Pasifika Medical Association. Pathway to Leadership is Service. Auckland 2016.
Last Thursday 25 August, I was invited to speak in Auckland, at the 20th Anniversary of the Pasifika Medical Association about the One Million Stars to End Violence project. I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that there was going to be a gathering of Pasifika people working in the Medical and Health industry in New Zealand and across the South Pacific. I didn’t even really take into account that it would be a celebration, a party of sorts, to celebrate 2 decades of work, growth and community development in the New Zealand and South Pacific region.
As the date drew near to repack and reorientate for another overseas trip, I found myself wondering what an artist like me, had to offer to a gathering of medical professionals. One thing we had in common, was our love for and our pride in being part of the wide and diverse community of Pasifika peoples.
Earlier this year I visited a Star Weave Community in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, as part of my travels funded by the Queensland Government. I spoke at the NZ High Commission on International Women’s Day about the One Million Stars project and Debbie Sorenson, Director of Pasifika Futures and CEO of the PMA, heard me speak there. Debbie was obviously moved by the project and invited me to speak at the PMA anniversary gathering.
I was looked after so well by the PMA which I am so very grateful for. Everything from my flights to my hotel transfers and room, made me feel very special and that my contribution and participation in this 20th Anniversary celebration was important. It certainly made me want to give my best talk and presentation of the One Million Stars to End Violence project. Feeling welcomed and ready for a few days of learning and networking, I soaked up all the luxuries and enjoyed time confirming meetings for my next big trip to Canada with Tavina and finalised my talk. We had the PMA opening cocktail event at the War Memorial Museum that evening too, which I was dreading because it was so cold. It was my first time to the Museum and it was quite stunning, especially at night with the lights and yes, even the rain. I did enjoy being able to get dressed up in my fancy gears with my own little style twist. I don’t always have opportunities to get dressed up, but feel it’s something I need to get used to as the project grows and requests for speaking and openings grow as well. These events are also perfect opportunities to wear a pair of my woven earrings, pendants or something I’ve made, which often generates conversation about my woven work as an artist and weaver. I always appreciate talking about my other passions. There’s so many of us who do lots of interesting things, other than the work we are most well known for. Some of the people I met were incredible musicians, writers or enthusiastic garderners. So cool!
Cocktail event at the War Memorial Museum, Auckland.
After the cocktail event and dinner on Wednesday night, I was well and truly aware of how special this event was. Dignitaries from across the Pacific including Tonga, Fiji and New Caledonia were present. Formal but short speeches were given by very humble Ministers, elders and founding members of PMA. Singing, prayers and dances took place naturally and often. I was overwhelmed with happiness, admiration and love (and exceptional food!) for what I was sharing in. It was truly an honour to be sharing the room and stage with women and men of such quality and accomplishments.
The next day was long and full of all kinds of emotions. The day was opened with the log drums of the Cook Islands and the entrance of Her Royal Highness the Princess of Tonga, Salote Mafile'o Pilolevu Tuita, Kingdom of Tonga. I could feel myself tearing up straight away. And then a minister from a local Tongan community opened with a prayer and then there was a hymn. I was doing that thing where you take the tip of your tongue and you touch the roof of your mouth. Apparently it’s meant to stop you from crying. It worked for a bit and then I realised, it’s ok, I want to feel all this emotion and be present. It was more about trying to keep calm and be at peace before I spoke that morning. I ended up being so nervous that I was very close to going up to the MC and saying that I didn’t want to speak. I’ve never felt this nervous, ever. I think it was because these are my people and I have so much admiration, love and respect for them that I wanted them to be proud of me.
HRH Princess the Princess of Tonga, Salote Mafile'o Pilolevu Tuita, Kingdom of Tonga.
I’m so glad I didn’t pull out and that I got up on that stage. I was the last speaker, after Hon Minister Jone Usamate, Minister of Health and Medical Services & Chair of the Pacific Ministers of Health, Fiji, Hon Minister Dr Saia Piukala, Minister of Health. Kingdom of Tonga and Hon Niki Rattle Speaker of the House, Parliament of Cook Islands. We spoke on a panel called, Perspectives on Pacific Leadership. Already, that’s such a huge topic! I had to think about my own leadership style, the things I wrestle with and perspectives I could share as a Pasifika woman in this space. My fears and insecurities were right up there. I felt sick and just wanted to go to my room. But what helped me push through was the fact that I love the One Million Stars project so much and that I had to remember that OMS is the platform where I practice leadership and my love for my roots in the Pacific. It’s also where I practice overcoming my fears and insecurities of not being ‘enough’ and just getting on with it in a way that is truthful to my values and style. I ended up speaking about permission, persuasion and passion. Permission: when do we seek the permission of our elders and communities and when do we stand on our own experience and knowledge given by our families and communities and just get on with it? Persuasion: Projects and movements like OMS grow bigger than the targeted communities and begin to reach others outside of these circles. Owning my power and influence is a constant challenge, I am at the edge of my learning but I am loving it. Passion: It is the songline of my journey and life. It’s what helped to start the OMS project. But I can’t do this on passion alone. I need other skills, like leadership, admin, business, campaigning, social media etc.
I finished by speaking about the OMS project and how powerful this movement is becoming.
I always get so emotional when I speak about it, but I made it through and when I said my last words, I was so relieved and glad it was over. The response from people after was so moving. I had Ministers, Drs, Directors and Nurses come up and say how proud they are of me and what I am doing and how much they enjoyed hearing me speak. I recieved so many contact details and interest in the project, it’s fantastic! I have a personal interest in seeing the OMS grow in the Pacific because it’s where I’m from and Australia is such a big part of it. Violence is a huge issue in the Pacific, as it is everywhere, so it was refreshing for everyone to hear about how leadership, courage and passion can create excellence and community in our beloved Pacific.
With our brilliant MCs, Lapi Mariner (left. Jamoan Jam) and Tofiga Fepulea'i (Laughing Samoans)
The PMA 20th anniversary can be summarised as a fun and uplifting reunion of professional, exceptional people who are at the forefront of their fields in health care, medicine and surgery. It was a celebration of best practise, lessons learnt and creating culturally appropriate models of health care for our Pasifika community needs. There is much to learn and celebrate and much to look forward to as well.
Star WEave Jam, Fresh Gallery, Otara.
I couldn't leave Auckland without running a star weaving workshop with some friends and their communities. I met an amazing woman, named Sharon Farao at the PMA conference and she came to the Star Weave Jam with her sister. We spent a few hours weaving stars at Fresh Gallery, Otara. Otara has a high population of Pacific Island communities so it was special to be there and share some star weaving love. Huge thanks to Reina Sutton and Jay Waititi for organising this workshop. Looking forward to receiving stars from Auckland and Aotearoa New Zealand. We defintely need Star Weave Communities from New Zealand and across the Pacific, so please help to spread the word and get in contact with us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info and to register.
A lovely chilled afternoon weaving stars at Fresh Gallery, Otara.
With my aunty Vagana Herene Suafa Leatua and my cousins. So happy to have woven their stars.