Growing up in Satoalepai in Savaii, Samoa, Rhia Taonui’s (pictured) grandmother would take her everywhere with her – to her regular village fono, weaving groups, church fono, village gatherings and events.
“I was a fono-baby,” Rhia says.
“My grandmother saw the benefits of me being surrounded by my community, their traditions and values; and she knew one day, they would influence and aid my life.”
Rhia’s grandmother was a wise woman, as this is exactly how things panned out for the new Tupu Aotearoa Manager - Whanganui/Manawatū, Hawke’s Bay.
Born in Auckland but raised in Samoa by her grandparents during her childhood years, Rhia returned to Auckland for school; before moving to the Manawatū to attend Massey University.
She currently calls Palmerston North home, residing there with her husband Dr Rawiri Taonui of 25 years, and their three children.
Before taking up her new role, Rhia was the Pasifika Community Liaison for Palmerston North City Council, serving the Palmerston North-Manawatū Pacific community.
As a Tupu Aotearoa Manager, Rhia will work with providers in the regions, such as SENZ , Kings Force Charitable Trust, InWork and Horowhenua Learning Centre (HLC), so they can help Pacific young people find employment or gain further qualifications.
Funded by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples and the Provincial Growth Fund, Tupu Aotearoa trains providers to equip young people with the right tools to fulfil their potential.
The importance of aiga-family and community makes Rhia’s new role achievable and a natural choice.
The values she learnt as a young child greatly influences the way she works, she adds.
“There is a Samoan saying, ‘O le ala I le pule, o le tautua – the pathway to leadership is through service’ - I want to serve my community.”
Life-long learning starts with us, Rhia continues.
“In doing so, it is important we maintain our traditional values in whatever we do, so we can retain and pass on the wisdom of our matua, our elders.
“We must acknowledge the value of relationship and duty of care between individuals and groups and embrace the process of adult and community learning so our Pacific communities can reach their full potential.”
Assisted and guided by Rhia, Kings Force and SENZ both recently underwent Tupu Aotearoa training.
The training sessions are an opportunity for MPP staff to get to know and meet the providers; and to see their strengths and address their weaknesses from a holistic and constructive perspective, Rhia says.
“We are all in the same vaka for the main focus of creating a prosperous Pacific community through education, employment and training,” she says.
Visit MPP for more information on Tupu Aotearoa.