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Strong Sense Of Self Key To Pacific Sexual Health

Confident Pacific children who grow up to be resilient adults is the goal of a University of Auckland project that has received $442,000 in Health Research Council funding.

Dr Analosa Veukiso-Ulugia has been awarded a Pacific Postdoctoral Fellowship for her project ‘Nesian Narratives – enhancing sexuality education for Pacific communities’.

The three-year initiative will involve the development, pilot and evaluation of a Pacific resource toolkit in sexuality education for New Zealand primary school teachers.

A registered social worker of Sāmoan descent, Dr Veukiso-Ulugia specialises in Pacific youth health and says there is a common misconception about the need for this kind of resource for primary-aged children.

“When people hear ‘sexuality education’ they immediately think about teenage concerns like pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and issues of consent,” she says, “but what we’re actually looking at is sexuality in its widest sense.”

Through a series of lesson plans, the project will create targeted messages for young Pacific children about relating to others, developing confidence and a positive sense of self; physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Dr Veukiso-Ulugia believes it’s never too early to feed in positive messages as children’s views about themselves start in early childhood; as does the potential for harm.

“How do we teach our children, for example, to recognise that someone is taking advantage of them, sexually abusing them, without telling them all adults are dangerous? How can we help them tell the difference between healthy and harmful?”

Despite brave advocates, she says there’s been an under investment in sexual health promotion specifically targeted at Pacific communities who sometimes have complex issues of culture, religion and tradition to negotiate.

“Thirty years ago, people were saying there needs to be tailored approaches for Māori and Pacific communities, but there has been very little investment in the Pacific sexual health workforce, including health education and early intervention.

She believes we need to be scaffolding this approach earlier.

“We know Aotearoa suffers high abuse rates and sexual violence, and we’ve seen areas of change, but there is a lot more work to be done.”

However in the meantime, she says the 2020 Sexuality Education Guidelines and the Tāpasa framework are great resources already available to health educators.

“Teachers are doing their best to support our children, however their efforts can be strengthened with culturally-relevant resources and training.”

The project will be hosted by Moana Research, a consultancy group focused on making sure Pacific families can access essential services in their children’s first five years.

It will also receive mentoring support from Associate Professor Katie Fitzpatrick, a sexuality education expert in the University’s Faculty of Education and Social Work, and the University of Auckland’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Pacific) Associate Professor Damon Salesa, who is delighted to see it get the green light.

“It is powerful to see one of our amazing emerging Pacific researchers making such an impact, and creating these kind of opportunities,” he says. “Analosa’s project will show how we can ethically work in the relational space where research makes a difference in the lives of Pacific peoples, and community priorities can shape that research.”

Dr Veukiso-Ulugia is excited about working with such experienced mentors and the team at Moana, who already have skills and expertise in this area.

“We want to see what’s already out there and have a talanoa (conversation) with teachers and parents to find out how we can do better for our Pacific children and their families. We’ll also hear from the children about what makes them feel good about themselves. Efforts to support our Pacific children will have a positive impact on all New Zealand children.”

Familiar with the issues at the front line, Dr Veukiso-Ulugia has worked as a social worker with Oranga Tamariki (Care and Protection and Youth Justice) in Otara, South Auckland and as an adolescent health social worker at the Centre for Youth Health (CFYH).

For the past four years she has been a lecturer at the University’s School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work. She holds a Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Public Policy and a PhD from Massey University.

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