Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
The small South Island town of Ōamaru is home to a growing Pasifika population who’ve organised to support their families and keep them grounded in their island roots.
Using fatele to unite the Tuvaluan community in Ōamaru, community leader Silou Temoana says it helps engage young Tuvaluans.
“It’s a way of reinforcing what they know from home,” She says.
“We tend to learn the basics; reconnect the children back to our roots, the basics of our language and our culture and our traditions.”
It’s a way of life that’s nurturing a new generation in this small South Island town.
16 year-old Kailelei Tefaiva has noticed the growing interest from fellow Tuvaluans keen to learn their culture.
“Coming together as a community and having that willing heart to learn our language and I can see a lot of improvements with our talavou. Our youth down here, they are really trying their best to learn our language,” Tefaiva says.
The Tuvalu community’s among many Pacific Islands groups who now call this town home. Many are part of the Ōamaru Pacific Island community group incorporated (OPICG) which was formed in 1987 by a group of women who wanted to help their children connect with their Pacific roots.
Founding member of the OPICG, Toeafiafi Taiti is one of six women who started the group.
“We get together once a week with our children, we discuss things that, what we need to do for ourselves and then later on we keep doing that for a while,” Taiti says.
“Then we heard about the PACIFICA (women’group they encourage us to affiliate with the Pacific and start from there.”
Now, more than 30 years on, Ōamaru has one of the fastest-growing Pacific populations in the country; one in four of its residents are Pasifika. But the vision has remained the same, to help Pasifika families settle in the Waitaki district.
Hana Halalele is the OPICG General Manager and she is proud to assist new migrant workers moving in to work at Ōamaru Meats Limited.
“So, they’ve been brought over to help fill the labour shortage. We thought it would be a really good day to provide them with a lot of information about what they would need to know especially with some of them, it’s their first time here,” Halalele says.
And It doesn’t stop there, the pan Pacific organisation also delivers a range of social service support for Pasifika people.
“Being able to give back to our community and support our Pasifika people is so important especially in a small town like this, it can be quite challenging,” says OPICG president, Maiele Paia.
“But you know when you’ve got a group of passionate people who are the driving force, you know it makes things easy.”
The group came into its own during the covid lockdown period providing care and health support not just to the Pacific community but also the wider North Otago community. It’s a role Paia is immensely proud of.
For community leaders like Silou Temoana, the OPICG caters not just for their social needs but also helps them to retain their culture and values.
“The group sort of put us under their wings, look after us and making sure that our culture is not lost within the predominantly white space,” she says.
“So with more Tuvaluan families coming after, it is sort of continuing on what we usually have, you know, the cultural side of things.”