She Is Not Your Rehab: Family mourns death of the woman who inspired a movement

Last Thursday, Aitofi Telesia Pouvi Taimalelagi closed her eyes for the final time.

The woman who inspired her son to create a whole movement to combat family violence has left this world – but her mark will stay on for a long time to come.

Matt Brown, her son and founder of She Is Not Your Rehab, posted the news of his mother’s death to social media and confirmed to the Herald that his mother died last Thursday at 7pm.

“My dear mother was my first protector, a survivor, a warrior and a Queen,” Matt Brown said in a statement.

“She had a generous spirit and a good sense of humour. Her life was one of heartache and struggle, yet she gave birth to nine children and worked hard to give us the very best she could with what she had,” he added.

Brown started the anti-violence movement “She Is Not Your Rehab” because of his mother and the suffering he had witnessed in his home.

A post shared by MATT BROWN (@myfathersbarber)

He says the movement is “founded on her story, her sorrow, her survival and the way I witnessed her for many, many years become a rehabilitation centre for the man she loved, all because she wanted us kids to have a family like she had grown up with”.

A post shared by MATT BROWN (@myfathersbarber)

Just last week, the family described how she felt emotional when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson singled her out in a powerful message to the family he posted online.

The Hollywood actor sent a message to the family last week, after Brown’s son Angelou tagged “The Rock” in a video asking him to join them in spreading the anti-violence message of “She Is Not Your Rehab” with men around the world.

In his response, “The Rock” singled out the work the boy’s father does with the “She is Not Your Rehab” group, as well as the boy’s nana.

“I admire your father, greatly for standing up and creating @sheisnotyourrehab. And to make sure his mom – your Nana – will never be forgotten. Encouraging men all over the world to treat our women with respect, love and most importantly, violence-free,” the actor said.

“The way you sit in your Nana’s arms as she speaks to you is the exact same way I would sit in my grandma’s arms when I was your age, while she said her prayers in Samoan to God, and then she’d talk to me afterwards just like she talks to you.

“She would tell me the exact same things your Nana is telling you. Listen to her. And always remember her words,” the actor advises the boy.

A post shared by therock (@therock)

“You stay strong, Angelou and keep listening to your Nana and your dad. One day you will become the leader of your aiga and also a leader the world will admire,” he added.

In the original video that the five-year-old posted for “The Rock”, the Christchurch boy explained how his dad started the anti-violence movement in honour of his grandmother, who had suffered domestic abuse.

Men all around New Zealand, the Pacific, and even the whole wide world because his mum, my nana, had a sad life when they were growing up with lots of fights at home.

“It was sad for my dad to watch her get hurt a lot. And she had to go away lots to many refuges,” the boy said.

“My dad says it’s his mission to help other men to heal so their wives don’t have sad lives like Nana did.”

In the video, Angelou revealed his nana was unwell with lung cancer. He said his father Matt Brown will use the She Is Not Your Rehab movement to help tell her story and promises her message will never be forgotten.

Matt Brown, told Jono and Ben that his father never did any work to heal himself and her mother’s eyes were “always so sad” and shared his own story of navigating family violence.

“The journey of healing is very painful because you sometimes have to revisit some of that past trauma,” Brown said.

“You have to remind yourself that you are no longer that young child, that you are older and wiser and have more options and opportunities to get help.”

Brown said he witnessed his mother being “subjected to abuse I thought would kill her” and told Jono and Ben that he was still working as an adult to understand what he saw, saying that “children are awesome recorders but terrible interpreters”.

A post shared by MATT BROWN (@myfathersbarber)

Brown told the Herald last month he decided to reach out to Johnson in the hope his mana in the Pacific community would make men stand up and listen.

“Our goal with all our mahi (work) and messaging is to change the narrative around domestic violence.

A post shared by MATT BROWN (@myfathersbarber)

“We ask ourselves how we can engage people to have hard conversations in palatable ways. For White Ribbon Day this year my own mother’s story was close to my heart and I know hers is similar to many other Polynesian women, I feel it’s time for Pacific men in our communities to stand up and say no more.

Brown and his movement’s ultimate goal is for “Aotearoa to become violence-free”.

“I promised her before she left this world that I would tell her story to the world,” Brown added,” her son said today, as he prepares for her funeral and the family comes to terms with a life without her in it.

“Her story will be a source of redemption for many and a way to reclaim the narrative of domestic violence that is still a hidden pandemic and a source of shame here in Aotearoa and around the world.”

A survivor of many of life’s toughest battles, Aitofi Taimalelagi died after a battle with lung cancer. She leaves behind children, grandchildren and a legacy that will last for generations to come.

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