Community Engagement Officer

Name: Sefita
Age at interview: 26 years
Occupation: Community Engagement Officer

Ethnicity: Tongan/Fijian
Country of birth: Australia

In this video
0:00Early Years and Primary School in Tonga
2:01High School and Higher Education
4:11Home Life and Cultural Values
7:11Family Background
9:02Volunteering and Career
13:34Challenges and Cultural Differences in Primary School
16:20Challenges and High School
19:52Finding a Direction
21:53Support in Higher Education
23:43Parent’s Attitudes to Education, Work, and Volunteering
25:47Role Models
28:24Involvement with the Pasifika Community
31:39Supporting Pasifika Youth
38:16Career Aspirations
40:43Finding Direction
42:39Visiting Fiji
44:26Navigating Cultural Identities
46:23Advice for Pasifika Youth

Early Years and Primary Schooling in Tonga


Thanks heaps for allowing me to have this opportunity to share my story, and my journey to how I got to where I am today. My name is Sefita Stephen Rasolosolo. I’m half Tongan, half Fijian. I live in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, in Werribee. Been living in the Western suburbs for ages, for probably midway through primary school. The first couple years of my primary schooling years. I went to school in Tonga, primary school up there, because when I was born here in Australia, I was technically classified as an overstayer because both my parents were overstayers. My dad, full Fijian. My mum is full Tongan and had to take up one of their citizenships because I was born before that law of, if I was born here, I’d automatically become a citizen.

I took my dad’s citizenship up. I was Fijian till 2010, was when I was old enough to change my citizenship back to Australian because technically, I was born here, but born before the law had passed. I live with my three younger siblings. I’ve got two younger brothers and one younger sister. I’m the eldest of the four of us. Schooling in Tonga for the first part of primary school and then came back. It was all right. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would have been. My English was still fine. It took a while to get back to speaking proper English, but it was good.

High School and Higher Education

From there, moved around from Werribee.

We put up our house for rent. We moved around to West Footscray, those suburbs. I went to […]. There was a jump from public to private, private to public. Back to my senior years, I came back to public school name], dropped out at year 11. That was due to being a young carer for both my parents. My dad, a quadruple bypass recovery patient, and then my mum with diabetes. Her vision is deteriorating still. Being a young carer since I was young, and then getting picked up by an organization [NGO name]. [NGO name] helped myself to be able to…They provided me with respite from caring for my parents and because I’m the eldest, there’s that mentality of the eldest has to become the bread winner when both parents are sick.

There was so much pressure, and so hence why I didn’t end up finishing school. I was capable of doing it, but honestly it was just too much on my plate. It just got to me, and I couldn’t stay focused in school, so then dropped out. After I dropped out for a year, I had gone back to studies. I went to TAFE, and I got my Certificate IV in Youth Work. From there, got offered an opportunity to study my degree. I ended up getting to my bachelor’s degree and completed my Bachelor’s in Youth WorkDid that, and it was a big accomplishment because at the end of the day I was the first child out of my whole family to have been able to get my bachelor’s degree.

Home Life and Cultural Values

Prior to all of my studying and whatnot, I did start volunteering because … had offered opportunities and linked me into give back to the community because they gave so much to me as a young carer. I know that a lot of our fanaus and our families out there, and especially the young people having the extra responsibility placed upon them because a lot of our parents, our grandparents are sick. It’s left up to the eldest sibling or the oldest siblings to look after the younger kids, also the other family members that are living in the household. I think that’s also another thing to mention to everyone is that there’s been times like my upbringing, our house had been full. We had more than just one family in the household, families in the household.

It was just like everybody would be sleeping in the loto fale or the living room. Even though we’ve got this, being brought up in the Tongan culture, there’s the whole faka’apa’apa (respect) but I think because everybody didn’t have enough space, all of us kids, because we were still kids, we all still slept in the living room. It’d be hilarious because it’d be like cousins sleeping over, long-term sleepovers. That was a great thing. Everyone may think that it was…because it was a struggle because there was so many mouths to feed. It was so great because it was really family orientated and it was good to see our cousins. I don’t know if it’s like everybody else, but I can say that my only friends were my cousins. When it came to sleep overs and that mum would say, “No, we’ve got to clean up the house.”

I think there’s a lot of these young people out there that probably do, may be able to relate to it and say that “Yeah, our only cousins, or sleepovers could only happen at other cousins’ places and that was it.” That was my social life back then when I was growing up, it was just going over and sleeping over at the cousin’s house. Because mum’s a Tongan and dad’s a Fijian, there’s this thing where Dad’s more gentle, mum’s more fierce, more stern. It’d be crack up as when we’d asked to go sleep over at a cousin’s house. We’d asked dad instead of asking mum, because we knew mum would say no, because there’s always cleaning even though the house is clean, it still needs to be cleaner. My childhood was really great, growing up in Tonga and then also here, and then having family members who were moving from New Zealand and coming and living with us, it’s been great.

Family Background

The other thing to also mention is that, my upbringing is more so in the Tongan culture rather than the Fijian culture, which is hilarious because my dad is a faifekau, so a pastor for […] and he’s full Fijian. That’s why we’ve been brought up more closer to our Tongan side than we have with our Fijian side. My dad followed my mum instead of vice versa, which is like a lot of other cultures where the males would always lead, and the females would follow. No, my dad followed my mum. How my parents met were in Tonga. My dad was apprentice chef at a resort in Tonga, from Fiji. He was working at the resort, met my mum, and then how he learned how to speak Tongan was through my mum’s dad, so my grandpa.

My grandpa had taught him how to speak Tongan. All of a sudden it was just he’s gone up from there. My dad can speak both Fijian, and also Tongan. We used to be able to, but I think because over the times I’ve just lost touch of it and been more connected to the Tongan culture that I know how to speak fluent Tongan like the back of my hand whereas, I feel like we sort of neglected it and forgotten it [Fijian]. We’re trying to reconnect with it but trying to figure it out with our adult schedules and our lifestyles in trying to squeeze in time to relearn and reconnect to our Fijian culture. The other thing is that the only reason why I’m able to speak fluent Tongan is because every single year we’ve been able to go over to Tonga, but because COVID, this year is a no-no and there’s no traveling.

Volunteering and Career

After I had volunteered at age 15 […] on a youth committee that they had, I worked my way up and got a casual position as a program youth worker. This was before I even finished my Certificate IV in youth work. When I finished the casual position, that’s when I finished my Cert IV, and then worked my way up […] to become a full-time youth development officer. From there was there for three years or so. How long ago was this? 21, 22 was when I got my position [NGO name] as a youth worker. Working for them had been great because it was giving me the opportunity to impact other young people that had similar upbringings to how I grew up, having the extra responsibility and teachers not knowing that.

I think a lot of the times back in high school, a lot of the teachers have this stigma or stereotype attached to Islanders and said that “Nah it’s right, you’re a dropout. You’re just going to go straight to a warehouse.” I wanted to change that, and I did, through the work that I was able to do at the […], as a youth worker, impacting other young people, specifically Maori and Pasifika young people and empowering them to be the best they can be. After that, so we brought us to now. My position title is the ‘In League In Harmony’ community engagement officer.

It’s similar to the role that I had at [previous position]where I solely work with the Maori and Pasifika communities. We provide tools and strategies to them, but utilizing the tool of rugby league, to keep them engaged, whether it be with school or also with their communities. I know a lot of the times, younger generations or our generation, and my generation and younger have lost touch with their cultural roots and trying to reconnect them back to their cultural roots using rugby league, and the skills that I had used in [previous position]. It’s been great so far. This is probably my second month in the position. I’m still brand new. , I don’t have a background in league. I can say to everybody that you don’t need to be able to play rugby league to work

I’m a testimony to that, an example to you can do whatever you want to do. It may be a struggle, but it’s been a journey and I’ve got to where I am today through having the relationships and networking with other people. I think that’s one big thing that I’ve learned and what our people are great at doing is that we’re people-people, if that makes any sense. We’re really sociable. We’re outgoing. A lot of us are extroverts. Sometimes I’d have cousins over, and I’d have zoom meetings and whatnot. I’d try and tell them to shush, but everybody in my zoom probably thinks that there’s more than five people, but it’s only two people laughing. (14:08)

It’s such a great skill to learn or have learned and developed over time is networking with other people. The other thing is that a lot of people get so caught up, especially the young people that ATARs mean everything, but at the end of the day there’s different pathways that will get you to where you need to go. My story, I dropped out of school, but still ended up getting my bachelor’s degree and hopefully down the track when I do settle down and I’m not as busy as I am. I do want to go on and further study and get my PhD in community development. It’s been great having had the experiences that I’ve had and I wouldn’t change one thing about it because it made me become who I am today…

Challenges and Cultural Differences in Primary School


That’s really good. Thanks, SefitaWhen you were in primary school, do you recall what your learning experience was like? How did you go into your learning? Did you struggle? How did your parents find in terms of keeping you engaged in learning, in primary school and then what was it like in high school?


Well, so the primary school up in Tonga, it was different. The other thing is that they still had hidings. We used to get hidings if we were naughty, and everybody would get it. That provided me with discipline. I know when I came back, I was more focused if that makes any sense, because of the amount of…I didn’t get heaps of hidings but seeing the effect that if somebody else got it, I would be like, “Oh no, do the right thing because then if not, you’d get a hiding.” How the hidings used to happen, sometimes when we’d have school assemblies, everyone had to sit on the grass. It’d be like if somebody got a hiding, they’d get it in front of everybody. I think it was just the shame factor that was built in to me, and I was just like, “Oh no, it’s all good.”

But then coming to Australia and realizing that you don’t get hidings, but you get detention, is a whole different thing. I think I probably only had one detention my entire schooling life, but then did I regret it when I got back home. I think it was easier coming back and being, because back then, there were more Americans in Tonga, the Peace Corps workers. They were volunteering to be the teachers and whatnot. The English that was being taught was fine. Hence why, I remember the saying, and it was, for some apparent reason it travelled from Tonga to Australia when I came back that, reading is magic. Hence why I’m a bookworm and not a sporty type person. I really love reading, whether it be hardcover books or eBooks, I just love reading. That’s what I try and preach to my younger siblings, especially my younger sister who’s still in high school. It was good. It was a culture shock to see that they don’t get hiding, but I got accustomed to it really fast when I came back.

Challenges and High School


In terms of your high schooling, how did your journey with your high school go, because I recognize as well that a lot of our Pasifika youth get disengaged in high school and which is probably… Because there’s a number of factors why they don’t finish, but a lot of that is attributed to just learning difficulties. Did you experience any of that, or did you find that your love of learning helped you get through?


The thing with my high schooling is that I think it had a difference when I’d moved from private to public, because there’s a difference between the education. I think the other thing that I realized was that the education in private schools, was a bit a year in advance if that made any sense. A lot of the schools don’t see that because remember private education is private, and public education is everybody has the same curriculum and all that type of stuff. What I had learned was the skills… I was at high school from year seven to year nine at now, and I went there and basically learned a year in advance. When I moved to […], I was already a year ahead of the year tens.

It was a struggle too, because then it made me seem like I was big-headed. To the teachers as well, because a lot of the teachers would be like, “Oh, you think you’re a know-it-all blah, blah, blah.” But it was just the fact that I had already learnt it. I don’t think a lot of the…because I had palangi teachers, so white teachers. A lot of the white teachers weren’t fans of me because “Sefita would always challenge the status quo or always, have an answer, or questions to gain clarification”. It was just like, “Sefita is annoying, shush or you get sent out”. Hence why my focus started to drift off because of the whole, there’s only so many times somebody can say, “You’re stupid, you’re stupid,” until you start believing it.

That’s what was happening, and because there was already that stigma going around and stereotype of, “Oh, people who drop out…” Because I was already at that stage where I needed to drop out and go back. My job was, I was working  [retail store name] as a casual, and that was the source of income because both my parents were sick and I was like, “Well, I have to go back and work every single day and get whatever shifts I can and forget about school.” I weighed up the pros and cons and it was just like, “No, I’ve got to take up working because I don’t have anything else to sort of support me financially, and also educationally.” Teachers weren’t really receptive towards me when it came to trying to provide that support. A lot of my teachers back then, not all teachers are the same, but a lot of the teachers are textbook teachers. They’ll just read out from the textbook instead of providing that one-on-one support or going along the journey with the young person. Hopefully that answers your question.

Finding a Direction


No, that was perfect. Thank you. At what point in your journey did you realize that… How did you get to that point where you were like, “Oh, I think this work is what I want to do.”


Yeah. My dream, you know that saying where, what do you want to be when you grow up? When you get asked when you’re a child and a lot of people say firefighter, or ambo, or policeman or whatever, no, here’s Sefita. I think when it was grade six, I thought I wanted to be a teacher, and then all of a sudden when I got into high school, for some apparent reason, I don’t know what your boy was thinking, but he turned around and he goes and says, “You know what, I’m going to be an interpreter for the United Nations.” My career goal changed when I got moved into Werribee secondary. That’s when the whole notion of youth work came because that’s when, year 10 was when […] started getting introduced into my life.

Other service providers, [organisation name], finding out that they’re youth workers. I was still lingering on the idea of teacher, but then I was like, not what’s even better but a step up is a youth worker. I thought about a teacher, and how the teachers that I had in my life weren’t really a part of my journey and weren’t able to support me, but these youth workers were social workers and whatnot were. It clicked in my head, “Sef, you’re a youth worker, you love to listen to people and provide them with advice and whatnot.” I was like, “Let’s go, let’s do this.” That’s when the whole Certificate IV of youth work came into play and then worked my way up to my bachelor’s degree.

Support in Higher Education


Oh, that’s awesome. What about as you were doing your post high school studies, when you did your TAFE and then you went on to do your undergrad, which is amazing, did you get any support in terms of… How did you find even your schooling then in your… What was your experience like in TAFE and then university?

When I went to TAFE, TAFE was so different to how school was and whatnot, whereas the facilitator or the trainer would be able to work with us one-on-one. The beauty with the youth work courses is that there’s possibilities of going to…Because sometimes the TAFE institutes are situated on campus with the undergrad. We’re able to go and sitting into a lecture and experience it so that if we were to pathway, so we were provided with pathway opportunities. There’s different fact sheets that get given to you when you go to whether it’s an open day or a class. They basically have like your starting course, whatever you’ve started, whether it’s TAFE course, and then what you level up or skill up in, and then it goes to the diploma and then, your bachelor’s degree. There’s different pathways. You can get there. It may take a while, but you’ll get there eventually. It was difficult, but it was…Well I’m here today. Sefita is qualified.

Parent’s Attitudes to Education, Work, and Volunteering


That’s great. Throughout your schooling journey and it doesn’t matter which part of the journey, how did your parents find you in terms of your schooling?

My parents were really big pushers for VCE, which was fine. I could have done it, but because they knew that it was starting to become, not a drain because there’ll be times where I remembered, I used to work at […] and I’d have an overnight shift. [retail store name]was 24 hours back then and it still is now. When it started to become 24 hours, I’d always get the overnight shift and I’d take my school uniform with me to my work locker and change and go straight to school from there. Because overnight paid more money, I needed more money for the family because dad wasn’t working, mum wasn’t working, I’m the eldest. The only source of income was me […]. I remembered there was one whole week straight where I’d take my uniform and I’d change at work, and then go straight to school.

My parents, they were saddened by it, but most of the time dad was in hospital anyways. He wouldn’t be at home, but he’d be concerned. They would be concerned with the financial strain that I had of being the breadwinner and providing for the family. They were a bit hesitant when I started the volunteering before I got my job [retail store name], because it was like, “Oh, well volunteer? You’re not getting any money.” But until they started seeing like news articles, and the impact that I was making within the community, that’s when they started to be more accustomed and more comfortable with the fact that, “Sef’s making a difference and impacting the community”, because then I worked my way up to become a casual for […].

Role Models


Oh no, that’s awesome. I love that you touched on the value of community or voluntary work, rather. I think too, it’s hard, especially with our people, because a lot of us are just trying to survive. I just always think that the power of voluntary work on your CV is really valuable. That’s great. That’s really great. Sef, just in terms of like, you know in your journey as you, it sounds like you’ve been really fortunate to have picked up some of these cool opportunities. Did you have any particular mentors in your life that you always just watched, or you felt inspired by, and you just felt like I really want to be like that person or people?


Yeah. I’ve got so many mentors and so many people that have made a difference in my life. [Mentor 1 name], how I met her was through, so my godfather married to my godmother. My godmother is[mentor 1 name]’s auntie[name], I met them, and she was the one that introduced me to[NGO name], blah, blah, blah. It was just seeing how she worked, and how she engaged with the community sort of inspired me. There’s also[mentor 2 name] who also makes an impact in my life too, hearing her stories like about mental health and whatnot, and her son that committed suicide, and being inspiring that a lot of these things can happen to anybody. Suicide is everywhere.

I was too wrapped up in my own world that I thought that it wouldn’t happen in our culture. Our culture is very [inaudible] and strong and no one succumbs to suicide, but it happens to everyone. That’s the same with any other, like rape and sexual assault. It all happens within our cultures. Having these people sort of shed that light made me who I am today and more open-minded. There’s other youth workers that have made an impact, being able to be there to support me, and be my mentors, is a product of what I am today.

Involvement with the Pasifika Community


Do you find even now, because I know you mentioned you growing up majority influenced by your Tongan side. Are you finding now that you’re still quite… Are your parents involved in a lot of community engagement both in the Tongan side and the Fijian side?


That’s what’s hilarious. Not hilarious, but sad at the same time is that, so with us and our upbringing, we’ve experienced so much discrimination. My dad has to like, because he’s a full Fijian, but a faifekau (minister of religion). He’s never levelled up, and because it’s the concept that no other Tongan wants a non-Fijian [Tongan] to be leveling up within the church. I’ve seen it since I’ve been growing up and hence why we haven’t been as more…We’ve tried to be a part of these community stuff but, specifically the Tongan, because I’ve had this experience where, half caste kids get discriminated within our own cultures. You have to be more so of a certain culture to be classified as them, or you can’t be half and half.

I’ve had times where I’ve met with other Tongans. [name]and I would be sitting there and [name] would introduce me and say, “Oh, this is Sefita.” Sefita is a Tongan name, but she’ll be like, “Oh, he’s Tongan Fijian.” All of a sudden, the conversation will not be directed at me, it’d be directed at [name]. I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t acknowledge me as being a Tongan, because I’m half. That’s the same thing, it happens with our young people even when I was working at[previous work], we had young people who were discriminating and alienating half-caste kids. I had a young person that I was working with, blonde hair, blue eyes, but he’s half Tongan. Has the last name of his dad and mum’s palangi (westerner), but it was just like the kids would turn around and say, “No, you can’t because you’re not brown.”

I was like, well, “Who are you to say who’s brown enough to be a part of this culture?” At the end of the day, if we’re willing to acknowledge our cultures and reconnect to it, who are you to stop them from doing it? When I talk about discrimination, it happens within our own cultures. It’s not only just half-castes, but some people who are full Tongans, especially the ones that were born here in muli (overseas) like Australia, New Zealand, America, they’re not classified as Tongan, they’re classified as people who are tupui mui and classified as westernized and not Tongan enough.

Supporting Pasifika Youth


That’s so true and so many, really valid points that you made, I totally relate to the whole point about the discrimination even really in our own cultures too. Based on your experience and your understanding of our Pasifika youth, what do you think are some of the things that contributes to their disengagement as they’re growing up? What do you think, based on what you know now, we’d be doing better as a community or as parents to really help our kids succeed?


What I’ve seen, is that I think it’s a two-party thing. It’s not just our cultures, but I think it’s also the westernized culture being able to not accustom, but to find a bridge between our and the Western society. For example, when I was working in [previous position]to provide a tool for the reception staff at one of the schools I was engaging with. What I said to them was, what we gathered from previous parents’ forums, that a lot of the parents felt intimidated when they went into the reception of the school because, most of the times when they get told to come in, it’s usually something bad or, it just felt clinical and really alienating when it came to them coming in.

What I suggested to the reception staff was, maybe learn their names, build rapport with the parents of the children that attend the school. What had happened was they sent me a list of names and I spelled it out phonetically. Since then, it’s boosted up the relationship and the rapport building that they had with the parents. Just being able to address them by their first name, their last name, instead of just saying, “Oh, sir. Madam.” We ain’t in a medical centre for you to be that formal. They just want to be, because we are people-people. We’re sociable, get to know them and be able to pronounce their names properly. Not trying to be like Sione [incorrect pronunciation] or, and pronounced that like Sione [pronounced correctly], and saying it properly. That’s the same thing with teachers as well, providing them with the same tools on how to better engage with the young people, is pronouncing their names properly. If it needs to be spelled phonetically, then we’ll do it for you. Or if not find somebody that’s within the service sector, that’s able to spell it out phonetically for you.


What about from internally within the home? Do you recognize the connection between our kids and our parents? I refer to the first generation, second generation, because often there’s a gap. What are some of the things that you witnessed, and you think contribute to that disconnect, and what could we be doing as a community just to better support our kids? I really liked your point about the education part and helping to make our Western institutions a little bit more culturally sensitive, I love that. How can we better support our kids based on what you know?


I think one of the big things is that, and I think it’s still here till this day, that is an issue is the fact that expectations and the pressures that have been placed upon these young people. A lot of the parents forget about it, especially during COVID time. Students have been studying from home and doing online schooling for seven months. I know some of my cousins and that let the ball roll, just forgot about school because parents would be like, fakamaau eni (clean this) or fakamau a peito (clean the kitchen), this and that…this, this, and that. The chores have been dished out and forgetting that school is nine to three, and that there’s already scheduled WebEx classes, or Zoom classes, but the parents would assume, or have this general idea that, “Oh, it’s all right. They can catch up later after they’ve already cleaned up the kitchen, did this, or look after whoever?”

Or because parents have been laid off from work, expecting the children to go after… The ones that are at age to go and find work so that they’d be able to financially support the family. Choosing that over education, which is I find… It can work sometimes, but then it’s also an issue too, because at the end of the day, if you’re not readily aware of the different pathways you can take, and equipped with the knowledge of knowing that you can get to where you want to get, it’s hard because if you don’t know the direction you’re going, then you might fall off the bandwagon and become that statistic of working in a warehouse.

I think that’s what needs to happen within our communities, maybe education towards the parents, about the different pathways and demystifying the stigma that’s attached to VCAL because a lot of the times, a lot of the Islander parents believe that VCAL is such a bad thing, like only dumb people. But at the end of the day, VCAL will get you ready for TAFE because it’s applied learning. I think it’s the same thing. There’s this whole culture that’s been built, needs to be smashed out, even within the schools that, ATAR is everything. Well, no, it’s not hence why having information sessions or whatnot to explain it to the parents and say that you’ll get to where you need to get, because honestly that’s how I did it. I started off with TAFE and worked my way up. I think it’s the beauty of up skilling. Up skilling and reassuring them that there’s different pathways to go down, to get to where you need to get to.

Career Aspirations


Yeah. Excellent point. Couldn’t agree more. In terms of where you’re at now, like where do you see yourself going in future in terms of your future prospects? What does the next 10 years look like for you, and how does that look like in terms of community engagement?


Yeah, so Sefita is a big dreamer and I’m working my way to it. Being in this position is being able to allow me to do certain things. What my dream is, to have a cultural exchange program, where we have young people from here, Australia go to back home, whether it’d be Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and then vice versa. Having that cultural exchange, but young people being able to go over there and experience their lifestyle. I think a lot of the young people these days and, my cousins are like I’ve seen, have taken things for granted. I was like, “Wait, back in Tonga, this is not accessible to us,” and trying to humble everybody. I think it would be vice versa because the other thing is that it’d be great for the people from Tonga, Samoa to come here and see that we don’t have money trees in our backyard.

Another thing that is within our cultures, is that a lot of the times money is sent back to those homes over there. I think what we noticed when my siblings and I went to go visit, everybody kept looking at us like we were moneybags because we…We did have enough money, but we brought enough money for the holiday component, but then there’s a whole expectations of fatongia, responsibilities of paying for church stuff, family stuff, all of that type of jazz. Having that cultural exchange program and demystifying all of those stereotypes and stigmas that, we all have of each other and assumptions we have of each other, and humble everybody. That’s what I want to eventually be able to do and have that cultural exchange program happen.

Finding Direction


it sounds like you were really lucky to have fallen into youth work. How did you know that you wanted to work with our people specifically rather than just youth in general?


The programs that I was involved with when I was volunteering at, so I used to attend youth centre programs. What I noticed was, because the schoolings that I went to there wasn’t a lot of Islanders. Especially the private schools that I went to, I was probably the only, not the only brown because there were also Indians that went to the schools that I went to, but probably the only Islander that went to those schools. It was not being able to see the side of the low socioeconomic side of it, of our cultures and whatnot. It wasn’t until I started getting involved with Wyndham city youth programs that I started to see that there were young people that the same colour as me, or same culture as me, that they’re struggling.

They’ve been the same situations but weren’t fortunate enough to have the support systems that I had. I think that’s what triggered me, and also because my dad bringing us up was… We used to always get embarrassed when somebody would break down on the side of the road, but dad would always turn over to go and help. Whether it be changing a flat tire or, jump-starting a car but since then, it’s just giving back to people that have given so much to us. That’s that mentality that I’ve always had, and because I know that there are young people that have been in similar situations as mine. Why not, to empower our own communities to be their best selves? Yeah.

Visiting Fiji


I know that you guys go back to Tonga regularly. Did you get to go back to Fiji?


We did end up going, I think it was 2016. We did go, and we did spend a week there. It was a stopover before we went to Tonga. We went there to go and just visit dad’s siblings. It was so funny because the difference between Tonga and Fiji is that Fiji, they’ve got a huge tourism industry. Most of all my aunties and uncles knew how to speak proper English. Whereas when we first started constantly going back to Tonga, it was a bit hard because there was that language barrier, because not all my aunties and uncles were able to speak English.

The other downfall when we went to Fiji was that my aunties used to complain to us and say, “Oh, why don’t you how to speak Fijian?” and this and that, and then I’d turn around and I’d be like, “Ask your brother, why he hasn’t taught us how to speak.” Because it’s different dialects within Fiji and our village has a specific dialect. Not knowing how to speak it is a bit of a shame factor. But I said at the end of the day, it was dad, and dad chose to follow mum instead of the other way around. But yeah.

Navigating Cultural Identities


Do you find, in terms of your identity, identify with both your Tongan and your Fijian side? Do you find that you have moments of conflict between, not being as exposed to your Fijian side? Does that affect how you feel in terms of your identity?


Yeah, sometimes, but the other thing is that there’s been times where it’s so hard because we were so brought up with our Tongan culture where it’s been instilled in us. Whereas the Fijian culture, when we went to visit there, it’s a whole different jazz like the whole “faka’apa’apa” rule, (respect) so the respect in the Tongan one, is brothers and sisters. An example would be if a sister is in the lounge, brother does not come into the lounge when they’re watching TV or whatever. Or if they are then turn off the TV, respect. But in the Fijian culture, it’s different. My dad’s sisters’ children, we can joke with them and what not. In the Tongan faka’apa’apa (respect) it’s the sisters and brothers cannot joke.

They can’t say, not inappropriate, but, or jump or hug each other because of that whole respect. Whereas in the Fijian culture, my dad’s sister’s kids, we can jump on each other, hug each other. It was a real culture shock for all of us, even my siblings. We found it such a struggle trying to figure out what that meant. Dad explained to us that’s how it is, but if it were my dad’s brother’s kids, we can’t do that. Yeah. It was a bit hard. It was just trying to find the balance between both Tongan and Fijian.

Advice for Pasifika Youth


what are the top three tips that you would give for someone that wants to do what you’re doing or to wants potentially working in youth work, even with the folks like our people? Is there anything in your journey that you would change, and you will help someone else to recommend them in their journeys to doing what you’re doing? What are the top three tips?


Yeah. My top three tips would probably, surround yourself with a lot of mentors, and learn from them. The other things to also take into account is, use our people’s skills, network with people. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That’s what I’ve learned through my work experience is that a lot of the times I was employed as a youth worker before I even had the qualifications. Just go for it. Don’t second guess yourself. Surround yourself with mentors and just do you. At times parents might not see it, but they will see it, because that’s what happened with my parents. My parents were a bit hesitant with the volunteering, but once they seen the stuff that I was able to do and the impacts that I had in the community, it changed their whole perspective.



Last but not least, Sef, what does success to you look like? It can be in anything.


Success for me is probably having had the impact that I wanted to have with the young people and being able to be a part of their journey and see how far they’ve come. Over the years it’s been funny seeing that I used to look up to these mentors and they’ve taught me all these skills, and the young people that I’ve started to mentor have started to look up to me. It’s just funny trying to picture that because it was like, “Oh, it was only me not long ago.” Seeing that I was looking up to somebody and now I’ve got young people looking up to me trying to better their lives and choose a better path.

  • ‘Akesa – Community Facilitator
  • Ama – Lashing Business Administrator & Marketing Coach
  • Annie – International & Community Development Specialist
  • Ashirah – University student
  • Cass – English Teacher, Writer, Project Manager, & President of the Victorian Kiribati Association
  • Chris – Field Officer (HR)
  • Christopher – Carpenter & Stonemason
  • Crofton – Visual Effects & Animation Specialist
  • David – App company CEO
  • Elisabeth – Teacher
  • Elvina – Building Services Mechanical Engineer
  • Fipe – Cacao Products Manufacturing Business Owner
  • Grace – Airline Customer Service Agent
  • Leki – Physiotherapist
  • Luisa – Registered Nurse
  • Malelega – Legal Assistant
  • Marita – Writer
  • Rose – Workplace Consultant
  • Sefita – Community Engagement Officer
  • Semisi – Lawyer
  • Talei – Lawyer & Community Engagement + Government Relations Consultant
  • Teisa – Medical Doctor
  • Tevita – IT Professional
  • Thom – Make-up Artist
  • Venna – Lashing Business Owner & Trainer
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