Sina Latu can’t sleep at night knowing there’s an opportunity for her to enrich her community. A full-time social worker by day, Sina’s evenings are filled with supporting her kāinga.
What started as a support group for a few young Tongans has grown into the Tongan Society South Canterbury, with more than 200 members.
In the beginning, Sina and her husband would host informal get-togethers and barbecues for the Tongan boys who came to Timaru on a rugby scholarship.
“We needed something where we can feel we belong. A group where we can feel we’re connected, that this is us, this is who we are, we’re Tongans and this is our group,” says Sina.
“Pauline, now the Tongan Society president and I decided to call a meeting with our kāinga. We learned that this is what we all want – everyone thinks it’s a good idea.”
Using a ‘roll out the mat’ framework and regular talanoa, the society now runs a wide range of programmes, each created in response to the community.
No one is left behind
The fanau ako sessions take place once a week after school for children to learn about Tongan language and culture.
The youth have talanoa, sports, games nights, and a programme to help them get their driver’s license. By the end of 2022, 13 out of 17 teenagers achieved their driver’s license.
“The youth tell us what they want, and we are here to support that. The driver’s license gives our youth independence and boosts their self-esteem. They can also help their parents with transport.”
“It also ensures they are driving legally, keeps them safe and out of trouble. As a youth justice social worker, I don’t want to see them end up in the system because of a silly mistake.”
The women’s wellness workshops provide a space for women to connect, learn about women’s health and develop new skills like sewing, weaving and crafting.
“We know that the women are the most isolated people in our family – the men go to work and the women stay home to look after the children, so we do the women’s wellness workshop to help them get out of the home, connect and feel valued.”
Weekly kava sessions are a space for men to talanoa about topics, including mental health. They also run a healthy families campaign and a men’s veggie garden programme.
“We know our community, we know the needs, we know the solution. Everything we do, we do as a family, together.”
‘Time waits for no man, our children are growing’
Funding from Tākai has supported the society to grow initiatives that focus on the wellbeing of their kāinga, incorporating positive parenting. Sina hopes to increase the reach of the society to continue supporting the growing Tongan community in South Canterbury.
“Seeing the confidence growing in people and everyone getting together to celebrate, it’s worth all the running around and the crazy work, everything it’s worth it.”
“I feel we have helped our future – among our youth is the next leader of our society who will learn and grow over the next five to ten years before they carry on what we have started.”
This story is courtesy of Tākai, who support this community project through their Local Initiative Fund. If you have a great idea to make positive change for whānau in your community, and want to find out more about what funding might be available, get in touch with Tākai.