Tula’i Pasifika Youth Leadership programme helping Pacific students embrace their identity
We’re now halfway through the school year and a new wave of tertiary hopefuls are tossing up their options for next year.
The transition between high school and university is always a tough bridge to cross for students. Add to this the pressures and expectations of parents or caregivers wanting their children to excel.
This is a shared experience within the Pacific community. It’s our parents’ constant reminder of the sacrifices made so that our generations could benefit. It’s the pressure we put on ourselves to make our parents proud, to make their struggles worthwhile.
Stories of his grandparents’ migration have pushed Niuean/Samoan Geoffrey Dufty to learn more about where he comes from.
“Cultural identity is so important to a young person’s journey through life,” he says. “That means getting in touch with my roots and ancestors that have struggled for me, to migrate from the islands to New Zealand.”
But it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Almost two-thirds of Pacific people are born in New Zealand, and this number is growing by the hundreds every year. The loss of culture and language is deeply tragic and has massive implications for future generations – ask any one of our Pacific language tutors, whose constant mission is to make sure people are speaking our languages in mostly English-speaking households.
Faith Sasa’e Faumui had never really embraced her Samoan roots before this year. The Avondale College student says high school can be an overwhelming experience for any student, but especially for Pasifika.
“Identity crisis is huge for Pacific students. We need more of that kind of support at school, for Pacific Islanders born in New Zealand.”
For Geoffrey, it’s about overcoming the stereotypes projected on to him by his peers.
“Sometimes we’re seen as inferior to the other students, and it takes a toll on you. But you just got to learn how to persevere through it.”
Although concerning, this generational, cultural divide leaves room for our local heroes to start bridging the gap. For the last eight years, the Tula’i Pasifika Youth Leadership programme has been inspiring young Pacific to become better leaders and decision makers for their communities.
Tula’i promotes the idea that young people should have a strong sense of their Pacific identity, knowing where they come from and the legacy they are a part of.
Last week, 70 students from eight West Auckland secondary schools graduated from the programme. Both Geoffrey and Faith were part of the cohort and made it clear how much the programme had changed their high school experience.
“I’ve found myself through this forum,” says Faith. “I don’t have any other Polynesian friends, and I usually don’t get involved with things like this, so I was really scared about joining. I didn’t know if I was going to fit in, but I clicked with everyone straight away, and it made me feel like a Pacific Islander.”
During the school year, students take part in eight youth development modules, two community service events during the school holidays and a youth camp before the main event – graduation.
Tula’i coordinator Michelle Buchan says the programme provides an open space for students to be themselves and talk openly about their experiences.
“There’s lots of issues our youth have to deal with nowadays, like bullying, or not feeling like they can necessarily talk to their parents at times. You can see that through this programme they form a real brother/sisterhood, and they have each other’s backs. They’ve just really united.”
The initiative also gives the chance for past graduates to come back and serve as leaders to the next group of students.
Elijah Noue-Tauelima graduated from the programme in 2017, and since then has been involved as a core leader. Through this platform he wants to teach students how to confidently be themselves.
“As Pacific Islanders we tend to shy away from a lot of things. We play the humble card too many times, but sometimes we’ve got to put that humble card away and just simply put yourself out there,” he says.
“We want this to be an open environment where they can express their ideas about Pacific issues, Pacific people, and just Pacific stuff in general when they can’t get that in school.
Many students come through Tula’i realising the uniqueness of their Pacific heritage, and embracing their cultural differences. It’s a significant step that the core leadership believe every young Pacific person should reach.
Tula’i Pasifika Leadership Programme is funded by three local boards, Whau, Waitakere Ranges and Henderson Massey. The programme was designed through the West Auckland Pasifika Forum and this year was led by Youth Horizons Kia Puawai.