HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 590: 16 November 2011

Winnie Laban visits the Cook Islands
Former Labour MP and Minister of Pacific Island Affairs for New Zealand, Associate Professor Hon. Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, is visiting the Cook Islands in her current role as Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) for Victoria University of Wellington. The role, which Laban has been in for approximately one year, is the first of its kind amongst New Zealand universities. The trip is part of a wider tour of the Pacific region by Laban and her Executive Officer Ruth Toumu’a to promote Victoria University as the university of choice for the Pacific. Laban commented, “Essentially we’re here because we’re Pacific people. Aotearoa is part of this wonderful region and we’re here to come and build relationships.” The pair has visited Samoa already and will continue on to Tonga and parts of Melanesia, including Papua New Guinea.
Laban and Toumu’a have been hosted by the Minister of Education Hon. Teina Bishop and his office. So far they have met with members of the public and private sectors, including Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Tom Marsters, as well as BTIB and the Chamber of Commerce. While Laban hopes that more Pacific people will enrol at Victoria University as undergraduate students, a large focus of the trip is to encourage more post graduate research by Pacific people and about the Pacific region. “The opportunities to grow research here is exciting. We’ve got young pacific people who do research back in New Zealand. We’ve got good researchers who are papa’a who can also link with Cook Island people here.”
There is a long history of Cook Islanders who entered Victoria University through scholarships and subsequently returned home to become prominent members of community in politics, business and law, with the first Cook Islander attending the university in 1959. Laban says that Cook Islands students currently at Victoria University are largely doing well. “Like any culture we have some students who do find it difficult, but the support is there, which Victoria University is very committed to with mentoring [programs] and the Student Learning Academic Support programs. If you go into the ‘Vic Pasifika’ website you’ll see some fabulous photos of beautiful Cook Island people who are doing well at university but also strong in their identity and in their culture.”
Laban believes that the cultural elements of strong family ties, links to lands and titles, a culture of service and a culture of generosity are the things that make Pacific women and people natural leaders. It is this that she credits to her own success in politics as the first Pacific Island woman to become an MP in New Zealand. Laban emphasised that having a clear sense of values is essential to success in politics. “You are not there for yourself – you are putting your hand up to be elected to do a role that is about serving the needs of the people.” She added, “There should be more Pacific people in parliament in New Zealand and more Pacific women in parliament in the [entire Pacific] region.”
Although Laban acknowledged the importance for young Pacific Islanders to be confident communicating in English, she placed more of an emphasis on the need for Pacific Island children to grow up confident speaking their own native language. She also hoped that the Ministry of Education were encouraging this as part of their planning. “If there’s a message to our young people it is: Aim high. You can realise your dreams. It takes perseverance, hard work, good planning and the support of the family. But also stay strong in your reo, strong in your culture and you’ll go far.” More information on Vic Pasifika is available on their website: www.victoria.ac.nz/vicpasifika.
-Ngariki Ngatae

Herald Issue 554 09 March
- Norm exposes Trio of Doom
- Briefs from PM’s media conference Tuesday
- Tourism Industry ponders $5 million draft strategy
- Norman George resigns from Cook Islands Party
- Letter of Resignation from CIP
- Norman selfish says Prime Minister

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