Arohata Prison Christmas concert “humanising and healing”

14 November 2019
By Antoinette Spicer
When Marama* got up on stage to sing in Arohata Prison’s annual Christmas concert, the audience wasn’t prepared for what happened next. As she sang the Whitney Houston song I will always love you, dedicated to her children, people began to cry. By the time Marama sang her last note, tears were streaming down the faces of audience members.

Barbara Thompson, Zonta Club of ManaFor Zonta Club of Mana member Barbara Thompson, this is one of her memorable moments of the annual Arohata Inside-Out Christmas Concert. She’s looking forward to this year’s event on 4 and 5 December, held in Arohata Women’s Prison in the Wellington suburb of Tawa.

Every year, Arohata Women’s Prison invites members of the public “inside the wire” to attend the Inside-Out Christmas Concert. The first concert was held in 2014 and Zonta Club of Mana came on board as a sponsor in 2015. It sponsors the staging, sound, lighting, drapes and all 300 chairs for the concerts.

Members also oversee the selling of 300 tickets each night.

The money raised from the concert is used by Zonta to purchase items that are donated to charity. Last year, Zonta Club of Mana donated more than $1800 in resources and items to each Porirua Women’s Refuge. Proceeds from the concert, also fund other Zonta projects, including magazine subscriptions for the women in Arohata Prison and tertiary scholarships. 

Improving the status of women

Zonta International is a global service organisation with more than 30,000 members in 65 countries committed to improving the status of women through a combination of advocacy and service. There are approximately 670 members in New Zealand. The Zonta Club of Mana has provided community service for more than 40 years.

An image reflecting the Home Ground initiativeThe club decided to sponsor the concert because members were impressed by the standard of the women’s performances in the 2014 concert. “At the first concert the women were just standing on the floor with only one microphone,” Barbara recalls. “So we came up with the idea to help make the concert more special for the women by providing our support.”

This year’s concert features a 20-minute performance by women involved in Home Ground, an initiative directed by Jacqui Moyes. Home Ground is a one-year creativity and wellbeing initiative for women in the justice system, separated into three practical projects - two delivered in the community and one, Project Rua, in Arohata Prison. 

 Using music, dance, visual arts and creative writing, women participating in Project Rua have devised a performance for the Christmas Concert that tells their stories. The Home Ground Collective of artists are working collaboratively with the women to support them in creating this show.

Ballet and percussion performances

There will also be performances by women who have been participating in workshops delivered by the Royal New Zealand Ballet and by Batucada, a community-based Wellington percussion group that brings Brazilian samba music and dance to its audiences.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet has led workshops in Arohata Prison since 2017, culminating in a performance in the Christmas Concert.

Women perform ballet at the concert in 2017Barbara describes the concert as “humanising and healing”, and says concert preparation helps develop a range of skills such as self-discipline, hard work, commitment, courage, motivation and collaboration.

"All of this builds up the woman’s self-esteem and empowers them on their rehabilitation and re-integration journeys," Barbara says.

“Leading up to the concert, many of the women look at the ground and avoid looking people in the eye. But during the concert we see the change. The women stand up on stage, their shoulders back. With big smiles, they look proudly into the eyes of the community of people watching.”

*Not her real name

The Arohata Inside-Out Christmas Concert will take place on 4 and 5 December in Arohata Women’s Prison from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm. To attend, you must be 16 years or over. Tickets are $25 and sales close on 29 November. To purchase tickets and for more information contact:

Arohata Prison Christmas concert “humanising and healing”


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