t often talk about issues like this’.”

Nicole sought the consent of the Sophie Elliott Foundation, then presented the programme with the support of a Peace Corp volunteer who is a qualified counsellor. They have given the presentation to all 11 classes at the school, adapting it to the various year levels.

As for the students, Nicole says they really listened and had great answers. The recent high-profile case of a man who killed his 19-year-old girlfriend in Fiji made the messages the students received from the programme all the more poignant.

“I honestly believe, from the students’ answers and genuine interest, that they understand how wrong some of the situations they witness, and sometimes are a part of, really are," says Nicole.

“I hope they can somehow push past the acceptance of domestic violence to start to create change in relationships and lower the amount of everyday abuse and violence at school and in the villages.”

Roly Hermans, Coordinator Schools in the National Prevention Centre, says one of the aims of Loves-Me-Not is to enable student-led action, where they see themselves as owning the message of healthy relationships and they take that message into their communities.

“It is wonderful to see this stepping up to a new level, where we now have an ex-student adapting and building on Loves-Me-Not for a totally new setting.”

Sophie Elliott Foundation trustee Bill O’Brien, a former police officer, says Nicole's story epitomises the Loves-Me-Not approach. "It's not simply a workshop - it goes far beyond that," he says.

"This young woman has taken the programme into a community where she has seen a need - as there was a need in New Zealand - for information and education about healthy relationships.

"That's inspiring and makes Sophie's legacy all the more valuable."