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New Zealand-born Samoan, Tagaloa Junior Ulu has been appointed International Programme Manager for Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA), New Zealand’s largest and most experienced volunteering agency working in international development.

Tagaloa, whose parents Mano’o and Malaefilogia Ulu live in Toamua, will be responsible for leading VSA’s international programme, which currently involves working with 140 in-country partners in the Pacific – including 10 partners in Samoa.

Tagaloa began his new job this week, 50 years after the first VSA volunteers arrived in Samoa. He is the first Pacific Islander to hold the position.

“I feel very honoured to have been appointed to this role, and I am very grateful for all the support I have had from my aiga, my church family, and from my colleagues at VSA – particularly the previous International Programme Manager Peter Swain.”

Tagaloa was born and brought up in Auckland, where he attended Marcellin College, a coeducational Catholic secondary school. He completed a BA in history at Victoria University, followed by a Diploma in Secondary School Teaching.

After spending six years teaching in Auckland he decided it was time to experience life in Samoa. He headed to Apia in 2001, where he worked as a locally engaged Development Officer at the New Zealand High Commission.

“Thanks to my parents I am bilingual in Samoan and English, but I had never lived in Samoa and I wanted to get a proper taste of Fa’asamoa.

In 2003, Tagaloa returned to New Zealand to start working at VSA, first as Pacific Programme Officer, and more recently as Manager of VSA’s Polynesia Programme.

This provided him with the opportunity to make regular trips to Samoa, where he carried out research for a Masters degree in Development Studies, looking at aid sovereignty in Samoa.

“The Samoan Government has a high level of ownership of its development programme,” he says. “One of the reasons is because the public service is highly educated and well-informed, and they are respected by donors.”

Tagaloa graduated with distinction in May this year.

He says that as well as having a highly skilled public service, Samoa is also lucky to have a large number of strong and determined women working in both the public and private sector.

“I’ve always admired how extremely determined my mother has been, and I’ve been struck by the equally strong Samoan women I’ve met in my work in the Pacific over the last 10 years. It’s refreshing to see.”

VSA is largely funded through the New Zealand Aid Programme. The first VSA volunteers arrived in Samoa in July 1963 and almost 250 volunteers have worked in Samoa since then. At present there are 13 VSA volunteers working in Samoa, the largest number for several years.

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