The path to authority is through service

O le ala i le pule o le tautua. 

The path to authority is through service. 

I absolutely love this quote, shared by the über-talented John Belford-Lelaulu at a schools event today.  John was there to inspire year 12 Pasifika students from across Auckland, but he also captivated teachers and other staff who were in the auditorium too.


As “Chonny”, John shared his journey of growing up in a large and often complex Samoan family.  Despite being raised in a deeply religious family, through circumstance he experienced many challenges and witnessed violence of varying kinds.

Attending De La Salle College proved a turning point (or nearly didn’t, as he potentially faced expulsion at one point!) and a serendipitous trip to an Aboriginal community in Australia whetted his appetite to make a true difference in the world.

IMG_1001He followed his strong interest in design and completed Architecture studies at Unitec.  He challenged his thinking (and that of his lecturers) by pushing the boundaries on what constitutes Pacific architecture. His thesis project Le Malofie’, presented an architectural interpretation of Samoa’s traditional tattoo.

His work is aesthetically beautiful, culturally respectful, and convention breaking.

Further trips to New York, the Phillipines and Samoa brought him in contact with diverse, generous environments that fostered a happy medium between design, architecture and humanitarianism.  He now champions a movement towards social architecture and is leading initiatives to encourage more young people to join the change.

The 100 or so students in the auditorium were transfixed by his words and his visually arresting images.  This is someone, who not even 10 years older than them, is showing them that the next generation of Pasifika New Zealanders ARE changemakers.

Learn more about John:


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I belong to a village and my village belongs to me.

My father was unable to read and write.


Dr Karlo Mila’s father  (photo courtesy of Dr Mila’s presentation)

Such were the first words shared Dr Karlo Mila on a cold evening in the St Peter’s College staffroom last week.  Attended by members of the Maori and Pasifika Careers Practitioners Network, Karlo weaved together a presentation based on her research into the experiences of New Zealand born Pasifika youth.

The presentation was unashamedly personal.  The experiences between Karlo and her dad couldn’t have been more different (the school of ‘life’ versus the formal acquisition of a PhD!), but the shared sense of being Tongan is fundamental and utterly natural.

The message from her research is clear:

What the study shows is that those who continue to value their Pacific identity are more confident, proud and more advantaged in mainstream compared to those who don’t. 

Despite being completed in 2010, Karlo’s research is still relevant and reflective of New Zealand today.  Pacific people are over-represented in many undesirable statistics;  unemployment, teen pregnancy, witnessing violence, higher likelihood of attempting suicide. Yes, the statistics are real.  Yes, our demographic is fast changing.  Yes, Pasifika people are going to feature greatly in our future workforce.

She encourages Pasifika youth to focus on their strengths.  She also urges people who work with and support Pasifika youth to refrain from producing knowledge that presents young people as marginalised “ethnic” group members who are at-risk.


The Maori and Pasifika Career Practitioners Network with Dr Mila 

Interestingly, just under half (48%) of the New Zealand-born Pacific participants, reported feeling accepted by members of their own ethnic group as well as accepted “by others”.

I wholeheartedly relate to this as in the past I experienced times when I haven’t felt accepted, in particular during my late teens and early twenties.  There were moments of inadequacy when I couldn’t speak Samoan in front of other Samoans, or situations when people made incorrect assumptions about my ethnicity.  I went from a primary school in Onehunga where my identity was firmly Samoan, to having students at high school think I was Chinese, Argentinian, Filipino, Malaysian and Cook Island Maori!

Karlo had to rapidly skim through her presentation and I’m sure she could’ve easily spent a couple more hours linking her research to a plethora of theories and models.  I particularly appreciated the construct of ‘polycultural capital’ which Mila describes as the potential advantage Pacific second generation (New Zealand-born) may experience from ongoing exposure to culturally distinctive social spaces.  The idea of comfortably ‘dipping in and out’ comes to mind.

Dr Mila left a warm impression with the group and we were all quick to thank her for genuine, authentic, spirited presentation.  Even though she had to rush over from the hospital after tending to a sick loved-one, she still made the effort to talk to us.  We thank her for her generosity (yup, this a strong Pacific value!).

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For us practitioners, the presentation was a great reminder to reflect on how we support and enhance the lives of Pacific youth.  Are we truly seeing them for who they are, or are we only looking at the surface?

I leave you with the words of Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, as quoted by Dr Mila in her presentation:

I am not an individual, I am an integral part of the cosmos.  I share divinity with my ancestors, the land, the seas and the skies.  I am not an individual, because I share a Tofi with my family, my village, and my nation. I belong to my family and my family belongs to me.  I belong to a village and my village belongs to me. I belong to my nation and my nation belongs to me. This is the essence of my sense of belonging. 

If you wish to read Dr Mila’s research then click here.


Karlo, Mila-Schaaf & Elizabeth, Robinson. (2010). ‘Polycultural’ capital and educational achievement among NZ-born Pacific peoples. MAI Review.

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Kai and kōrero

Kia ora and warm Pacific greetings! 

On Thursday 31st May the first Kai and Kōrero event of 2018 will be held in Auckland and I encourage any Maori and Pasifika practitioners, workers or supporters with a strong interest in career development, education, social services, or health and wellbeing, to come and join us.


So what is Kai and Kōrero?

The concept grew out of the Maori and Pacific Career Practitioners Network I have been involved with over the past year.  Along with my awesome colleagues Huia Murupaenga, Fiona Timoti-Knowles, Riki Apa and Dr Lynette Reid, we decided to up the ante by having a recurring event where we can network, gain some professional development, and of course, share some food together!

Our first event will feature Dr Karlo Mila who talk about her research into polyculturalism and how cultural experiences impact on the identities of Pasifika people in Aotearoa.

Please message me on if you would like to come along or if you wish to find our more.  You can also join our Facebook group to receive updates on future events:


He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people

Maori proverb

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Dancing with my childhood heroes

I’m really liking Dancing the Stars this year.  Not only do I get to snigger at David Seymour’s dancing (okay, I’ll give him credit for giving it a good go), but I get to cheer on three of my childhood heroes.

Robbie Rakete  

As a child of the 80s and 90s, I grew up watching Robbie on TV as the host of RTR Countdown.  Watching the weekly music countdown used to be a ‘big thing’ on Saturdays, so seeing this upbeat, chatty, brown guy (yay, a face I could relate to!) made the show all the more appealing.  He also had super long hair and wore rad clothing too.


No, this is not Michael Bolton.  Source:  YouTube

Chris Harris  

I don’t think many people know that I used to religiously watch the one-day and test matches on TV.  When I was about 10 or 11 mum and dad bought me a ‘Don Bradman’ cricket bat for my birthday…  Hmmm, I’m sure this random request baffled them greatly.  I remember Chris Harris well from the 1992 Cricket World Cup.  His loopy bowling and swashbuckling batting style had me trying to copy his technique in the backyard.  He always seemed happy-go-lucky on the field too.


Useful moves on the dance floor?   Source:  Stuff

Suzy Cato 

Most people (children) remember Suzy from ‘You and Me’ and ‘Suzy’s World’,  “It’s our time, Kia ora, Talofa, it’s our time, a special time of day”, but I remember her most from the Early Bird Show.  EBS was pretty silly.  It featured wacky puppets including Kiri Kea and the wonderfully annoying Russell Rooster.  Suzy played the role of the calm host and she was ultra good at keeping Kiri and Russell in check.


Russell and Suzy.  Source:  NZ on Screen

Watching these childhood heroes has been a real blast from the past and such welcome relief from the onslaught of reality TV celebrities.  I mean, when have they ever championed music, achieved sporting success, or positively impacted on the growth and learning of young people?

Childhood memories are important and enduring, so I feel grateful that many of them are positive and inspiring.  The TV producers clearly have tapped in the Gen X, Gen Y generations and I’m sure many of us we be rooting for Robbie, Chris and Suzy.

Call me nostalgic, call me retro, call me Al.  I don’t care if they’re not the strongest dancers in the show.  The feel good factor is high and these three have definitely got my vote.

One final thing to ponder…

Will Suzy rule the roost?!  #teamsuzy



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I have type 2 diabetes. A bittersweet tale.

I have type 2 diabetes.  There.  I’ve said it.

Since the start of the year, I was diagnosed with diabetes and it came as a real shock;  “Isn’t it the condition that unhealthy people get?” I remember thinking at the time.

Diabetes was the thing I used to joke about.  After downing a big piece of cake, I would mockingly say that I was one step closer to sugar-oblivion.


Before diagnosis.  I knew I wasn’t feeling great.

My diagnosis came about after getting a few routine health checks last year.  I had one early last year and my blood sugar levels were in the risk zone.  It is absolutely no excuse, but during 2017 I had an absolute shocker… I was going through a difficult time at work and struggled to cope with the resulting stress. I overate, I found comfort in sweet treats, I exercised less, and I tended to dwell on unhelpful thoughts.

So my follow-up test earlier this year confirmed my suspicions. My health was definitely not in order and I was getting regular headaches, often felt thirsty, and visited the toilet regularly.

My heart sank when my doctor shared the results.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I felt their was a stigma towards having diabetes and for two weeks I honestly felt like I walking around with a slapped face while I processed the news.

But I now know that diabetes is more wide-spread than I dared to think.

So what it type 2 diabetes? (Thank you Diabetes NZ for this great information!)

Diabetes is the result of the body not creating enough insulin to keep blood glucose (sugar) levels in the normal range. Everyone needs some glucose in their blood, but if it’s too high it can damage your body over time.

In type 2 diabetes, either the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the cells in the body don’t recognise the insulin that is present. The end result is the same: high levels of glucose in your blood.

Some groups of people are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes:

  • European 40 years of age or older
  • Diabetes in your family (grandparents, parents, brothers or sisters)
  • Maori, Asian, Middle Eastern or Pacific Island descent aged 30 years or older
  • High blood pressure
  • Overweight (especially if you carry most of your weight around your waist)
  • Diagnosed as having pre-diabetes (also known as impaired glucose tolerance) – this occurs when the glucose (sugar) in your blood is higher than normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes

Wow.  I was flabbergasted to see that I ticked many of the above criteria.  I am a 37 year old Samoan-Chinese male with a family history of diabetes.  My grandmother (on mum’s side), my grandpa (on dad’s side) had diabetes, and my mum currently takes insulin for hers.  I have a pre-disposition for high blood pressure too.

What also elevated the risk was also eating many foods that were high in sugar.  I enjoyed the odd sweet treat and also LOVED carbs (many of which can turn into sugars).

A transformational chat with the nurse

So with my diagnosis, I sat quietly in the nurse’s office.  She could sense I was feeling deflated, but she very kindly gave me great information on the condition and what I could do to bring my blood sugar levels down.  It would require a life-style change, but she was confident I could being it down in the space of 3-4 months.

So what changes did I make?

  • I can be very goal focussed when I want to be, so I prepared myself to try some new things for those 3-4 months.  If I didn’t change, then my health would potentially get worse.
  • I had already started doing this in 2017, but I cut sweet drinks (soft drinks, juices) out of my diet.  It wasn’t too hard to do and it made realise how much I like sparkling water.
  • I decided to stop drinking alcohol.  I didn’t drink much of it anyway.
  • I decided not to eat sweet treats such as cakes, snack bars and muffins.  This was hard at first, especially at morning teas and cafe visits.  But turning to alternatives become easy after a while (online research helps!).
  • I took daily tablets as prescribed my my doctor to help control my blood sugar levels.  Over time I will be weaned off if I can manage my condition at a consistent level.
  • I committed to eating less carbs.  At home we embraced Fresh Startone of the My Food Bag meal plans, that features lots of vegetables, proteins, and good carb alternatives including freekah, grains, pulses etc.  I still allow myself to have the odd cheat day and naughty meal (gotta be realistic and kind to yourself people!).
  • I maintained my usual amount of exercise and made sure I did lots of walking during the day.
  • I changed my job and work in a role that is less demanding, but just as fulfilling. I consciously take more time out to relax and unwind.
  • I talk openly with my loved ones so they can support me through this journey.

Cheers to new beginnings!

Four months on and I have lost weight and feel good mentally and physically.  I recently received my blood test results and my blood sugar levels have dropped by 18 points.  Woo hoo!!!!!!!

I know I need to maintain what I’m doing to keep myself on the right track. Having diabetes doesn’t need to be scary, but requires a few lifestyle changes that are realistic and achievable.

If there are any other readers out there with diabetes then please connect with me!  I would love to hear about your experience and gain any tips or advice from you.


Useful websites:

Diabetes New Zealand

Information on the Health Navigator website

Diabetes Friendly Recipes – Nadia Lim


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Kaboom! Pow! Bang!


Much like Batman in his quest to overthrow absurdly named villains, I have been been actively punching and kicking for the past 19(!) years.

I was first introduced to shadowboxing classes back in 1999, when I accompanied my sister and brother-in-law to the Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Pool and Leisure Centre in Mangere.  They raved on about this class where you could channel your inner Jean-Claude Van Damme.  As a spritely 18 year old, this was a most welcome challenge.


The mighty Bruce Lee

I instantly fell in love with the class.  Not only did I love its high impact nature, I also enjoyed the choreography and loud dance music that went along with it. It kind of reminded me of a nightclub, but without the drinks, pretension, and stylish clothing.  The instructor, Tony, was an absolute legend.  He punched like Mohammed Ali and kicked like Bruce Lee, spurring us on to copy his technique.  The song ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ never sounded so good.

From that point onwards I had discovered an enduring form of exercise that remains with me today.  I went on to do similar classes (kickboxing, Bodycombat, KickFit, Tae Bo, Mixed Martial Arts to name a few) at various gyms around Auckland. I am not a gym person as such, in fact I loathe doing circuit training and weights.  However, the classes always had me coming back for more.

So what was the appeal?  Firstly, I could punch, uppercut and kick as hard as I could, without hurting anyone.  The art of shadowboxing is non-contact, perfect for a person like me who is gentle and non-violent at the core.

Shadowboxing puts me in the zone, you know, the state where everything is in focus and the feelings you experience are heightened.  The music swells to such a point where I want to strike harder than before.  The instructor shouts out words of encouragement. I look out to those around me and use their efforts to push myself further, even though my body is aching.


Jean-Claude van Damme showing great poise

The classes not only motivate me, they also help me to de-stress and to ‘shake’ out any tension I’m experiencing.  I do confess to imagining that I’m punching ‘things’ (and sometimes people!) that are irritating or bugging me.

The class isn’t for the faint-hearted.  In addition to punching and kicking, there are Muay Thai, Karate and Capoeira moves, burpees, lunges, sprints, jumps… the list goes on.

I have taken part in many hobbies and activities over the years, but this must rank as the most enduring  in my life.  I feel grateful to do this on a regular basis and it made me reflect on how useful it is to have consistent activities that you can rely upon for a positive boost.

Wow, 19 years and still going strong with shadowboxing.  I hope I’m still doing these classes for many more years to come.

Now to quote the wonderful Miss Piggy… “HI-YAH!!!!”

I am currently a member of the Glenfield Pool and Leisure Centre and totally recommend the Bodycombat class (modelled on the Les Mills class of the same name).  

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I ♥ Humans of South Auckland


JOY.  Finding out you are expecting your own baby after years of fostering children.

SORROW.  Wishing you spent more time with your dad before he passed away.

RESILIENCE.  Coping with teasing and taunts, and turning them into poetic ambition.

URGENCY.  Making every previous moment count with a sickly child.

PRIDE.  Embracing your faith and empowering others to be proud of who they are.

REDEMPTION.  Acknowledging a past filled with substance abuse and looking to make amends with family.

ZUMBA.  BATMAN.  Life is forever unpredictable, but oh so colourful and full of energy.

These are but a few of the themes that came from the Humans of South Auckland exhibition, currently showing at the fabulous Fresh Gallery in Ōtara.

Humans of South Auckland (HOSA) began in 2014 and was started by Jasmine Jenke.  It was originally based on the Humans of New York Facebook page, and evolved to feature stories from the South Auckland community.  The exhibition is a collection of many of these stories and the photographs are radiant on the gallery walls.

The vision of HOSA…

To develop hope and pride in our South Auckland community by sharing stories of people as individuals, not stereotypes or statistics.


Having grown up in South Auckland, this exhibition felt personal and accessible.  The photographed subjects made me recall the wonderfully diverse communities I was surrounded by.  Mangere Town Centre.  Hunters Corner.  Manukau City.   The Hong Kong Bakery (people from Mangere Bridge will definitely get that reference!).

As a teenager I went through a phase where I felt embarrassed to tell people I was from South Auckland, even though my upbringing and memories were positive.  The stigma was unfairly perpetuated by the media and people would say unkind things about the area. The general public associated cultural and social difference as something undesirable.  This thinking does still exist, but I believe the many talents of the region are coming to the fore.  South Auckland truly is a hot-spot for arts, culture and food!

The exhibition runs until 21 April, so go and see it before it finishes.  You will not be disappointed.  In fact, far from it.

Humans of South Auckland, Fresh Gallery, Shop 5, 46 Fairmall, Otara, Auckland. Running until 21 April. 

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