Tangaroa College senior student Christian Leilua says Gagana Samoa is a window to his culture, which sets him apart from the rest of the world.
The proud New Zealand-born Samoan recently triumphed at the ASB Polyfest Pacific Speech Competition, supported by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP).
He took out the Year 13 Samoa Stage contest with his spoken presentation about how the New Zealand education system is not for everyone.
“In my speech, I mentioned how everyone has their own weaknesses and strengths and therefore not everyone is reaching their potential - specifically the Pacific community,” Christian explains.
“I spoke about how the Ministry of Education should fill in the gaps with activities where Pacific students feel willing and confident to learn, such as spoken word and sharing ideas in their own languages.
“I also shared not all Pacific students can easily write and read in English - especially those who have recently arrived from the Islands.”
Christian was raised in a Samoan-speaking household, and says he learned to juggle both Gagana Samoa and English from a young age.
“Gagana Samoa familiarised me with how feaus (chores) are done in a proper way, where everything and everyone is to be respected at all times.
“I was always reminded to speak Samoan inside the house, to my parents and family, but once I was at school or anywhere without my parents, I would be expected to speak English.”
It was a little like living in two different worlds, but as he got older, he has found being bilingual beneficial, he adds.
Although he has never physically visited Samoa, and he says it is a calling he will fulfil when he can go there, to learn more about his culture.
Participating in this year’s ASB Polyfest Pacific Speech Competition meant Christian had to step out of his comfort zone, which he says he found challenging.
Now he can reflect on his achievement, he realises he has overcome a lot of fears to speak in a public forum and has made his parents proud in the process.
“This speech competition is an opportunity for Samoan students to exercise their strengths in speaking their native language, and it gives those who are not so strong at reading and writing, an alternative method of learning.”
After he finishes high school, Christian has plans to study Journalism, where he believes his bilingual skills could come in handy.
“It might also inspire other Pacific students to use their native language for a great purpose in life.”
Christian placed first in the Year 13 Samoa Stage contest, ahead of Adyhana Urika-Filifilia from Mangere College, and Henry Pilitati, from James Cook High School.
Visit ASB Polyfest’s website for MPP’s Pacific Speech Competition 2021 results.