A'oga Fa'a Samoa journey for the Sao sisters
For Auckland couple, Alia Crompton-Meyer and Ligi Sao, sending their daughters to A’oga Fa’a Samoa Early Childhood Centre in Ponsonby was a no-brainer.
It would mean Lola, 4, and Cleo, 20 months (pictured), would be able to communicate with their grandparents clearly, enabling them to form a special bond without any language barriers.
The A’oga Fa’a Samoa, established in 1984 as the first Pacific Island Language ECE in New Zealand, is an immersion Samoan learning centre situated at Richmond Road Primary School.
Ligi and Alia recognise the value in Lola and Cleo learning their culture and language, and see the A’oga Fa’a Samoa as essential in the girls’ life journey.
Alia’s mother Luana is half Samoan – her father was Samoan and sadly died when Luana was three.
“Mum didn't have a lot to do with her Samoan family after he died - that part of our heritage was lost, and I'd never really identified as being Samoan until I had a Samoan daughter,” Alia says.
Ligi is a NZ-born Samoan - both his parents were born in Samoa and emigrated to NZ in their early 20's.
With Samoan being the first language spoken in Ligi's family home, the couple’s main motivation for sending their daughters to A'oga was so they could learn enough Samoan to communicate there, particularly with their nana who has limited English, Alia says.
“For me it was also really important for the girls to be confident and knowledgeable of their culture, and to not feel shy and anxious at family gatherings, church and so on.”
Initially, when Lola first started at A’oga there were some challenges, Alia explains.
Ligi, a rugby league player, was based in Australia for work at the time and Alia had a limited knowledge of the Samoan language.
“Supporting the language at home was challenging and also finding resources such as Samoan language books was also difficult.”
However, when Lola was nearly three, her confidence in what she was learning at A’oga soared, and Ligi also returned to NZ which definitely made a difference to the amount of conversational Samoan being spoken in their household.
“I would say mine has improved but I just say ‘aua’ (don't do that) a lot,” she quips.
With younger daughter Cleo, Alia says she feels like Samoan is her first language as she started at A'oga a bit earlier than sister Lola.
“She settled in easier than Lola and her English vocab was not as formed so many of her first words have been Samoan.
“Often I don't understand her but Lola will pick up she's saying something in Samoan, and when the girls play together at home - especially role play type games - their conversations are almost always in Samoan.
“They sing in Samoan and siva all the time.”
There are so many benefits which have come from the A'oga Fa'a Samoa journey, Alia adds.
Knowing her children are being cared for and nurtured by strong, kind, intelligent faiaoga who share their wisdom generously, patiently and lovingly is reassuring as it is more like having a team of aunties looking after them.
“I love the values, traditions and respect of our culture are being holistically taught alongside the language and these have become a natural, normal part of our daily family life.
“Our girls are strongly connected to their heritage and embrace it, and I hope we continue to foster this and it stays with them always.”
Alia adds many people say how valuable being bilingual is, how good it is for children’s brains, and how beneficial it will be to them going forward in terms of education and their ability to learn.
“But for us, it is just a bi-product of our experience - the greatest benefit is my girls are encouraged to be confident orators who celebrate their language and culture, and who can naturally, comfortably communicate in Samoan with their nana.
“There is no language or any other barrier blocking that close and special relationship.”
Meanwhile, A’oga Fa’a Samoa Manager Janice Taouma says the centre gives children attending a foundation for learning.
“As we are an immersion Samoan centre, children become strong in their language and culture ensuring self-confidence,” Janice says.
Located on-site at Richmond Road Primary School, Janice says the A’oga team are able to transition their children into the school's Samoan Bilingual Unit Mua i Malae, ensuring continuance of learning through Primary school.
The A’oga Fa’a Samoa is currently licensed for 50 children to attend daily, with 56 children on its role and it has 12 teachers registered, who promote Samoan language and culture to nurture positive identity of the children.
The A’oga team strongly advocate for Pacific languages to flourish and Janice says for a language to survive, there needs to be a policy in place that ensures children can be supported in learning their cultural language.
Visit A’oga Fa’a Samoa to learn more.
The Ministry for Pacific Peoples is working to grow and develop pride within the organisation to improve our role as custodians in promoting the profile of Pacific indigenous languages and cultures. The diversity Pacific people bring to NZ’s national and international identity advocates Language, Culture and Heritage as a priority for the Ministry.
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