23 Feb 2024

'Life-changing' scholarship open doors for Pasifika students

9:22 am on 23 February 2024
Fekita Vea has become the 1000th recipient of the First Foundation scholarship

Fekita Vea has become the 1000th recipient of the First Foundation scholarship Photo: RNZ Pacific / Eleisha Foon

Year 13 student and Taita College head girl Fekita Vea dreams of walking across a stage in a cap and gown, graduating with a law degree.

A proud Tongan, she recently received a phone call that would "change her life."

Vea has become the 1000th recipient of the First Foundation scholarship which will see her through university and provides a professional pathway to step foot into the legal field.

"It was shock and tears of joy. This scholarship will help my family a lot. Mum won't have to worry about my bills and education."

Like most Pasifika households, education is prized, and graduating with a degree is something her mum has always wanted for her girls.

Fekita Vea

Fekita Vea Photo: RNZ Pacific / Eleisha Foon

"I am the youngest of five girls. My mum worries about me the most, about me going into student debt. She wasn't sure she would be able to help pay it off. The scholarship put her at ease," and it brought her to tears she said.

First Foundation chief executive Kirk Sargent said although the scholarships are "not ethnicity based, over 60 percent of recipients over the last 25 years have identified being Pasifika in some form".

Eligibility criteria includes, a low household income, a year 12 student who has gained merit or excellence in NCEA exams.

"It's incredibly humbling to work with organisations that have enabled these scholarships. For Fekita it is potentially going to be life-changing," Sargent said.

Fekita Vea, left, and Emma Henderson

Fekita Vea, left, and Emma Henderson Photo: RNZ Pacific / Eleisha Foon

Taita College Principal, Emma Henderson said "many kids will drop out of further studies because they have no idea what to expect or what it looks like".

"But First Foundation mentors are so close to their students. They can catch them early and keep them on track."

Henderson, also a former student of Taita College, has helped connect students with the scholarship programme for the past decade and has seen the impacts first hand.

"Our school is 80 percent Maori-Pasifika. There is a huge need with big families. They often really value education quite highly.

"They have often got upwards of five kids and it's amazing to be able to provide this opportunity to say hey we can help with that and give you what your kids need," she added.

Taita College

Taita College Photo: RNZ Pacific / Eleisha Foon

More scholarships needed

Sargent said it is about leveling the playing field which in the long run can "help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty".

He said the foundation wants to reach more students by offering another 1000 scholarships over the next five years.

Sargent said he had to turn down more than 100 applications this year alone because they did not have enough funding from businesses willing to sponsor these scholarships.

There is a huge need, he said, and encouraged and welcomed more businesses, government groups and organisations to sponsor more scholarships.

Scholars often come back as mentors, passing on their wisdom through the programme.

Sargent said many recipients go on to achieve great things, noting one young man's effort to get on the housing ladder.

"A young man who went through the programme went on to become a quantity surveyor and at 26 brought his first home in Auckland."

Applications are now open for First Foundation's 2024 scholarships here