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Tuvaluan returns home with PhD from University of Auckland

Tuvaluan returns home with PhD from University of Auckland

It’s hard enough embarking on a PhD, but for Tufoua Panapa it also meant leaving the tiny nation of Tuvalu with a population of just 10,000 to live and study in Auckland.

He also switched from a background in education to studying health and development.

Tufoua decided to do a PhD in Development Studies at the University of Auckland after he successfully applied for a scholarship to study here. On Tuesday he graduated with his PhD at the University’s Spring Graduation ceremony. He is now the only Tuvaluan back in his home country with a PhD.

Tufoua had already completed a Bachelor of Education at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, and an MA in Educational Leadership at the University of Canberra.

But the PhD was his biggest challenge. He went from teaching history and geography on the Tuvalu island of Vaitupu at Motufoua Secondary School to living and studying in Auckland.

“All through my life I am an educator, I’ve been teaching working as a Principal and Deputy Principal, I just love it, it’s my background, however the scholarship was health orientated.”

“I love teaching the students; my strength is with that school.”

“I still remember the struggle, there were points where I nearly quit.”

But with the support of his supervisors he kept going.

His thesis was part of the ‘Transnational Health in the Pacific through the lens of TB’ project and was funded by the New Zealand Health Research Council.

Titled, ‘Ola Lei; Developing Healthy Communities in Tuval’, Tufoua developed a Tuvaluan conceptual framework for health and wellbeing - called the Ola Lei Conceptual Framework – in which he illustrated the concept with a drawing of an octopus.

The head of the octopus represents the main four qualities of ola lei: peacefulness/harmoniousness, happiness/contentment, physical fitness/lack of illness, and longevity. The tentacles represent the practices through which ola lei can be achieved including hard work, traditional skills and faith in God.

Other practices include food abundance and quality, readiness and hard work.

The concept was well received in Tuvalu. Now Tufoua is taking his research to the NZ Population Health Congress being held in Auckland on 6 October.

After completing his PhD Tufoua returned to Tuvalu where he worked in administration at Motufoua Secondary School. In the future he plans to move careers and perhaps work in Government and other institutions in the South Pacific.

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