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Bethel residents light candles for victims of domestic violence

People filling vases with flowers in honor of those affected by domestic violence.
Sunni Bean
People filling vases with flowers in honor of those affected by domestic violence.

Throughout October, the Tundra Women's Coalition (TWC) put on events to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month. On Oct. 26, they held the final event: a candlelight vigil for victims of domestic violence.

Seventeen people gathered in a circle at the women's shelter in Bethel. They were there to remember victims of domestic abuse in their communities. The event started with people reading poems they had written.

“First butterflies, first relationship, first happiness, first love. First red flag. First heartbreak. He said he's sorry. First forgiveness of many,” Elizabeth "Alagirl" Andrew read out. She works at the shelter and organized the event.

“First accusation. First hint of control. First restriction. First isolation. Wait, how did it get this bad? First cry for help? No, wait, it's okay. He said he won't do it again,” Andrew said.

In her poem, Andrew describes the roller coaster of being locked in a violent relationship.

“Don't leave, I'll kill you. Don't leave, I'll kill your family. Don’t leave, I’ll tell your mom your secrets. Go back, it's easier. Go back, he's sorry. Go back, he won't do it again. Go back, he will be nice to you again. No, I'm done,” Andrew said.

Tables with brightly colored flowers: lilies, roses, chrysanthemums, sit in the center of the circle. People are instructed to stand up, choose a flower, and put it into one of the vases at the head of the room.

“And when you take a flower, just keep in mind somebody who you might know, or yourself, and if they've been affected by domestic violence,” instructed Andrew.

One by one, people stood up and chose their flowers. The rest of the room stayed silent.

As the vases filled with bouquets, some people spoke about sisters, daughters, and friends who they had watched be tormented by violent relationships. Some didn't make it out alive. Some showed people what hope looks like and got out of abusive dynamics.

“Always, when it feels like there isn’t a way out, there is always a way. We’re never alone no matter how alone we may feel,” said Carey Atchak.

Afterwards, the group stood in a circle with candles. Some toddlers had arrived and brought a lighter mood, snatching flowers off the table to play.

“Candlelight by itself could be a very dim light,” said Andrew. “But all of us have our candles together in a dark room; it lights up the whole room better than it does by itself. And we just want everybody to remember that as long as we work together, we could help fight this.”

Despite the somber memories that the night memorialized, after the candles something lifted. People started to chat, to laugh. Tabitha Prince was glad she came.

“Because it makes me feel good,” said Prince. “And I get to express myself and there's gratitude. And I don't know, it's very freeing.”

And then together, they sang.

Sunni is a reporter and radio lover. Her favorite part of the job is sitting down and having a good conversation.