real life

Nicolle helps women and children escape domestic and family violence. One little girl's question broke her.

Nicolle Edwards has been pushing for change since she was a little girl.

Hailing from Zimbabwe, she says that social justice, racial justice and gender-based violence have always been issues front of mind.

The fire in her belly was truly ignited when Nicolle started to hear stories of Australian women having to flee their homes out of fear for their lives.

"I think the minute you start asking questions, and you start understanding how pervasive domestic and family violence is, then how can you possibly turn away? These stories kept happening around me, and I knew I had to do my bit," she tells Mamamia.

This is what led to her starting RizeUp, an Australian organisation that helps women and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. The charity provides life-changing and practical support to these families by fitting out homes.

For over a decade now Nicolle and her team have been helping women escape domestic and family violence. 

Currently, the RizeUp team furnishes at least eight to 10 complete homes per week. The team along with their brand partners source the furniture, the bedding, the kitchen appliances, the soft furnishings, the toys – all the things that make a home. They've helped thousands of women and children find a fresh start.

Watch: women and violence – the hidden numbers. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia. 

Often as part of her role as RizeUp's CEO, Nicolle has events to attend – whether it be events to raise funding or awareness. One of these happened a few years ago, and there was a question by one of the women in the audience that almost broke Nicolle.

"I went up to speak at this event and this woman Jane* stood up at the very back of the room. She said she had found out I was speaking that day and she wanted to come in and say thank you, as we had created a home for her. It was so emotional," explains Nicolle. 

"Before coming to the event Jane had told her daughter – who was about 10 at the time – that she was going to see 'the lady who helped us start again.' Jane asked her daughter if there was anything she wanted to say to me. The girl's response was completely heartbreaking.

"She had wanted to ask me, 'How do I keep safe when I go to Dad's place?' The whole room felt that question so viscerally, as did I. You know, children are often overlooked in these situations, and only recently has the law started recognising children not simply as witnesses, but as victims."

Speaking to Mamamia, Jane said she is incredibly grateful for what RizeUp did for her and her family.

"I still worry if today is the day he walks back into our lives and I know my daughter still carries that burden too. There has been a couple of pivotal moments in my life that have changed my path. One was that event where I met Nicolle. I was in absolute awe. The whole reason I share my story is in the hope of improving outcomes for other families and to encourage hope," Jane shares.


It is understandably difficult hearing about the worst moments of women's lives. But it's what keeps Nicolle going. She says to Mamamia that if she were to ever detach, that would be a complete hinderance to the cause.

The reality is that this isn't all just on Nicolle's shoulders. Nor is it just on domestic and family violence services and advocates as a whole. The responsibility lies with all of us – to take a stand, but also support.

Nicolle wants people to know RizeUp needs their help. Image: Supplied.

On average, it costs $6,000 to set up a home for a family. This cost is made up entirely of donations.


But in order to make change in these women's lives, they need our help. Right now RizeUp is trying to get 5000 Australians to donate $2 a week.

"We're a critical service, one that provides women with the agency to make decisions that are best and safest for themselves and their children. The sad reality is that domestic and family violence can impact anyone. With that in mind, we need everyone's support to make a difference," she tells Mamamia.

I myself have decided to become one of these 5000 Australians, after I had the opportunity to set up a home for a mother and her two kids escaping violence last month. I know what it's like to watch someone you love lose someone to domestic violence

"Each dollar makes a tangible difference too – $15 pays for a kettle and toaster pack, giving her a comforting hot drink and a simple snack to nourish the soul. $45 for a pack of pillows to rest a weary head and a comforting quilt set to provide a warm embrace after many a night filled with fear. It goes on and on," says Nicolle.

"Recently we received some feedback from a social worker after her client was given her new sanctuary. She said, 'Our client is completely overwhelmed. When she saw the house turned into a home – the fruit bowl, the card, the arts supplies – she started crying. She feels relieved to now no longer have to ask for permission to touch anything. She is most looking forward to baking in the kitchen and listening to her daughters play without fear of making a noise.'"

There's an analogy that Nicolle uses often. The story of the starfish.

"There's an older man, and he's walking along the beach. There's a little girl, and she's bending down and picking up starfish from the shore and popping them back in the ocean. All around her are starfish that have washed up on the shore of the beach, hundreds and hundreds of starfish for kilometres on end.


"The man pauses by the little girl and asks what she's doing. 'You're never going to a make difference, look at the hundreds of starfish ahead of you, they'll die before you manage to put them all out at sea.' The little girl bends down and picks up a starfish, and throws it back into the ocean. She turns back to the man and says, 'Well, I made a difference to that one starfish and its family just then,'" says Nicolle. 

"For us at RizeUp, we're making a difference for that one family. It's one at a time. As a society, we can get really overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand. But if we just concentrate and keep going, we're going to make massive inroads."

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a Queensland-based organisation that helps women and families move on after the devastation of domestic violence. If you would like to support their mission to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most, you can donate here.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

A woman reports domestic or family violence every 2 minutes in Australia. Help her start again with RizeUp.   Donate here

Feature Image: Supplied.