Pasifika group’s connections grow

Moving to a foreign country can be an isolating and lonely experience, but one Central Otago group is helping people find strength and community in their cultural identity.

Pasifika Central Otago, a community connecting Pasifika people, was formed by Alexandra woman Kusitina Colailgo last year.

During the start of Covid-19 Mrs Colailgo realised there was a need to support the region’s Pasifika people so she partnered with Pacific Trust Otago to provide vouchers for people.

Two years on there was still a need for the region’s Pasifika communities to connect, and Mrs Colailgo determined she would bring people together regardless if they were Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme workers, permanent residents who had migrated or New Zealand born.

She spoke to a Fijian couple about her idea and they were immediately on board.

‘‘He said to me, ‘‘whatever you need’’. I said ‘‘God, that’s like just a confirmation to do it, so we start,’’ Mrs Colailgo said.

She put a call out for people to gather for a BBQ and sports afternoon, and carloads came from throughout Central Otago, Queenstown and Arrowtown.

‘‘That was how we started, and from that time, it’s just been leaps and bounds.’’

A small event committee was formed as well as a Facebook group to connect people online.

A successful Pasifika Christmas event followed, as well as a school holiday programme teaching children cooking, traditional dance and weaving, and a community fundraising night for Vanuatu.

The group also partnered with the Ministry of Education to hold NCEA information sessions for families.

Members of Central Otago’s Pasifika community at a Christmas celebration in Cromwell last year. The event was organised by Pasifika Central Otago. PHOTO: Clare Toia-Bailey / Image Central.

Watching children embrace their heritage, regardless of where they came from, had been a highlight, Mrs Colailgo said.

‘‘I’m finding that what’s happening with us doing this, the children are more confident to display their culture and to own it . . . it’s amazing,’’ she said.

She cited children holding up their national flags at school prizegivings as an example.

‘‘When the children’s prizegiving happened, we saw our young people at the school in Cromwell holding their flags up. I felt like that was a proud moment.’’

‘‘I’ve loved watching how the children in the families . . . when you’re proud to be who you are . . . there’s a different feeling about who you are, the way you walk, the way you talk. I think there’s a confidence, it’s a security in who they are, that they’re OK.’’

One year on from when it started, Pasifika Central Otago was connecting with people from 11 different nations —Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Niue and the Cook Islands — living throughout Central Otago, Wanaka and Queenstown.

The group is working on becoming a registered charity which would enable access funding and Mrs Colailgo has dreams for a physical space for the group.