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Prime Minister's Scholarship Awarded To Samoan Cookery Student, Baker, Mother-of-four

Pou Uliefu's day starts at 4 am at work as a baker in Pukekohe before she races to her full-time studies at Ignite Colleges cookery school in Manukau, then closing out her day at home helping her four children with their homework and school commitments.

When the Samoan-born student was told she was a recipient of the 2022/2023 Prime Minister's Scholarships announced this month, she took an uncustomary pause in her day and stopped what she was doing in the bakery - feeling the tears falling down her face 'like the rain'.

"I felt overwhelmed, excited, and most of all, thankful. I had dreamed of formal study, to gain a qualification that recognised my skills in the kitchen, but for a very long time, this was not possible – in Samoa or New Zealand - because I couldn't afford the time away from work or family commitments.”

Funded by the New Zealand Government and administered by Education New Zealand - Manapou ki te Ao, 111 scholarships are granted annually to support New Zealanders' learning experiences abroad. Recipients are selected for being community-minded, culturally aware, ambassadorial and adaptable. They will benefit from full-time study to be completed in their choice of 12 destination countries in Asia and Latin America.

The scholarship enables Pou to travel to Singapore in February for a six-week internship at the SHATEC International Hotel and Tourism School.

"I am excited to discover the new tastes of Asian dishes, how to prepare and present them, and immerse myself in Singapore's culture and everyday life. I am thankful to go to Singapore to explore their culture, their lifestyle, to taste the sweetness of their food – and to represent New Zealand on the world stage."

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Now in her thirties, Pou came to New Zealand in 2011 - leaving behind her two children in Samoa.

"I applied for permanent New Zealand residency when I was a single mum of two kids in Samoa. I was able to secure a job before arriving in the country, but I knew I couldn't afford to pay for childcare while working. My children stayed behind, and our extended family looked after them. I was settled one year later, and by then, I had enough savings for them to join me, and they did.

"In Wellington I had a job as a kitchen hand at the Fisherman's Table. We moved to Pukekohe in 2018 and I started working as head cook in the healthcare facility I’m working at now. For a long time I had also dreamed of studying cookery - to gain qualifications that recognised me as a cook."

Despite taking her plans to her bosses, Pou’s requests for study-friendly hours were twice declined. Her tenacity never waned and this year, Pou’s current managers in the kitchen at the Palms Lifecare and Village agreed to support her to have the time she needed to work and study.

"Jo and Lynn are my managers and give me lovely support – they agreed to let me change my hours so that I can work the early morning baking shifts making morning teas, afternoon teas and celebration food. Then I finish my shift by 10 or 11 o'clock to start my day's study at the college. I still have time after 6 o'clock when I am home to spend with my four children, aged 8 to 16 years."

She met her husband John soon after the children arrived in Wellington from Samoa, and they have had two children together.

"I often ask myself, what can I give my children, more than I had when I was growing up? Looking back, growing up on the island in a big extended family with aunties, their husbands, and their kids, I realised I didn't have the freedom to choose what I could wear or what food to eat. In Samoa, my goal was to be an ECE teacher, but I couldn't finish university because my family couldn't afford to support my studies financially. When I became a Mum, I changed. I was looking after two generations; I rearranged myself and rebuilt myself.

"My uncle came to visit one day, and I cooked him a meal of normal island food – a can of fish gravy and boiled banana in coconut cream. He said, 'you will be a chef one day.' I didn't take him seriously at the time, but his words stuck with me."

Ignite Colleges Cookery Tutor Maigie Atienza said she nominated Pou for the scholarship because she is a stand-out student.

"Pou is a very dedicated student who has the passion to be creative in making her dishes. She has a very good balance of flavour and texture in what she cooks or the dishes she creates in the kitchen. She has shown amazing skills and attitude and is very keen to master the techniques being taught to her and embrace new learning in a very positive way.

"I see a very bright future for her. After her scholarship and classes in Singapore, I am confident she can go places with the new skills and experience she has acquired. Her determination and faith will bring her and her family great success."

Currently studying towards the New Zealand Certificate in Cookery (Level 3), Pou plans to complete her qualifications to Level 5 and is excited to step up in her learning.

"I am keen to understand management, supplier relationships and grow my communication skills.

"This is a time for me to shine, to take my chef's career to the next level. I want to make my family, especially my kids, proud. I hope the opportunity will open new doors."

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