Afamasaga awarded Order of Merit in N.Z.

A Samoan educator who committed over 50 years of her life to early childhood education has been recognised by the New Zealand government in its 2021 New Year’s Honours list.

Afamasaga Va’afusuaga Telesia Mc Donald Alipia was amongst 13 Pacific people out of 154 individuals, who were recognised for serving their community and recording significant achievements.

The 79 year-old of the villages of Falealupo, Palisi, Fasitoo tai and Lotopa has been involved with Pacific early childhood education in New Zealand since 1991. Prior to that Afamasaga was the Director of Early Childhood Education in Samoa since 1970. 

Honoured to be made an Officer of New Zealand’s Order of Merit, Afamasaga said the award is recognition of her work in Pacific island early childhood education in New Zealand, Samoa and other Pacific islands. 

“The main reason for this work was the preservation of cultures and languages with the focus on Samoan language and culture being the major island group leading this pioneering work in the islands,” she said, in response to queries from the Samoa Observer. “The culture and languages were the medium of instruction for the delivery of early childhood education which is the most important foundation for life-long learning.”

Afamasaga’s journey started in Samoa in 1970, until she was requested by the New Zealand Pacific Island Early Childhood Council (PIECCA) in 1991 to move to New Zealand to write and spearhead the teaching of the first diploma Pacific in early childhood education.

“Receiving this Honour in NZ has been heavily influenced by the foundation work I started 20 years ago in Samoa, where we formed a national early childhood education association with the help of different religious organisations led by church ministers and their wives ,” she said.

Afamasaga recalled 1970 when she was appointed as director of early childhood education by the association in Samoa to lead a teacher training team. 

She said there were many centres being established in villages by the church organisations without any training but with great enthusiasm. 

“Until this day, I am ever so thankful to the late Aumua Wendt, a former manager of WESTEC and Sefo his secretary at the time who willingly gave the association a long-term lease of 3.5 acres of land at Sogi where the main headquarters have been established. 

“I remember with fond memories how Sefo and I walked in the swampy area at Sogi to identify the boundaries so we can start building the whole centre.

“After setting up the teacher training programme and establishing a number of village centres in Samoa, I was ready to move to N.Z. in 1991 with confidence that I have left my footprints in Samoa to a very capable team to continue our pioneering work.”

In New Zealand, Afamasaga was on a mission to establish the first diploma in early childhood education teaching at the Auckland College of Education at the University of Auckland. 

Many Pacific men and women graduated in this programme and become registered teachers to teach in both mainstream and Pacific centres, she added. 

The 79-year-old pioneer also established the Home instructions Programme for Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) with over 40 centres now all over New Zealand. 

She still works at H.I.P.P.Y. as the Manager for her early childhood centres at Rosebank Avondale in N.Z.

From 1993–1996 Afamasaga was an advisory group member in the development of Te Whāriki Early Childhood national curriculum as well as the Samoan Language Taiala curriculum. 

During 1992–2000 Afamasaga held an advisory and consultancy role with the Ministry of Education on Pacific educational outcomes. 

She was also a teacher trainer for early childhood education in the Pacific Islands in conjunction with the University of the South Pacific in Fiji from 1961-1990.

Afamasaga has two daughters, Teuila Pati and Shona Tuala and four grandchildren as well as great-grandchildren. She married Alipia Siaosi Alipia in 2001 and was previously married to her first husband the late Alex Mc Donald until he passed away in 1984. 

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