Tagata Pasifika The Pacific voice on New Zealand television since 1987

The Samoan techie giving free laptops to students in need

Anauli Karima Fai'ai | Reporter/Director

Eteroa Lafaele loves technology, and she’s on a mission to make sure that other Pacific people do too.

“I’ve just been going into our communities and painting them a picture of, ‘Hey, if we can solve problems at church, we can definitely solve problems in technology,’” she says.

And inside her Auckland garage, that’s exactly what she’s doing through her own initiative called DigiTautua.

“What we do here is to try and meet that digital divide and help our community not only be involved in the tech industry but also just be part of the whānau.”

She’s been sourcing donated laptops, refurbishing them and delivering them to families in need.

“For our Pasifika families, the picture is painted as there’s a family of 10 or even six and there’s only one device, and that would be mum or dad’s device, and the kids would have to learn after work hours.”

Timoti Wharekawa is the other half of the operation.

“I grew up in these communities, so it’s nothing new. But it is eye opening to see that these problems still exist and are still prevalent today,” he says.

“How the team works is that I help resource and find laptops. Timoti does a lot of the admin work and the vetting so we can get these kids ready and sorted,” Eteroa says.

Eteroa Lafaele runs DigiTautua from her Auckland garage with Timoti Wharekawa. Photo: Anauli Karima Fai'ai, Tagata Pasifika
Eteroa Lafaele runs DigiTautua from her Auckland garage with Timoti Wharekawa. Photo: Anauli Karima Fai’ai, Tagata Pasifika

Since the beginning of lockdown they’ve been a lifeline for struggling families, delivering around 20 laptops a week.

“These stories are quite heartbreaking, because some of them don’t even have power too, so we’ve had moments where we actually had to recharge a laptop for three hours and then after that come back with another one powered up, because our families just don’t have power.”

Without these laptops, many Pasifika high school students are at a massive disadvantage.

“By the time they get to school, they’re way behind on externals. The information they get on a hard pack is not in depth for them to research more, so by the time they get back to school after lockdown, not only are they behind by a term but also [behind on] internals and externals they need to study for.”

Managing the initiative on top of their full time jobs means the hours can be brutal, working up to 18 hours a day.

“When you do it together, then those long days don’t feel as long, and if you got the passion, then time flies,” Timoti says.

There’s no shortage of motivation when the need in our Pacific communities is enormous.

“If I have to be really honest, it’s not just our students but also our families [that] are very mā to admit that they need a laptop, and I think that organisations that do these things haven’t really sorted out a way to navigate into our community,” Eteroa says.

That’s why DigiTautua is leading the way.

“The capability that it can open up and broaden the horizons and you can do that easily with a laptop and some internet, there’s all the resources to build your future, and just knowing that makes me very happy,” Timoti says.

If you’d like to donate to DigiTautua, visit omgtech.co.nz/digitautua

If you are interested in applying for a laptop, you can fill out this form. Please note DigiTautua are currently tackling their backlog of about 700 queries 

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