Husband and wife's double graduation joy
A couple from Samoa is celebrating a rare milestone in education, having both graduated from Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand, during the weekend.
Niusila Fa’amanatu-Eteuati graduated with a PhD in Educational Psychology and a Postgraduate Certificate in Intercultural Communication and Applied Translation. Her husband, Lei’ataua Joe Eteuati, on the other hand graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Development Studies.
Niusila is the daughter of Utuga Fa’amanatu Fa’aaliga and Kueni, who are both retired educators from the villages of Samusu Aleipata, Lepā, Solosolo and Vaegā Satupa’itea. Lei’ataua on the other hand is the son of the late Tuiavi’i Poloma Eteuati and Elisapeta, of Manono, Sala’ilua, Ti’avea, Salani and Tuasivi.
In a statement from the family, they say they are extremely grateful.
“Lord had his own perfect timing for everything,” they say. “It has been a long and rough journey for our family but we trusted in God’s faithfulness and love. Like all Samoan families, it is always our parents’ dreams for us all to be well educated and to make the most of any opportunity for learning.
“We acknowledge the tapua’iga from our elderly parents and aiga in Samoa, our villages, churches and districts. Despite the struggles with studies, we always travel home every year to be with our parents and aiga but due to Covid, we cannot be able to join them this holiday. However, we strongly believe that our success is the result of our tapua’iga’s prayers and fasting, together with our perseverance and hard work.”
“We knew the road was tough but we stood together as a team and it was all worth it in the end. Faafetai tele to our parents who couldn’t be here to celebrate with us, all our families in Samoa, our churches, our villages and the entire tapua’iga Samoa for your prayers and support.”
Niusila spent over 15 years teaching in Samoa from Samoa College to the Faculty of Education at the National University of Samoa at Le Papaigalagala.
When she took up studies at Victoria University of Wellington, she was recruited as a fulltime lecturer for ‘Mata’upu Tau Samoa at Va’aomanū Pasifika – School of Languages and Cultures given her teaching experience, research and her upbringing in the Samoan culture.
“My parents believed in the importance of getting a good education and they sacrificed a lot and worked all their lives as teachers,” she said. “Our parents in Aleipata are immensely proud of our achievements and they continue to honor the Lord in all that we do. I dedicate this work to my parents who are retired teachers, it is also a way of honouring the work of all the teachers in Samoa especially those who contributed to my entire educational journey.”
Looking back at her journey, Niusila said there were many challenges.
“It was no easy feat working full time while studying and having a family of your own as I also had to support my son and my husband’s educational journeys,” she said.
“On top of that, we travel every year to Samoa (sometimes twice a year) to visit our parents and we’re always engaged in families activities to support our entire aiga in NZ and Samoa. My father in law Tuiavii Poloma Eteuati passed away two years ago and he had also been encouraging for us to achieve our goals, so no doubt he is smiling from above now. “O le tali i le ola’ is the phrase in our Faatoia Methodist church and it reminds us of how precious life is, together with opportunities and the talents one could use to give back all the glory and honor to God”. So here it is - This is our gift to our Lord as well as our parents and families tapua’iga.”
Niusila’s PhD research was about ‘Navigating Samoan teachers’ experiences of classroom behaviour management’ and she paid tribute to all the teachers who have contributed significantly to the education and discipline for young people in Samoa.
“Facing the challenge of student behaviour in the classroom requires a teacher to have a deep understanding of education psychology and inclusive teaching approaches,” she said.
Niusila unravels stories from Samoan teachers of how their cultural knowledge facilitates strategies to engage students and elicit their cooperation in class. She contextualises her findings into a matāmatāgi model that illustrates the central and culturally restorative roles of teachers, showing how their individual identities, specific qualities and experiences contribute to Samoan education and students’ well being. E logo i tino matagi lelei – the body can sense a favourable wind”.
“O tupulaga talavou, e fesoua’iinagōfie o latou lagona i suiga ma tutupu ai fete’ena’iga o manatu a’o i le tauosoosoga o lo latou malosi. However, we do not have education psychologists or counsellors in our schools but our teachers wear so many hats and they must be acknowledged for braving the multiple challenges of students’ behaviour in the classrooms.”
Niusila hopes to continue working closely with her colleagues at the National University of Samoa, Victoria University of Wellington and the University of the South Pacific to support the development of teachers as well as Samoan language and culture.
As for her husband Leiataua, he said his graduation proved that “you are never too old to learn.”
“It has been a long time since I last attended university and it is quite refreshing and inspirational to learn alongside people of all ages including the elderly in their 70s still studying,” Leiataua said.
But academic success in the family has not stopped with the couple. Their son Johanius Alailima Eteuati won the Most Outstanding Pasifka Senior student Award at Wellington College and was a recipient of Otago and Victoria University of Wellington scholarships for 2021.
Niusila’s niece, Codesa Hana Afelē, also graduated from University of Auckland as a Medical Doctor.