Understanding the struggle

posted: 4:15 pm - 4th May 2019
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(Picture caption: Okirano Tilaia with thePYLAT team and Minister for Pacific Peoples Hon. Aupito William Sio at a PYLAT iSpeak event.) 

Christchurch-based 17-year-old Okirano Tilaia understands and appreciates the struggle his parents made to gift him a better life in New Zealand. 

The Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation (PYLAT) Council Trustee says their sacrifice inspires him to not only serve the Pacific community, but to be his best version and learn from others.  

Okirano’s parents moved from Samoa to New Zealand in the 2000s, and raised their children to always put others before themselves, and act with humility. 

Overtime, Okirano has become heavily involved serving his community as a youth leader, advocating for Pacific peoples who do not have a voice in society and volunteer. 

He recently volunteered at the Southern Region Toloa Awards ceremony in Christchurch, where he celebrated some of the great accomplishments made by Pacific people in New Zealand. 

As a PYLAT Trustee, Okirano has been able to collaborate with other young Pacific people to organise and run events to encourage our Pacific youth to get involved in all sorts of worlds, including politics, performing arts and sports, he says. 

“We have also run cultural workshops for many different organisations, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as health boards and various university programmes to help them develop their understanding of the Pacific people and our values.” 

One of Okirano’s passions is ensuring young Pacific voices are heard by decision makers, he says. 

As a member of Minister of Education Hon. Chris Hipkins’ Youth Advisory Group, he was able to give a Pacific perspective, by sharing his experience in the New Zealand education system. 

“This was to make sure the future of education in New Zealand is adaptable to a young and diverse generation, their values, background and aspirations.”  

Most recently, Okirano has been invited to be an NCEA Navigator working together with NZQA. 

“The work is around motivating our Pacific youth to keep striving, but also provide them with tips for internal study, balancing school life with other commitments and mental health.” 

Noticed for his work in the youth leadership space, Okirano was presented with the opportunity to speak about the importance of diverse voices in Parliament at the 2018 Presiding Officers and Clerks Conference, which was another amazing learning experience, he says. 

Aside from his parents’ past and sacrifice, driving Okirano to do this work is his desire to show Pacific youth they are resilient and strong-minded. 

“Our ancestors never gave up, so why should we doubt ourselves and give up? 

“As a Pacific youth in Aotearoa, I believe the Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ (MPP) Pacific Vision and Lalanga Fou goals are relevant and important in today’s modern world.” 

Staying connected with the people of Aotearoa is imperative to the Ministry’s success with their goals, he adds. 

“Ensuring it comes back to the Pacific community to show how it has taken their voices and turned them into action; having meaningful and non-tokenistic discussions and consultations with Pacific people, especially our young people; and also providing opportunities for young people to lead the discussions around the Ministry’s goals and communicate directly with leaders, are ways which will lead to success.”