Understanding you are supported and heard is vital for Pacific youth, says Toloa Secondary School Scholar Austin Laulu (pictured).
“Just knowing there is support and especially being able to talk through pressures is so important – the number one thing is being heard and listened to,” adds the Year 9 Glendowie College student.
The New Zealand-born Samoan is part of the 238-strong cohort of secondary school students from around the country who were selected to receive a Toloa Secondary School Scholarship for 2022.
It is the first year these scholarships, aimed at supporting students studying, and eventually working in the Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) fields, have been awarded to secondary school students.
Part of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ Toloa Fund initiative, this scholarship covers school fees and equipment for one year to the maximum of $2,000.
Austin, 12, applied for a scholarship after hearing about it from his mum, Lili.
“I liked that the scholarship had a focus on STEAM, areas I have been passionate about since I was much younger, so I applied and was happy both my cousin Michayla and I were awarded scholarships,” he says.
With his strong interest in programming and coding his own games, Austin has a few ideas of what he might like to study going forward.
“I love creating art, animation and music and would be happy with a career as a Game Developer, Software Engineer or Animator where I can incorporate a number of these interests – and maybe even head my own gaming company one day.”
In another first, MPP has partnered with not-for-profit Pasifika-led mental health and wellbeing organisation Le Va to deliver its national youth wellbeing programme Niu Wave for Pasifika students receiving a Toloa Secondary School Scholarship.
Le Va partners with communities and organisations to mobilise cultural, clinical and community solutions for transformational change.
Its diverse portfolio of work includes mental health, addiction, disability, suicide prevention, violence prevention and public health.
An Advisory Board, featuring six students – including Austin – has been established to support Pacific youth on their journey.
“Being a Pacific secondary school student involves a lot more problems and stress than people might think,” Austin says.
“Juggling schoolwork, chores, being an older sibling, sports, church and good grades are expectations we and our families put on us.
“These responsibilities create pressure and can turn into more serious problems as we become older if we don’t know how to deal with it…the Le Va support service is important.”
As an Advisor on the Board, Austin and his peers will be asked to consider solutions to challenges students face, often around wellbeing and mental health.
“For example, we could identify stereotypes as an issue causing problems for Pasifika students.
“Stereotypes may mean you’re treated differently as there are expectations of how people think you should be – and this helps us become a voice for our peers.”
Austin aims to make a difference while on the Board and help with ideas and factors that impact him and his fellow students.
“Providing a student view, on how to make learning interesting and fun will hopefully get more students enjoying and taking part in the well-being programme.
“While I can’t do much on my own, I hope that I, and the other board members, help the Niu Wave programme reach those who need it.”
Visit the MPP website for more information on the Toloa Secondary Schools Scholarship initiative.