Saumaleula Lefeau works full time, helps out in her Pacific community and still finds time to study at the University of Waikato.
Recently she was one of four students presented with a 2017 Vice-Chancellor’s Adult Learner’s Award from the university, awarded to mature students who consistently achieve high grades and who also participate in community and/or university activities.
Sau is studying for a Bachelor of Social Sciences with a double major – Māori and Pacific Development and Sociology. When she graduates she’ll be the first member of her family to complete a tertiary qualification.
The mother of two says her children were the motivation for her to begin study.
She currently works full time as a children’s worker at a residential unit called Kids First Whānau Centre, associated with Anglican Action. When called upon, she assists Pasifika students at the university, helping them to settle in and running activities such as study workshops. She also works with parents so they can understand the benefits their children will gain from tertiary study.
“I’ve always had an interest in people and the societies that they exist in, and the impact that the differences within those societies could have on different groups of people. I grew up in poverty in Fairfield in the ‘90s, which back then was known as ‘the hood’. The majority of families in the area were Pasifika and Māori, and as I became a teenager I wondered why these groups in particular were always within the low-socio economic realm of society, always struggling, and what I could do to better the lives of others around me.”
Sau says she chose to study social sciences because she felt it offered the learning she needed to better serve others, particularly Pasifika and Māori. “And I think being a Samoan woman, my heritage gives me a lot of strength. I do what I need to do to not only benefit myself but also to benefit others – that is the Fa'a Samoa way.”
She says it can be a struggle sometimes to fit everything she needs to do into each day, but there are benefits to working while she studies. “I am able to understand concepts better, and that helps me to retain content better – having life and practical experiences to refer to. The reward that I have from my study is the knowledge that I now have and what I continue to learn, and I can apply it within my line of work, which in return helps those who come from similar or the same background as me.”
Nightime, when her children Mila (6) and Iva (3) are asleep, is when Sau does most of her study, and she can usually get some done during the night shift at the Whānau centre, “and often my partner Joe has to step in and be ‘mum’ to the children”.
Once she graduates, Sau would like to continue to help Pasifika communities, perhaps working for an NGO or a government-run organisation. “But I am also thinking about further study,” she says.
Three other mature students received 2017 adult learner awards from the University of Waikato. They were Bachelor of Teaching students Marcelle Messenger and Charlotte Hartley, and Bachelor of Media and Creative Technologies student Stephen Outram.