Young Free & Pacific

17 Jun 2024

On Thursday 23 May eight girls from BDSC, including myself, had the privilege of attending the Young Free & Pacific event, a significant gathering for young Pasifika students in Years 11-13. This year marked the 10th Anniversary of the event, which began in 2014. It was a remarkable opportunity to delve deeper into our cultural roots and to find connections across the Pacific Ocean, which unites us as one large community. Concurrently, a group of seven boys from BDSC participated in the Young Men’s Day on Wednesday 22 May.

The event was structured around two workshop sessions and featured three inspiring guest speakers. The workshops focused on arts, spoken word, dance, and music, allowing us to explore and express our cultural heritage in practical, creative ways.

Dame Valerie Adams: Embracing Individuality and Self-Worth

The first speaker, Dame Valerie Adams, shared her compelling story of overcoming bullying and embracing her uniqueness. At 6’4″ by the age of 12, she faced significant social challenges but found solace and strength in sports, particularly track and field. Valerie emphasized the dual nature of social media, highlighting its potential for both positive and negative impacts. Her metaphor of being bus drivers on our life journey resonated deeply, illustrating the importance of choosing carefully who we allow into our lives. Her words encouraged us to value our worth, stay true to those who ground us, and remain confident in our unique identities.

Workshops: Celebrating Cultural Artistry

In the arts workshop, several BDSC students and I designed personal Tapa Cloths (Ngatu/Siapo), a traditional art form often gifted at special occasions. Each pattern we created symbolised our values and heritage. As a proud Tongan, my design included the manulua (two birds) representing blessings, prosperity, and protection, and Tokelaufeletoa, signifying my Tongan roots. This workshop was not only a relaxing activity but also a meaningful educational experience. We learned the significance of the patterns that have been passed down through generations, deepening our appreciation for our cultural heritage.

Caitlyn Dulcie: Claiming Our Cultural Identity

Our second speaker, Caitlyn Dulcie, Miss Earth New Zealand 2023, spoke passionately about navigating her identity as an afakasi individual. She emphasised the power and responsibility we hold as young women to protect and uplift others through our actions. Her three key points—claiming our heritage, using our voices to be heard, and seizing opportunities—resonated deeply with many of us who face similar struggles around identity and belonging.

Linea: Trusting in Community and Facing the Future

The final speaker, Linea, an American Samoan UCLA graduate and former Division 1 rower, shared her journey of finding belonging in Pacific spaces. She stressed the importance of community and the strength found in numbers, encapsulating the event’s theme of unity. Linea highlighted the significance of planning for the future while embracing the present, advocating for mental health awareness and the importance of seeking help. Her analogy of rowing—a team sport where trust in the coxswain (the only one who can see the way forward) is crucial—was a powerful reminder of the faith and support we need from each other.

A Day of Reflection and Growth

The day was encapsulated by the event’s opening quote: “We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.” This phrase highlighted the collective strength and unity that binds us as Pacific people. The shared experiences, lessons, and cultural expressions throughout the day fostered a sense of community and mutual support.

Overall, attending YFP2024 was an enlightening and empowering experience. The boys and the rest of the girls from BDSC who attended the event also shared similar sentiments. We left with a renewed sense of pride in our heritage and a deeper connection to our ancestors’ journeys. This event reinforced the value of our cultural identities and the importance of supporting one another. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to share this connection with Pasifika students in Aotearoa and around the world.

Student Amoi Simpson 12K18 who went on the young men’s day had this to share:

“There was a Culture Exchange in which I interacted and socialised with peers by introducing ourselves and participating in activities such as art, music, speaking, and dance performances. Another important thing I learned was leadership development which improved my ability to interact confidently with new peers by engaging in events and guiding them to do the same, as some of these activities were new to them.”

The opening speaker was journalist John Pulu. He spoke about the positive experiences of being a proud Pasifika Journalist who recently got an opportunity to travel to the Pasifika nations with the Hon. Winston Peters. He spoke about how some places are going through hardship yet they remain positive and do well in life. He also spoke about how some of our homes are at risk of disappearing due to global warming.

~ Mel Vaka 13J5


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