Founder of Agape Outreach Inc. Theresa Mitchell and Focus Bookkeeping Woman of the Year 2020 Xenia Schembri at the Heart of Women Awards.Please credit: Jessica Lea Photography
Founder of Agape Outreach Inc. Theresa Mitchell and Focus Bookkeeping Woman of the Year 2020 Xenia Schembri at the Heart of Women Awards.Please credit: Jessica Lea Photography

From abuse victim to victor: the woman inspiring others

XENIA Schembri's story involves abuse and heartbreak.

But the Woman of the Year's tale from the Heart of Women awards also includes triumph and a commitment to helping others in our area.

The Gold Coast counsellor was one of the special women from the Tweed and Gold Coast region recognised in the fourth annual awards put on by the Agape Outreach.

After escaping a 15-year marriage plagued by domestic violence, Ms Schembri found out her four children had been sexually abused by their father.

Since seeing him go to jail for his crimes, UK-born Ms Schembri immigrated to Australia and ten years ago started At The Ark - a not-for-profit organisation assisting more than 100 families and individuals in the Tweed and Gold Coast dealing with all aspects relating to child sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Wanting to further her outreach, Ms Schembri also authored three child protection resource books called Brave Little Bear as well as chronicling her own story.

She said her advice to others going through domestic violence was to just "keep moving forward".

"I can remember being in that dark place, I remember saying I feel like I'm in a deep pit," Ms Schembri said.

"I knew there are people throwing life lines at me but it was just so dark I couldn't see them … instead I felt like it was them throwing mud at me and it would just bury me.

"It was very hard to get out of that position. You just have to keep going forward, know that this is only a season, eventually the light will get brighter and brighter."

Ms Schembri explained she often used the analogy of a caterpillar for those who break the domestic violence cycle.

"Does the caterpillar know its going to become a butterfly or does it think it dies going into a chrysalis? During chrysalis the caterpillar turns to mush and everything about it changes to become the butterfly," she said.

"The chrysalis season is just a season, that hard place is only a season, coming out of it you can focus about having a future.

"I tell people to think 'if everything was right with the world what do I want?' When you don't have vision then you don't have something to work at when you come out the other side."

The Heart of Women awards ceremony took place at Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast on March 7.

For more information about how to get help or sponsorship visit attheark.org.au.