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Samoan woman breaks new ground in N.Z.

A Samoan carpenter, Ma’aola Fiupepe is the first ever female carpenter to earn a qualification in New Zealand through the Pacific Trades Partnership.

Ms. Fiupepe, who is from Sili, Savaii began her qualification last February at the Ara Institute of Canterbury and now has a New Zealand Certificate in Carpentry. She will continue working with Tradestaff in Christchurch.

“Words are not enough to say how much I appreciate it,” she told guests supporting her at a celebration hosted by Tradestaff last week.

Tradestaff is an employer that works with Ara’s Centre of Assessment of Prior Learning to conduct on-the-job training, filling the gaps in experienced carpenter’s knowledge and get them qualified under the Pacific Trades Partnership.

When she arrived in New Zealand, Ms. Fiupepe told Tradestaff that her parents wanted her to be a teacher, and encouraged her to get a bachelor’s degree.

“I just [thought], I don’t want to be a teacher so I chose this kind of job.” She did a Level 3 Certificate at the Australia Pacific Training Coalition, and began working at Craig Construction Ltd.

But her employer wouldn’t let her actually do what she was trained to do, putting her in charge of supplies instead. She resigned not long after.

In an interview with Samoa Observer in 2018, when she had been shortlisted for the programme in New Zealand, Ms. Fiupepe said her family never wanted her to do hard labour, as per Samoan culture.

But she wanted to pursue her dream, not only of a career in carpentry but of a job that can support her family.

“In our Samoan culture, there is an ancient saying: ‘The legacy of women is one of a total achievement’, in my own translation: women have the will to do great things.”

Her tutor Mick Cooke, who came to Samoa himself to help select candidates for the Pacific Trade Partnership Programme, said Ms. Fiupepe has worked very hard over the last year.

“I have assessed Ma’aola over the past year and she’s done an absolutely marvellous job. She’s worked very hard and her reports from employers have been great.”

Upon her arrival in New Zealand, the Samoan Ambassador Leasi Papali'i Tommy Scanlan said he hopes Ms. Fiupepe will also develop her management skills, and start her own business back home.

“In Samoa carpentry and trades are mainly for the boys,” he said.

“Parents don’t encourage their girls to do that. But Ma’aola and other young women are going outside the box. They’ve decided that if the boys can do it, they can do it.”

Last year, Tradestaff also awarded Ms. Fiupepe with the Sally McFarlane Legacy Scholarship for Pacific Women in Trades, which helped her to pay for equipment, tools, extra training and pastoral care during her year in Christchurch. 

The scholarship is in honour of Ms. McFarlane, who died aged 34 in 2017 after a short illness. She set up and ran the Canterbury Reconstruction Pilot in 2016, bringing and placing over 20 carpenters into Canterbury from the Pacific to rebuild Christchurch.

She had worked at Tradestaff in recruitment for nearly a decade when she passed away. Her parents attended Ms. Fiupepe’s celebrations last week in her memory.

The Samoan Trade Commissioner Magele Mauiliu Magele also attended, as well as the representatives from the Government of New Zealand.

Diana Loughan, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment Programme Manager for the PTP, said “I was in Samoa when we recruited Ma’aola and I remember I was so thrilled because for us it’s about seeing every worker as a new opportunity for these countries, and unfortunately that’s an opportunity that often has barriers for women.”

She will graduate from Ara in the March Graduation ceremony in Christchurch.

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