Dame honour for top Samoan woman

05 June 2018, 12:00AM

A daughter of Samoa with roots in Vaiala is set to become Samoa’s first Dame.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban has been made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to education and the Pacific community.

The 62-year-old was conferred the honour during New Zealand’s Queen's Birthday Honours released yesterday.

During an interview with Stuff, Dame Luamanuvao talked about the many hats she has worn over the years, including a wig when she won her battle over a breast cancer diagnosis in 2007.

She promises to "thrive" and "enjoy life" but education has always been her passion. It provides opportunity, she said, and that benefits family, community and the country's future.

She said the title of Dame was an honour and would forever reflect her love for people. The announcement led her to think of her parents who came to New Zealand by boat from Samoa in the 1950s and gave up so much "for us".

"Like many immigrants they had dreams for their children and they came here for education and opportunity.

"For me, I think of that generation of Pacific people who came to New Zealand and other immigrants who have come to our country and gone through similar journeys and had similar dreams."

Laban has worked as Victoria University' assistant vice-chancellor (Pasifika) for eight years giving direction and support to Pacific students and staff which has seen an increase in enrolments and achievement.

"My dream or passion has always been for our children to do well.

"Education teaches you to think, to critique, to analyse, to debate. To be able to provide informed arguments so we can make good decisions."

When asked what advice she would give to young people, Laban said to make the most of educational opportunities.

"It is important to work hard, to study and learn, to find your bliss in education."

Laban was the first Pacific Island woman Member of Parliament, honoured by a Queen's Service Order in 2011. It was during her government years she was given her cancer diagnosis.

Coming out the other side only strengthened her abilities to "cut to the chase". She likes decision to be made and rejects any excuse she deems invalid, she said.

"Life is important. To live every day and make your dreams happen."

Her determined attitude has seen Laban go on to push for the construction of a multi-purpose fale malae in partnership with Wellington City Council and Victoria University of Wellington.

In 1992 Laban was bestowed the Samoan matai chiefly title Luamanuvao from the village of Vaiala, Vaimauga, in recognition of her work.

"This honour is another opportunity to serve."

05 June 2018, 12:00AM

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