(originally published on December 18, 2017)
Talking to Lilia Tarawa or reading one of her inspiring posts about self worth, you would have never guessed that she escaped a religious cult with her family when she was in her late teens. (This is when she and her family located to Christchurch, which is part of the cult, but still connected to the real world.) Two of her older siblings had already left prior to their decision to do the same. (Thankfully, she reconnected with them.) Although Lilia is beautiful, confident, kind, strong, and has an amazing work ethic, the challenges she’s overcome make her story all the more inspiring.
Lilia grew up in a religious cult in the Gloriavale community of New Zealand. The cult taught girls to be submissive from a very young age. Marriages were prearranged, and a woman’s place was in the home as a housewife and a mother. The boys were taught that females were beneath them and that husbands were always in charge of their households.
I mentioned to Lilia that I watched her powerful Tedx Talk. There was a section in her speech in which she talked about how her grandfather (the leader of the cult) shamed her for hours in front of all five hundred members of their cult because her teacher wrote on Lila’s paper that she showed strong leadership skills. (This wasn’t a good attribute for a female in the eyes of the cult, especially her grandfather.) I asked her how her education was overall and how much of a priority they made it? Lilia told me that she found her education to be very good, but they still were taught old-fashioned gender roles. The girls would take home economics and the boys would take mechanics. Lilia also told me that while her education was indeed good, girls weren’t expected to go to college, because the only work they were supposed to do was what I mentioned before, be housewives and mothers.
There was constant abuse in the cult. If anyone ever did anything wrong, it was their fault, no matter what. Lilia felt her self-esteem crumble. By the time she and her family left, she had buried so much depression and shame that it took her six years to confront her inner demons.
Lilia was eighteen when she and her family relocated to Christchurch. She began working at her commune’s business as a graphic designer. Everything Lila knew about technology had been self taught starting when she was fifteen. This is because she loved technology so much.
The next step was for Lilia to enroll in college and study more about graphic designing. The thing was, Lilia was so good that she was both ahead of her class and was tutoring the other students! She always had a love for books, which made it easy to learn on her own. but she felt like she wasn’t growing. She did mention that she enjoyed classes such as art history, psychology, and sociology. One of the reasons for this is because art has been used for propaganda throughout the years, and propaganda was used in her cult. She’s still interested in those subjects to this day. But college wasn’t giving her what she had hoped, so she left.
No longer in college, Lilia got a job waiting tables because her parents were in financial trouble and needed help. (They were all still living together at this time.) While in the cult, no one is in control of their own lives and nothing is their own; which means no one is taught how to manage money (or even given any). There’s never been any type of real life skills taught in the cult in regards to how to have a good business ethic, financial independence, or anything that would help you as an individual. You belong to the cult.
As I said earlier, Lilia had been dealing with the pain and low sense of self worth from living in the cult for six years. Her whole world had been that cult. Every one of her friends lived there, and she had many good times with them. Then, in just a matter of a single day, everything she ever knew was gone. All of a sudden, she was in “the real world” and knew nothing about how society or money worked. This added to her pain.
So, she eventually started journaling to process what she was feeling. All these emotions started coming out, filling her with thoughts of her painful past. She became very depressed, hardly got out of bed, lost a ton of weight, and had anxiety attacks. She was starting to have a nervous breakdown when her then boyfriend helped her. She was introduced to nutritional supplements. Her boyfriend gave her some one night, and she felt so much better the next day. That’s when little by little, she started introducing more healthy habits into her life such as exercising and meditation. All of this helped clear her mind, and improved both her mental and physical health. She also learned to lean on others, such as friends, and also learn the importance of self love.
I asked Lila about what her advice would be for people also going through a difficult time. She said to lean on friends or anyone close that you can confide in because its important to have a strong support system. She said to make sure to get plenty of rest, take the time off that you need so you don’t overwork yourself. Meditate, take nutritional supplements, eat organic fruits and vegetables and little meat as possible, and feed your mind!
I noticed on Lilia’s website what a strong businesswoman she is and how admirable her work ethic is. Lilia loves people and is very good with them (I could tell!) and it was her brother’s wife that said, “Lil, why don’t you make this into a career?”. She was later introduced to her mentor/ future business partner, Mike Harris. The two of them went to the U.S. for tea at one point and explored the business model behind the industry of nutritional supplements. They have made a career out of selling high prescription supplements. But that’s not all. On her site, she offers an Apprenticeship Program one can sign up for. When I asked her about it, she explained that the individual gets one-on-one work with a team of coaches, receiving individual coaching on what their goals are, how to set up for what they want to do, and how to fulfill them, There are also lessons on financial independence, learning about how to have a healthy mindset with deep, one-on-one, weekly personal coaching, and so much more.
Lilia really loves helping others and that’s a big reason why she wrote her book, Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life In A Religious Cult. I asked her what it was like writing the book and how hard it was revisiting those memories. She said that she grieved a lot as everything came flooding back, including how she felt when she left and how scary it was, and also heartbreaking leaving everything she knew behind. But she knew it was key to take those thoughts out of her mind that she had been hanging onto and use it to help others.
I asked her how the response was for her book and she said it was very positive. People told her things like, “I couldn’t put it down!” The point of her book was to inspire others and show that anything is possible.
Lilia told me that she is a human rights activist and that she wants to reach out to both victims of abuse and the perpetrators. When it comes to the victim, she wants to focus on teaching them that want they went through wasn’t their fault, ever. Lila didn’t have any of her own rights in her cult. Now she knows that she has rights to live her own life and how to stick up for herself, which is what she teaches the victim, as well as the value of self worth. As far as what she teaches the perpetrator, just because they may have been taught “old fashioned ways” about the way they view/treat women, it doesn’t make it OK. It all comes down to the individual and what they CHOOSE to do and how they behave.
I asked her if she sees herself doing anymore writing in the future. She said yes! Her goal is to dive deeper into the psychology of cults. When she left, she explained it was basically like going from the 1950’s to the 2000’s in one day. When she got into the “real world” she was astounded by the things she was seeing for the very first time. In her cult, all the females had to wear dresses covering their entire bodies, but all of a sudden she was seeing women everywhere wearing pants! She started learning that women can be Prime Ministers, and even run for President. Still, even with all that improvement, she notes that there is still a lot of discrimination. She also said that while New Zealand is progressive in a lot of ways, but there are still many improvements that need to be made. With her next book, she also wants to look into how religion affects our attitudes, the role it can have in abusive relationships, and stripping everything down.
Lilia said that for a long time, she was told what to do with her life and what to believe in. Now she she is a 27-year-old agnostic and a proud business owner. Even though she isn’t religious, she does considers herself to be very spiritual.
Lilia also wants to do more public speaking, travel the world and learn more about different cultures, fleshing out her business even more, and continuing how to handle money.
I want to thank Lilia very much for agreeing to do this interview. I find her to be a positive role model and such a kind person with a heart of gold. I admire her work ethic greatly, and she is living proof that no matter what, you can get through anything. Everyone is worthy of love, especially the ability to love themselves.
Lilia is someone that I 100% support. I know that she has had a positive impact on others and will continue to. She also has inspired me to get more into activism since I consider myself to be a victim’s rights advocate, and am trying to combat this rape culture we’re currently in. Lilia has not only shown me that I’m capable of doing it, but how important it is to take of oneself. That’s something I struggle with, but she become an inspiration to me. I thank her for that.
I encourage you to buy her book, which you can find it for the Kindle here.
Here is the link to the website.
You can also find here on these social media platforms:
Instagram (which she is the most active on) here
I know I mentioned it and also linked to it in the beginning of this, but please watch her Tedx Talk! You won’t regret it!