Service to Niuean community recognised in Queen’s honours.

Service to Niuean community recognised in Queen’s honours.

Mokataufoou Sipeli, who recently received a Queen's Service Order, holds a photo of herself with late husband Lagi Sipeli in 1987, when he was awarded a Queen's Service Medal. PHOTO: SOUMYA BHAMIDIPATI.

A Hataitai woman whose husband received a Queen’s honour in the late 1980s has been similarly recognised for coming up with a new way to serve the Niuean community.

Mokataufoou (Moka) Sipeli was awarded a Queen’s Service Order for services to the Niue community and education. Her late husband, Lagi Sipeli, was the first Niuean presbyterian church minister in New Zealand and received a Queen’s Service Medal in 1987.

Moka established Wellington’s first early childhood education centres where Niuean children could be immersed in Niuean language.

“The motivation was to maintain the language, to teach children the basics before they enter the primary level, and for the sake of the children getting together and having time to play,” she said.

Although Lagi was hesitant about the scale of the project at first, Moka believed he would be proud of her achievement.

“I think he would be very pleased because my aim when thinking of establishing these centres was to maintain the language. In the end he realised what I was doing and he was really good, a very strong supporter in the end. He knew that what I was doing, what I had started, was to help the upcoming Niuean generation in Wellington and in New Zealand.”

Moka was inspired to begin the centres in 1989, after attending an education conference in Auckland.

She organised the first meeting that September. By October, three Niuean education centres opened with about 70 children across Wellington.

Moka had an education qualification from Niue but retrained (while also working full time) so that she would be fully qualified by the New Zealand system as well.

She was humbled by her Queen’s Service Order.

“It was really a surprise and honour at the same time. Without the support of my community and other Pacific Island leaders? No, it wouldn’t have come this far. I sought the community’s support and it was marvelous, they all responded.”

Despite years of effort, Moka was still somewhat disappointed about the current state of Niuean language in New Zealand.

“Our goal was to maintain the language, but that’s not happened. I don’t blame them because most of the teachers that are teaching there now are all NZ-born and English speaking. The old people like me are moving out and leaving it to the young people to carry on the work. Unfortunately they are not fluent in the language.”

Moka would like to see more Niuean families proactively ensuring the survival of their language.

She said while being a minority did make it more difficult, it did not make it impossible.

“That’s just a very good excuse!”

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Article by Soumya Bhamidipati

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Article by Soumya Bhamidipati

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