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Supporting Pacific Women’s Aspirations

Hon Tariana Turia
Associate Minister of Health

Friday 12 October 2012; 8am SPEECH

Opening address – Pasifika Women’s Working Breakfast
Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre, Auckland

Supporting Pacific Women’s Aspirations

What a great way to start the day – attending a working breakfast with a room full of Pasifika women.

I had to chuckle at the title – heaven forbid that we should just enjoy each other’s company and share kai together!

True to form, Pasifika women work at breakfast, lunch and tea – no surprises there.

But today I hope our work takes on a new dimension – the opportunity to work for our future; to work out strategies and means by which our aspirations can be achieved.

I want to congratulate the Pasifika Medical Association for your decision to recognise the leadership of Pasifika women; and in doing so to particularly acknowledge Debbie Sorensen for her vision as Chief Executive.

The concept of aspiration is one that I am always fascinated in.

As medical professionals, no doubt your first thought is that it means “the taking of foreign matter into the lungs with the respiratory current” – or in layperson’s terms, the act of breathing out and in.

But there is of course another meaning – “a strong desire to achieve something higher or greater”.

So how I interpret this for the purposes of this hui, is that the desire to achieve something greater for your whānau, your aiga, your family – is part of your everyday life; your work; your home; it is as natural as breathing.

As this conference was opening yesterday, there was a headline in the local paper that took my eye. It told the story of a fifteen year old Tongan girl, Palu Fia, who had joined scores of sports fans to welcome Olympic gold medallist Valerie Adams as she arrived at Palmerston North airport.

Into a sea of Tongan red, Palu was spotted and asked why seeing Valerie was so important to her. Turns out this young girl had thrown her way to third place in shotput at the interschool athletics competition, and she dreamed of one day becoming the next Valerie Adams.

Her response to the reporter was magical, “She’s amazing, she’s really an inspiration. She’s motivated me to do my best”.

Now I thought about that story, when I was thinking about the Healthcare Heroes programme that your Association has pioneered across fifteen secondary schools in Auckland. This is a fantastic programme, focused on encouraging Pasifika students to participate, engage and achieve in science with the ultimate goal to study for a health science degree.

The Healthcare Heroes programme works alongside the ‘Students are our Future Programme’ – which puts in place mentoring support to encourage Pasifika tertiary students to complete a degree in health.

The concept of grooming for success is clearly part of your forward planning – embedding aspirations into the hearts and minds of our children and future leaders.

I guess the greatest challenge before us is to think how we can generate that same excitement that Palu demonstrates in her love of sport, into the arena of health and education.

I remember Alfred Ngaro saying at the Whānau Ora hui last year, to help change a culture, learn to ask a powerful question.

The change we are seeking is to invite all our families to create a future possibility which reflects the transformation they want to experience.

We all know the statistics – the health data, the educational disparities; the relentless burden of income inequalities; the dire employment circumstances. As a Minister, as a member of parliament; as a leader of a political party my life’s work is about creating opportunities to change that situation in order to ensure that all our people thrive.

But I am also absolutely of the view that transformation does not come about from any one politician defining your reality.

Our greatest job must be to listen and learn from your leadership; to understand the wisdom of your ways; to consider how best we can develop options that are driven by your aspirations.

And so we come back to this concept once more of aspirations, breathing in, breathing out.

What is it that you want for your peoples, your communities, your families? How do Pasifika values and ideologies determine your solutions? What are the powerful questions that you ask of yourself?

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of launching Ngā vaka o kaiga tapu – a Pacific conceptual framework to address family violence in New Zealand. Each of the nations that took part in that framework breathed life into the vaka, in their own way, through the influence and inspiration of their own leadership.

In Tokelau for instance, they talked about the role of the fatupaepae – women of seniority descended from the female lines. The fatupaepae holds a privileged leadership role as the central symbol of kaiga – and is not based on hierarchy but rather on leadership where she represents wisdom, compassion, justice and strength; and decisions are based on consensus by kaiga.

In Fiji, they talked about Sautu – the concept of family wellbeing that is self-sustaining and is essentially about good health – as epitomised in the greeting, Bula Vinaka.

I see similarities of course, as tangata whenua, with the roles of our kuia; the importance of hauora – the ultimate expression of health and wellbeing also reflected in our greetings, Kia ora – may you enjoy the fullness of life.

The point is, that each of the Pacific nations gathered here today has your own unique histories, traditions and legacies of leadership that will be your most powerful resource in helping your aspirations live. There will be commonalities that we can treasure; there will also be differences that we should celebrate.

The message of the metaphors and narratives from within your own cultures will be crucial in helping you to find your own solutions; to recreate the power and influence of the village in Aotearoa.

I have learnt so much from the Pasifika Whānau Ora collectives about the vital influence of culture in shaping a solid foundation for our families to grow and gain for.

And I want to particularly acknowledge those of you are working closely with Pacific Trust Canterbury; Pacific Care Trust in Wellington; Pacific Islands Safety and Prevention Project and Alliance Health here in Tāmaki – as well as the ten Pacific regional leaders. Your work is making a difference and we are better for it.

Finally, I want to share some words of wonder from Samoan and Tuvaluan poet, Selina Tusitala Marsh. These words were presented to me at the graduation ceremony for Best Auckland in June and are a constant source of inspiration. Indeed, the poem is written onto a tapa cloth which hangs in my office, and is frequently a topic of discussion.

The first section of this poem epitomises the purpose for why we are here today – to focus on Pasifika women’s aspirations as leading the way forward.

Just Lead

You’re a leader-in-the making, you’re making history
Redefining this nation’s brown legacy
Poly-saturated activity
It’s Nafanua leading in the city

Lead in tautua, the community
Lead through uniqueness, your diversity
Lead through leaning, lead through learning
Lead through others, lead by earning
Your own way in this world

Lead in alofa, lead in compassion
Lead in fun – lead in your own fashion
Lead by falling forward when you make a mistake
Lead by giving more than what you take

Lead when your strategy is a forward looking story
Lead when the task in front of you holds no glory
Let your “Yes” be “Yes” and your “No” be “No”
Lead and follow in the steps of all your heroes

Thank you again, for allowing me the privilege of being in your fine company at this event this morning.

I leave the last word to Selina:

Lead with your strengths; lead in honesty
Lead when you see between the lines of policy and into the people’s eyes
Lead even in the times you just want to follow
Lead for today, and lead for tomorrow.


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