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Pasifika voices to be heard

Pasifika Wairarapa Council chairman Luther Toloa, originally from Tokelau. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

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It’s time for the Wairarapa Pasifika community to have their say in decisions impacting them, a local Tokelauan advocate says.

Luther Toloa, who arrived in Wairarapa as a 12-year-old boy from Tokelau, hoped to change this through the formation of the Pasifika Wairarapa Council.

The group was created in the first two weeks of the country entering Level 4 lockdown to assess the needs of the local community.

“The covid-19 pandemic just highlighted the gap,” Toloa said.

“We need the community stakeholders to have some understanding of the needs of Pasifika people here in Wairarapa.

“One of the biggest concerns is that there are decisions being made about us here without prior consultation.”

Toloa said local Pasifika needed a bigger role in decision-making relating to health, education, immigration, housing, and employment matters.

“For our Pasifika people, there’s a commonality throughout the issues.”

A big part of that related to language and Pasifika culture and ways of doing things.

He acknowledged part of it might be the culture in which many Pasifika were raised to be humble and accommodating but said the community needed to be more vocal.

“If we don’t raise our voices, those who are tasked to provide the services won’t.”

A common mistake made by policymakers was bracketing the needs of the Pasifika people in rural communities with those in bigger cities, such as South Auckland, the Hutt Valley, or Porirua, he said.

He said it was also important to make sure the data used to make decisions was right from the get-go.

“We started off [approaching] churches but then we realised that many people didn’t belong to churches or community groups.”

The majority of Wairarapa’s 3000 or so strong Pasifika population had links to Samoa, but the Fijian community was also growing, he said.

It was also predominantly a younger population.

Toloa estimated there could be 300 to 400 Pasifika migrant workers in the region at any time, many of whom were isolated in the forestry, orchard, and picking sectors.

“That was one of the difficulties we found during the lockdown.”

During the lockdown period, the council developed a contact list for Pasifika families to offer whatever assistance was needed.

He hoped that the council, which is still in the stage of being formally established, would create a “one stop shop” for the region’s Pasifika community.

“Our population is not that great that we can’t manage within a multidisciplinary unit.

“What we want to do is supplement what the government sectors provide and support them in a way that’s appropriate to the Pasifika culture.”

Wairarapa is home to a diverse range of people with links to the Pacific as noted at an event thanking covid-19 first responders which included representatives from the Samoan, Fijian, Tokelauan, Tuvalan, Solomon Islands, and ni-Vanuatu communities in Wairarapa.

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