Aged just 17, Okirano Tilaia (pictured, at the PMPYA Awards) exhibits leadership qualities beyond his years.
The Cashmere High School Head Boy is racking up a long list of community involvement, putting these leadership qualities to the test.
Leading comes naturally for Okirano, who is of Samoan descent and was raised in Christchurch.
His reaction to the Mosque shootings in Christchurch on March 15 was to immediately get involved in the community response.
He is currently a member of the Youth Advisory Group to the Minister of Education; a member/trustee of the Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation Council (PYLAT); a member of SPACPAC and a community volunteer.
He has also been invited to tour schools in Samoa to experience and hear the stories of young people in the Pacific nations.
Following this tour, he collaborated with Journalism students from the National University of Samoa to create a documentary showing the experiences of young people he encountered from his trip.
The young leader has been recognised at the 2019 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards, taking out the Leadership and Inspiration category, sponsored by Air New Zealand and supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).
Okirano has won one week of activities for an overseas diplomacy posting, valued at $10,000 for demonstrating outstanding leadership qualities and inspiring others to make a positive change in their own life or the lives of others.
“My parents gave up everything in Samoa and moved to New Zealand so their kids could have a better life,” Okirano says.
“They worked several jobs to ensure there was food on the table, a roof over our heads, and we got a great education.
“This award is a way in which I can show how their hard work and sacrifice has given me the opportunity to be my best self and make a difference in the lives of many.
“It has also inspired and empowered my family to keep striving and working hard.”
Okirano intends to build on the learnings and skills he develops from the opportunities which arise from winning this award, to encourage and build up the next generation of Pacific leaders to understand who they are and what their purpose is.
He also plans to use this award to network with decision makers to ensure they incorporate and include Pacific voices in their reviews and choices; and to try and connect young Pacific people with their roots in the islands.
“I would like to find a way for young people to engage with their peers who live in the islands, further building a bridge between countries and helping young Pacific people know who they are, and be confident in their identity.”
Giving back to the community he comes from is hugely important to Okirano, and he has plans to do so, by working with local/national groups and organisations to facilitate events to engage and celebrate the Pacific community.
“I intend to create a council for Pacific secondary school students so they have a voice in local decisions which have major impact on their lives.
“I just want to do all I can to build Pacific young people up so they are confident to stand up for what they believe in and to never give up when faced with adversity.”