Challenging disconnect in the regions

posted: 8:00 pm - 1st September 2019
Pasifika Festival in the Bay team

(Picture caption: Some of the Pasifika Festival in the Bay team, gearing up for this year's event on October 30, in Tauranga.) 

Feeling isolated and disconnected from the “Big Smoke” is a challenge Pacific people face in small town New Zealand – and within the Bay of Plenty is no exception. 

Tauranga-based Educator and Chair of Pasifika in the Bay Trust Mel Cottingham brought some of these challenges into the spotlight at the Lalanga Fou Fono: Tulī Takes Flight fono in her hometown recently. 

The reo rua kaiako in a Modern Learning Environment shared experiences of living in the region with the Minister for Pacific Peoples Hon. Aupito William Sio and the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) team, and the over 200 attendees at the fono. 

A small but increasing population of Pacific people reside in Tauranga and therefore there is a small pool of experts to drive Pacific initiatives, she says.   

“In teaching, Pacific teachers are sprinkled around the Bay so there is a challenge to meet other Pacific teachers to network and collaborate with.    

“Education policy decision making, education seminars and fono are held and made only in the main cities in consultation with Pacific people in the main cities.  

“We would like the same opportunities in these smaller places – however, I understand economies of scale and convenience.” 

Putting her Chair’s hat on, she says Pasifika in the Bay Trust is driving recognition and visibility of Pacific culture through its event, Pasifika Festival in the Bay  for early childhood education (ECE), primary, intermediate and secondary schools. 

Pasifika Festival in the Bay Poster 2019Pasifika Festival in the Bay, staged in October and featuring 27 performances and 1,000 performers, is the only Pacific event in Tauranga and the organisers is forging its own path. 

“It is awesome however, it would be easier in a larger city where there are others who are running similar Pacific events, to help identify funding streams and sponsorship opportunities - these streams and pools of money are larger in a bigger city,” Mel says. 

Pacific youth are not provided with the same opportunities in Tauranga as youth receive in main cities, for example with gaining scholarships, awards and recognition, because of its isolation and disconnectedness, Mel continues. 

“And we cannot drive down the road and buy Pacific fabric, pani popo, poke, coconut bread ... we have to drive to Auckland for such delicacies and fabric for our performing teams.” 

Mel grew up with these treats of the Pacific, with her English and Niuean parents. 

She moved around a lot with her family when she was young, and lived an idyllic childhood in the Cook Islands before moving back to Tawa. 

“My parents moved to Funafuti and I went to boarding school in the Wairarapa.  

“There were seven Māori and Pacific students at St Mathews and Rathkeale which was a very interesting and valuable experience.” 

Having MPP visit and hosting the fono in Tauranga means a lot to the Pacific community in the region as it brought the “Big Smoke” and Lalanga Fou to them, Mel says.  

“It is important for MPP to host these engagements in the regions so we can align to the same vision and gain synergy through connectedness to inform our decisions that impact the future prosperity of our children.” 

Micro-communities in Tauranga came together to share a big vision for Pacific people at the fono and they feel connected, visible and encouraged that vision is supported and aligns with the Ministry, she adds. 

“There is a post-visit buzz and spirit of drive and achievement here in Tauranga that can be attributed to the MPP coming to our town.” 

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