Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Pacific Youth Awards celebrate a future astronaut, a skincare entrepreneur, a Youtuber and a rising software developer

The recipients standing with Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio

Every year a cohort of exceptional young Pacific people are celebrated for their work and leadership in the Pacific communities at the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards. This year 11 recipients were recognised by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio, dignitaries, family and friends at Parliament last night.

Eteroa Lafaele is a 23-year-old up and coming software engineer. The recipient of the Riddet Institute STEM Award (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), she aspires to become a CEO for a technology company after finding a lack of Pacific and female representation in the technology sector.

“When I started in the industry, my parents didn’t know what an engineer was. The main jobs for us were a lawyer, a doctor or an accountant, not a computer programmer, so I think this award will show up and coming software engineers that they can do it,” says Eteroa.

“People think technology developers are real introverted, but no, we are adventurous, we are courageous. Pacific people can do things that other people in corporate and government technology jobs can do too.

“We solve problems so much differently than the mainstream way. The difference is we’re so much more direct when it comes to finding a solution, especially when it comes to solving problems within our own Pacific communities.” 

Eteroa Lafaele / Riddet Institute STEM Award

The Fonterra STEM award was given to Ioane Fiso, who will be going to Houston in December to take part in a NASA Case Space school. Fiso wants to be the first Samoan astronaut, pursuing a career in aeronautical engineering. 

“Space is the future, and I think that New Zealand should be at the forefront of that – in particular Pacific people, because we are the navigators historically,” he says.

But December won’t be his first visit to NASA, having attended a Stem Accelerator Tour to the USA in April this year, where he got to meet with elite professionals involved in the space and engineering industry. 

“It’s always been a dream in my own heart to go to space and to go and do something in this STEM field, but I want to bring as many of my Pacific brothers and sisters with me.

“It’s exhilarating, and there is fear in it, but it’s a good fear. It’s like that saying, ‘the best diamonds are forged under the hardest pressure, and so as long as you persevere, you’re always going to achieve your dreams in the end’.”

Ioane Fiso / Fonterra STEM Award

Taking home the Auckland Council Community Star Award was 23-year-old mentor, entrepreneur and YouTuber Janelle Augsburg.     

While in her final semester at the University of Auckland, studying a Law and Arts conjoint (BA/LLB), she has been a strong mentor to other Pasifika young people and was selected as an ongoing mentor for the Pasifika students studying towards a Tertiary Foundation Certificate. She also owns her own business, Hau Lelei, where she sells handmade clay earrings. 

On top of this she has her own YouTube channel that she uses to share her story as a Pasifika and Palangi young woman, and is in the works of creating a podcast with two other Pasifika women, Emma Takataka and Taute Va’ai. But for Janelle, it’s not about the recognition.

“When you’re doing the work, you never do it with the intention of being recognised for it. It’s so special to be recognised for work that you’re doing that is full of so much love, and you give so much of your time and your heart to these people, and you’re doing it for them. It’s not for yourself in any way.”

She says her mum has been her rock from the very beginning.

“If anyone was ever in a pickle, if anyone ever needed a home, she always offered space to them. Whether it was for a day or three years, they were welcome.

“I really learned first hand what it means to truly give and not want anything back, and giving with so much love.

“It’s hard to explain the feeling when you see the fruits of your work, when you see the people you’ve helped succeed and you’ve seen the places they’ve come from. That’s what makes me want to stick around and really see out the work that I’ve started.”

Janelle Augsburg / Auckland Council Community Star Award

Pacific Business Trust Business and Entrepreneurship Award recipient Keith Toma was in his last year of high school when he pursued a life of business and entrepreneurship. The 21-year-old’s successful start-up business, Panikeke.com, is a curated beauty supply store working with local Pacific suppliers to bring Pacific products to the market at affordable prices. Launched in 2016, Panikeke.com was his 20th business idea, showing his perseverance as a young businessman. 

“I’ve tried and tested so many business ideas and they’ve failed, so I’ve been in this space for so long and been quite resilient to finally create a successful start up,” he says. “Business is a career path, but resilience is what is going to get you through.”

Panikeke sources their ingredients from the Pacific Islands.

“Even though we buy a few kilos of coconut oil, it does have a big impact to the islands,” he says.

“I want to see more Pacific businesses out there, and also businesses that have a positive social impact back on the Pacific Islands.”

His goal is to secure Panikeke into a physical retail space, to set it up as a beauty supply store and to continue to build on its growing online presence.

“The award is such a validation of the journey of how tough the obstacles have been to pursue business, and how much it’s worth it.”

Keith Toma / Pacific Business Trust Business and Entrepreneurship Award


The 2019 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award winners are:  

  • International Scholar Award (sponsored by the Pacific Cooperation Foundation)
    Sela Maka, 20, from Palmerston North and is of Tongan descent. 
  • Community Star Award (sponsored by Auckland Council)
    Janelle Augsburg, 23, from Auckland and is of Tongan and European descent.
  • Community Star Award (sponsored by Auckland Council)
    Dejealous Sili Palota-Kopa, 23, from Auckland and is of Samoan descent. 
  • Leadership and Inspiration Award (sponsored by Air New Zealand, supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade)
    Okirana Tilaia, 17, from Christchurch and is of Samoan descent. 
  • Arts and Creativity Award (sponsored by Creative NZ and Massey University)
    Manuha’apai Vaeatangitau, 21, from Auckland and is of Tongan descent. 
  • Language, Culture and Identity Award (sponsored by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples)
    Louisa Vaeluaga, 22, from Auckland and is of Tokelauan and Tuvaluan decent. 
  • STEM Award (sponsored by the Riddet Institute)
    Eteroa Lafaele, 23, from Wellington and is of Samoan decent. 
  • STEM Award (sponsored by Fonterra)
    Ioane Fiso, 18, from Wellington and is of Samoan and European descent. 
  • Business and Entrepreneurship Award (sponsored by Pacific Business Trust)
    Keith Toma, 21, from Auckland and is of Niuean, Samoan, Tokelauan, Tongan and Tuvaluan descent. 
  • Business and Entrepreneurship Award (sponsored by Pacific Business Trust)
    Alexia Hilbertidou, 20, from Auckland and is of Samoan and European descent. 
  • Commercial and Corporate Award (sponsored by Deloitte)
    Tupou Veiogo, 20, from Palmerston North and is of Fijian descent.


Stay Connected

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive daily updates direct to your inbox!

*we hate spam as much as you do