A Finn running 1,500 miles for non-violence: Why New Zealand?

A question I frequently get regarding my upcoming ultra (which serves as the launch for Sisu not Silence – a global movement to end the silence around interpersonal violence) revolves around the choice of location. “Why New Zealand?” One well-meaning person even commented, “Why not run across Australia”. Probably because I want to live to tell the story perhaps (yup, I draw the line to 1,500 miles).

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A moment in time New Zealand in 2007. Returning now, a decade later, with a mission.

The original reason for choosing to run the length of this particular country is quite more emotion and intuition based than I would perhaps like to admit. I’ve always felt a strong gravitational pull toward New Zealand, a sense of connection, and I call it my second home after Finland.As weird synapses and functionings of the mind would have it, back in 2010 I remember getting this crazy thought that one day I want to return to NZ and run the country from

As weird synapses and functionings of the mind would have it, back in 2010 after having overcome a violent relationship, I remember having this mind-bending thought that one day I’d want to return to NZ and run the country from coast to coast. The reason for this run would be to help break the silence around interpersonal violence globally, support us survivors and promote a culture of zero tolerance for any kind of abuse.

However, I never thought this idea would manifest itself through action. I was a researcher, not a real runner.

Aristotle once said: “The soul never thinks without a picture.” And sure enough, I carried this dream in my heart long enough and finally, at the end of last year, I said ‘yes’ to it. It’s the scariest challenge I have voluntarily chosen to take part in so far. It required me to prioritize and choose what I really want. I called the co-founder of my then start up the next week and told him I’d have to go on this journey, and that it would require my full attention from inception to finish. The project involves not only the training but also the planning, organizing, media and fundraising activities. It’s a handful. I didn’t want to just run across, I wanted this to be something that adds value, transforms the narratives around interpersonal violence and inspires a broad global conversation about a topic that is surrounded by so much silence and shaming.

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But back to the serendipity of choosing my mountains. Domestic violence (DV) is an epidemic that impacts every nation, culture, social class, income group, gender and so on. It is one of the most pervasive yet under-recognized human rights issues in the world and affects hundreds of millions of individuals across the globe each year. One in every four women and one in every seven men according to WHO. Every year, 270 million children are also exposed to violence in their homes. You can just imagine the amount of (totally unnecessary) human suffering and negative ripples this causes on the broad systemic level. My thinking was that New Zealand is most likely no safer of a haven for families compared many other countries, but back then even I did not predict how fitting my decision to run  there would turn out to be.

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This week, my new Kiwi friend Avril McDonald, the founder of Feel Brave, pointed out a groundbreaking family violence awareness campaign spearheaded by the New Zealand Herald, the country’s largest newspaper. The campaign is called #WeAreBetterThanThis as was launched in response to statistics indicating that New Zealand leads in the prevalence of family violence. Naturally, it does not matter which country is better or worse (in the emotional or physical suffering the is no measure, it’s all equally painful with each story adding to the collective trauma of our humanity) but the statistics tell a sad story, which makes me feel even more connected to my cause, if possible.

Speaking of my native country, Finland, a woman there is twice as likely to experience interpersonal violence than elsewhere in Europe. However, these two countries share also something else in common, something that is historically significant, empowering and hope-giving. These two small, remote nations once led the women’s suffrage, being the first two countries  in the world to allow women equal right vote. Therefore, they were at the frontier of building equality, creating opportunities, and basically manufacturing freedom.

I now want these two countries, both of which I consider my home, to lead the way to break the silence around family violence, therefore enabling the creation of futures that are safer and more enabling of human flourishing, and to foster a global culture with ZERO tolerance for abuse of any kind.

 

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I’m currently training and preparing for the run that starts on January 18th, 2018. I have found an amazing group of partners, organizations, startups, as wells as hundreds of caring and brave individuals to join me on this journey (Trek Bicycles, Polar Electro, 2XU, Asics, and Amnesty International Finland to mention a few). However, in social change, each individual has a significant role to play. Let’s join forces and make this into an epic movement that will transform the unhealthy structures that keep perpetuating so much unnecessary human suffering. Let’s make our homes havens for children to experience healthy and balanced childhoods and have it a space of psychological safety for adults.

We simply can’t afford not to give this issue all we’ve got.

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Let’s take action <3

Yours, Emilia

Main image credits: The Wanaka Tree in New Zealand by Jasper van der Meij @Unsplash

4 thoughts on “A Finn running 1,500 miles for non-violence: Why New Zealand?

  1. Hey Emilia, love what you are doing and your journey in helping others. The photo of the willow tree in lake Wanaka is my new home. If you need help in supporting your run and cause here, let me know. otherwise, have a fantastic journey across our beautiful country. Denise

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  2. Dear Emilia

    I love your work and dedication to this project and I hope you are looking forward to starting your long run around New Zealand!

    Your focus on survivors of violence being able to speak openly about their experiences is very worthy.

    I wanted to reach out to you as I am part of a not-for-profit in New Zealand called The Backbone Collective, which will be supporting your cause and sharing your progress on our social networks as you move around the country. Hopefully this will help raise the profile of your cause and bring in more money for your Kickstarter.

    Would you be interested in meeting up with or partnering with The Backbone Collective, which was set up last year by two women who have worked in the DV sector in New Zealand for many years? Cofounder Ruth Herbert headed a public Inquiry into Family Violence called the Glenn Inquiry, while her cofounder Deborah Mackenzie has worked for the Ministry of Social Development – so both women are very knowledgeable and credible.

    Ruth and Deborah started The Backbone Collective as they wanted to shine a light on possible causes of New Zealand’s terrible domestic violence statistics, which as you know, are the worst in the Western World.

    They have done something that no-one else has done – which is to ask the women themselves through anonymous surveys what they think the reasons for the stats are and what they think should be improved.

    Since The Collective launched last year, Deborah and Ruth have talked to and surveyed hundreds of women who are survivors of the system, and the Collective numbers well over 1200 members.

    Many of these women would like to speak out about what has happened to them at the hands of their violent exes, but in most cases they are SILENCED by the Family Court and so are unable to tell their stories.

    Given your focus on Sisu Not Silence, I thought you might be interested to know that there are many, many women who are being silenced in New Zealand, and who will never be able to talk freely about their experiences. Even those who left their exes years ago remain silenced. If they speak out they are threatened with jail and are sometimes put in jail.

    The Backbone Collective will be supporting you all the way on your journey. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you would like to work with us too.

    Kindest regards
    Laura Tulloch
    Backbone Communications

    https://www.backbone.org.nz

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