Memories of Tonga spark emotional response

From left to right: Sina Aiolupotea-Aiono (Manukau Institute of Technology) and Learner Journeys panellists, Sara Peraua (Unitec), Ah Fook Lemoe (MIT), Dr Sione Vaka (Massey University) and Tapeni Fa'alogo (University of Auckland).

A moving talk at the Pacific Tertiary Education Forum has put School of Nursing lecturer Sione Vaka in hot demand.

The event was hosted by Ako Aotearoa in Auckland last month, in partnership with the Association of Pacific Staff in Tertiary Education and the Tertiary Education Commission. It aims to help highlight the ways organisations can better support Pacific learners.

Dr Sione Vaka was invited to speak in one of the plenary sessions - The Learner Journey. He shared stories about his own upbringing in Tonga, and how it led him to receiving a PhD and becoming a lecturer at Massey’s College of Health.

Dr Vaka spoke about memories that stood out to him as child, and says many in the audience grew emotional about one particular story.

“Every summer I looked forward to spending it with my grandparents, on the other side of the island. There was no power there, so we used kerosene lamps. One day we ran out, so my grandfather asked me to walk to the store and get some more, but when I got there, they had none. In the heat, I walked to the next shop, but they had also sold out. Others on the same journey as me said there was none left so I gave up and walked home, glad I had tried my best to find some.

“But when I got home, my grandfather asked me ‘Where is the kerosene? Why are you home empty-handed?’ I explained I had tried a few shops, but no kerosene. He turned and looked at my grandmother and sister and said ‘Tonight, we will be in the dark’. From that night on, every journey and opportunity I have, I know there is someone at home waiting, and it is important to return with something."

Following his touching speech, Dr Vaka was invited to speak at the CPIT Māori and Pacific Leaders Lunch with the top five Māori, and top five Pacific secondary school students from Canterbury.

The event was part of the CPIT Māori and Pacific Leadership Awards, featuring 96 high school students from across Canterbury nominated for outstanding achievement and positive community leadership in four different categories: Leadership, Culture and Performing Arts, Sporting Excellence, and Academic Excellence. And their reward? The top ten students were treated to an evening with Oprah in Auckland last week.

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