Tuvalu Language Week: “My language is my connection”
Tuvaluan GP, Dr Mahu Anderson, is using the Tuvaluan language to connect with her global community during a crisis that has compounded isolation and anxiety.
Born in Tuvalu and educated in Fiji and New Zealand, Dr Anderson has spent three years living and working as a GP in the rural Australian town of Grafton, where she and her family are the only Tuvaluan residents in the area.
But through an online Facebook group, appropriately called “We Love Tuvalu”, Dr Anderson, a member of the Pasifika Medical Association (PMA), is providing health and medical advice written entirely in the Tuvaluan language. The page has more than 1000 followers who are mainly based in Tuvalu, New Zealand and Fiji.
“I studied medicine in New Zealand after receiving a scholarship from the Tuvaluan government. I feel that my contribution to the facebook page is a way for me to give back to my people.
The advice I give covers everything from paediatrics and women’s health to helping those who struggle with mental illness. I get a lot of feedback from mother’s who are thanking me for what I do.”
The page also keeps followers up to date-with Covid-19 restrictions and advice throughout the pandemic.
This week is Tuvalu Language Week and Dr Anderson says this is the time to appreciate the beauty of the culture and language. She says being so isolated in Australia emphasises how important it is for her and her husband Mark to speak the language at home to their four children.
“We encourage our children to speak the language everyday because it’s important for their identity. I know that if I didn’t speak the language then I wouldn’t have a deep understanding of my culture.”
Dr Anderson and Mark are also the owners and talent behind the popular Pacific label Niu Tide, which specialises in making collections of Pacific inspired fashion accessories and homeware.
Despite her business success, health remains Dr Anderson’s top priority.
She chose to move to Australia to expand and further develop her GP experience. She says there are very few Tuvaluan doctors and that is why she wants to open a medical clinic in New Zealand for the Tuvaluan community to break down the language and cultural barriers.
She experienced first-hand the importance of having doctors who were fluent in the Tuvaluan language when she worked in Auckland and treated many patients from her country of birth.
“Many were elderly and couldn’t speak English. It was very helpful to explain to them their illness and the treatment so they could fully comprehend and understand. It put them at ease and gave them a positive doctors experience.”
Dr Anderson’s favourite Tuvaluan saying is ‘Kite mata kite mata kau oko. Kite muli kite muli kau oko’ which translates to ‘How can I be a starter or a creator, how can I be the last man standing’.
“I translate it to mean in life- keep on moving, strive for excellence and be a leader whether from the front of the line or the back of it.”
Pasifika Medical Association Group