Culture a guiding star, says P.M. award winner

A 24-year-old New Zealand-based Samoan is urging young Samoans world over to preserve their culture, particularly as an antidote to the disruption currently wreaking havoc on their daily lives. 

Against the backdrop of a global pandemic and economic downturn, Eteroa Tusipepa Lafaele, believes that culture is the all too often overlooked answer.

The proud Samoan was in August last year awarded a Prime Minister’s Award for her outstanding excellence as a Pacific youth in New Zealand.

She won the STEM Award (Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics) for her achievements in this field (there were nine categories overall) and her efforts toward building awareness to her Pacific communities.

“Every step I take in my journey in tech I am constantly reminded of my culture and traditions. It has become stronger because of the environment that I am in every day,” the proud Samoan said via email interview. 

“So staying connected is important to me because it provides me my worth.

“It has been a constant drive to my upbringing. My parents have instilled this into my siblings and me while growing up in New Zealand.

“Along with this would be the community we formed with our church community which expanded the Samoan culture even more for us growing up – So yes it is very strong.”

While the majority of the students are encountering educational struggles to coronavirus restrictions, Ms. Lafaele said there is always room to study one’s native culture. 

“Keep your culture. Especially in the environment we are heading we have to keep hold of it and never hide. I always carry it with me,” she said.

“This can be either done by the clothes you wear; the way you decorate your desk; or the email signature you have. The small things lead to bigger things.”

During Prime Minister’s awards last year, she was later granted an opportunity to work with Reddit Institute to conduct research on computational intelligence.

She says receiving the award is a milestone for her life but also future encouragement. 

“On the day of receiving this award I felt as if I made not only my country proud but also my villages and family proud too,” she said.

“My definition would be that I was able to pave a way for our Pacifica people and Women in a career in tech. We are double a minority in this industry because there aren’t many women.

“And to wear my traditional wear and shining it with pride in front of the Prime Minister was a bonus.”

As New Zealand and Samoans around the globe are currently celebrating Samoan Language Week, Ms. Lafaele said language is the soul of a culture.

For her, Samoan Language Week is a great way to share her appreciation for the culture. 

“By using and acknowledging my Samoan language I acknowledge my ancestors before me which helps give identity to who I am today,” she said.

The influence of the Samoan community in New Zealand from her younger years has endowed her with the ability to speak Samoan and bridge the gap with her own culture.

Ms. Lafaele was born and raised in Cannons Creek, Porirua in Wellington and graduated from AUT University in 2018 studying computer science.

She is currently a Software Engineer for a start-up called Voluntarily.

Her villages in Samoa are Leulumoega, Lefaga, Fogapoa in Savaii and her parents are proud Samoans, Lepou Umaga and Namulauulu Lafaele.

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