1 Jun 2020

Contribution to Pasifika well-being a theme in Queen's honours

6:22 pm on 1 June 2020

A number of people trying to improve the health and lives of Pasifika have been recognised in the latest Queen's Birthday Honours.

One Pacific health specialist honoured for services to health and the community was Aiono Dr Alec Ekeroma.

Alec Ekeroma.

Aiono Dr Alec Ekeroma Photo: RNZ Pacific / Tipi Autagavaia

He said it was recognition of the many people who were dedicated to advancing Pacific health.

Aiono said he was humbled to be made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

However he said during his 20 years of working in the Pacific health space it had been hardwork and there were many people to acknowledge.

Aiono said there were now more Pasifika doctors and nurses coming through the various institutions than ever before and he believed Pacific health was in good hands.

"It's actually recognition of all the various people who work in the various Pacific communities in New Zealand, whether in South Auckland, whether that's in the University of Auckland, the University of Otago.

"They're all doing fantastic work in actually advancing Pacific health. It's recognition really for all that work."

A surgeon from the Cook Islands was also recognised in the honours list.

George Ngaei was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to health and the Pacific community.

Based in Invercargill, Mr Ngaei regularly visited Rarotonga, at his own expense, to provide healthcare not otherwise available in the Cook Islands.

He said the New Zealand government's priority for Pacific health should be "equity".

"A lot of work has been done in recent years to help Pacific students.

"There are some outstanding Pacific doctors now as scientists, as clinicians and as researchers. Many of them are known to the Ministry of Health and many of them were utilised during the Covid emergency. It's really great to see," Dr Ngaei said.

The founder of a cycling collective for Pacific people was also recognised this Queen's Birthday.

Chris Teo was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to health, cycling and the Pacific community.

Mr Teo started Uso Bike Ride to improve the health of Pacific people through cycling.

USO cyclists taking a break

USO cyclists taking a break Photo: USO Bike Ride

He also raised more than $NZ140,000 to fund cycle paths and bicycles for students in three Porirua schools.

"The meaning behind Uso Bike Ride; it is about family, it is about improving our own individual health," Mr Teo said.

"For me I knew cycling was transformational for myself but I wanted to share it with our children and our community.

"I knew that would start them on a journey they would really enjoy and really benefit from."

Mr Teo said Uso Bike Ride regularly visited Samoa to promote health and to raise money for the Cancer Society there.

Aseta Redican is another person to be recognised for services to health and Pacific people.

She is now a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit after a long career and years of community service focused on improving health and well-being of Pasifika communities.

Mrs Redican's extensive experience included being the first General Manager of Pacific Health for the Auckland District Health Board from 2001 until her retirement in 2009.

She was the first Pacific person to become a New Zealand-qualified physiotherapist and in 1991, she led the establishment of the Pacific Island Heartbeat programme, under the National Heart Foundation.

Following her retirement, Mrs Redican spent years as a Board member of the Fred Hollows Foundation, Spectrum Care Trust and a Director of the National Heart Foundation.

She was also a founding member of the PACIFICA, one of the country's largest NGOs, and the National Council of Samoan Women in New Zealand.

Fellow PACIFICA alumni Tofilau Bernadette Pereira was admitted to the same order for services to the Pacific community and women.

Tofilau is the National President of PACIFICA and has been a Community Development Practitioner for more than 30 years.

She was the Pacific region's youth representative on the governing body of the Commonwealth Youth Programme for three years and represented the Pacific for four years at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, leading the largest delegation of Pacific women to the UN Fourth World Global Conference in 1995.

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Tofilau Bernadette Pereira, (right), alongside Minister of Ethnic Communities, Jenny Salesa Photo: Supplied/PACIFICA Inc

Education another focus of recognition

Afamasaga Agnes Rasmussen is yet another PACIFICA member, who was recognised, this time receiving a Queens Services Medal for services to education and the Pacific community.

Afamasaga has been involved with the education and community service sectors for more than 50 years, teaching at all levels.

She is currently a teacher at St Mary McKillop Catholic School in Mangere.

Afamasaga was the first Pacific woman to be appointed to the Social Welfare Commission.

Another Pacific educator is South Auckland primary school principal, Barbara Ala'alatoa, who was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to education.

Barbara Ala'alatoa

Barbara Ala'alatoa Photo: NZSTA

She said she was shocked to hear she was being recognised in such a way.

"It was a bolt from the blue but after my initial absolute excitement I feel, and it sounds like such a cliche, but it's incredibly humbling.

"But I take it...because education deserved to have the kudos attached to it that many other professions have and that all too often education doesn't," Ms Ala'alatoa said.

A New Zealand-born Samoan, raised in Auckland, Ms Ala'alatoa said she had had a "reasonable kind of education" growing up but she saw a number of incredible people who were under-served by schooling.

"As I headed into teaching and I learnt about how powerful good teaching and learning could be it really impacted me in a way that led me to believe that everybody that goes to school deserves the best possible education."

Ms Ala'alatoa believed education could be incredibly powerful and be such a determining factor in people's lives that it was important for teachers to make sure they got it right.

The Sylvia Park Primary School Principal said when she first started at the school 13 years ago she found some elements that were missing despite the fact there were both wonderful children and staff there.

"What was the data and the information as a staff they were collectively using to determine what their next teaching practice should look like and really listening carefully to the community."

Ms Ala'alatoa chaired the Education Council of Aotearoa for four years, overseeing the design of codes and standards for teachers throughout the country.

She said strengthening the quality of teaching in New Zealand would have a positive impact on Pasifika students.

"For Pacific kids going into school, they should be able to have an education that is curated for them that affirms who and what they are… I'm quite clear that the one thing that will have an impact on Pacific kids is the quality of teaching."

Pacific Artists honoured

Pacific artists were also recognised this week.

Tagaloasa Tusiata Donna Avia, an internationally acclaimed poet and performer, has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.

Tagaloasa Tusiata Donna Avia

Tagaloasa Tusiata Donna Avia Photo: Hayley Theyers Photography

She had already received a number of awards including the Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writers Residency at the University of Hawai'i, the Ursula Bethell Creative Writers Residency, and the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award.

However Tagaloasa said she was still extremely surprised to be included on the honours list, a recognition she was notified of via e-mail rather than the normal mail service during the nation-wide lockdown.

She greeted the email with tears.

"It's funny how things like that will hit you," she said.

Tagaloasa said being an artist was a strange lifestyle.

"It's kind of about five percent glamour and being in the public eye and then 95 percent living like a bit of a pauper and kind of scrapping by so I think getting that kind of acknowledgement hits you somewhere you didn't know was there, hence my crying I think."

Tagaloasa's stage show 'Wild Dogs Under My Skirt', premiered at the Dunedin Fringe Festival in 2002 as a solo-show.

It is now a multi-award-winning ensemble theatre production for six women, most recently bagging the Outstanding Production of the Year at the New York's Off-Broadway theatre, Soho Playhouse.

Tagaloasa said it was now a privilege to be looked up to by young Pacific artists.

Someone else young Pasifika looked up to is Sefa Enari, the founder and artistic director of Pacific Dance New Zealand, PDNZ.

Mr Enari is now a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Pacific dance.

He was also a founding member of Pacific Theatre in 1987.

Through PDNZ, he had been integral in organising a number of national events including the Pacific Dance Artist in Residence, the Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab, various symposiums, educational and community programmes, and the annual Pacific Dance Festival.

He has performed in the US, Canada, Japan, Europe and throughout the Pacific.

Others to be honoured for their work within the Pacific community included Molima Molly Pihigia, for services to Niuean art and the community; Lita Foliaki, for services to the Pacific community; and Emelita Rosita Selena Simeaanamulu Luisi, for services to youth.

Dr Jan Gregor was also a recipient of the honour of Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to water safety and public health.

Dr Gregor made significant contributions to water safety in New Zealand and the wider Pacific region.

Over the past 15 years, she was involved in numerous projects throughout the Pacific, helping to improve access to safe drinking water for many isolated and underdeveloped communities.