Moana Kaori Yasumitsu Tsujido (pictured) says everything she has achieved to date reflects her grandparent’s love and perseverance.
Raised in West Auckland by grandparents Moetoto Isara and Sa’u Esene Toitua, Moana was always encouraged to strive for academic success and to incorporate Pacific values into every aspect of her life.
The 22-year-old of Samoan and Japanese descent is among eight recipients who won a 2021 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award (PMPYA), at the online ceremony hosted by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP), late last year.
Moana won the Leadership and Inspiration category, sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and Air New Zealand, which recognises a young person who has demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities by leading a project in their community, church or school or who has inspired others to make a positive change in their own life or the lives of others.
“When I found out I was a recipient of this award I couldn’t wait to tell my grandparents,” Moana says.
“They were the first people I wanted to tell especially with the tough two years we have faced due to COVID-19.”
Moana says while her grandparents were proud, there was a sense of relief knowing they had successfully raised a confident Samoan woman.
“Being the eldest grandchild and the first in my family to attend University, I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed and perform to my highest ability as I felt this was the only way I could ever thank my grandparents for their countless sacrifices.
“My grandmother was a former Teacher and would say ‘once you have earned your degree, nobody can take it away from you’ and this is so true.”
As a result, Moana is working furiously towards completing two degrees at the University of Auckland – conjoint Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor Global Studies degrees.
Having served on Pacific boards such as Commerce 'O Pasifika and Village Arts Association, influencing change in Pacific Aotearoa has become a focus point for Moana.
“During my time at university and on the Commerce ‘O Pasifika Board, the impact I wanted to make was to help students feel they belong at university and facilitate safe spaces.
“More recently, I came across the gender pay gap issue, and statistics of Pacific women being the least paid.”
“I hope to be able to implement tangible solutions not to reduce but to eliminate this gap for Pacific peoples.
“Whether that may be something as small as discussing salaries with other employees - I believe small changes make a huge difference.”
Winning a PMPYA has provided Moana with validation that her work is important, and it has given her confidence to launch more projects, and while she is unsure what the future holds, she knows serving the Pacific community will be involved, regardless of the role.
“Ever since I started university, I have always wanted to work in one of the ministries … I felt working in the public sector would allow me to work with communities to assist in the betterment of Aotearoa.
“This award has given me a foot in the door - I will gain experience via my MFAT internship, in conjunction with Air New Zealand allowing me to travel wherever I wish.”
One of the biggest lessons Moana has learnt in recent times is representation matters.
“Therefore, I hope this award inspires more Pacific women to chase their dreams and equality – you are worth it.”
Visit the MPP website for more information on the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards.