Setting the bar high

16 October 2018

‘Elisapesi and her son Jay are 2018 recipients of TAPA awards (Tertiary Achievement in Pacific AKO).

Tongan mother ‘Elisapesi Havea is setting the bar high for her son Jay and all the other Pasifika students at the University of Waikato. 'Elisapesi and Jay are both recipients of 2018 TAPA awards (Tertiary Achievement in Pacific AKO).

‘Elisapesi and Jay do some of their best work at night. ‘Elisapesi is in the final year of her doctorate and has an office in the Faculty of Education. After dinner and prayers she regularly returns to campus to work on her thesis while her husband looks after their two younger children.

Jay’s her eldest and at 20 he’s just completed the first year of a law degree. He spends most of his nights studying in the computer labs in Te Piringa Faculty of Law which are open 24/7. Sometimes he stays till dawn, goes straight to a morning lecture before going home for a bit of a sleep. Jay started university by doing a six-month CUPs course, a Certificate of University Preparation, and he says it set up well for tertiary study.

“University is different from high school,” he says. “And the CUPs course helped me make that transition to university. It gave me a taste of what studying for a degree would be like.” A law degree at Waikato takes four years, but Jay is doing Summer School papers, which will help him get through his degree more quickly. And once he’s graduated, he hopes to work in family and youth law.

“I’m pleased to receive the TAPA award,” he says. “I remember Mum receiving one way back when I was at intermediate, and now I’m being presented with one too. It’s a real honour.”

The University of Waikato introduced the annual TAPA awards to encourage the achievement and participation of Pacific students in tertiary education.

For ‘Elisapesi, the TAPA award enables her to do her research and get to conferences, where she presents her research. Her subject is one she feels strongly about and has relevance to her homeland. Her research focuses on climate change education. “Climate change is one of the biggest threats not just to Tonga but to many Pacific Island countries, to our people and our ecosystems. And children will bear a larger burden of the negative consequences of climate change over their lifetimes. I believe climate education is a powerful tool to equip the young people with the values, knowledge and skills so they may be able to adapt and cope with the impacts of climate change.”

The Havea family lives in Hamilton but makes regular trips to Tonga where ‘Elisapesi was a secondary school teacher for nine years.  She has worked with high school teachers and students, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Climate change in Tonga as part of her  PhD research and would very much like to see climate change become a core subject in Tonga’s education curriculum.

‘Elisapesi completed her bachelor and masters degrees at Waikato before beginning her doctorate. She chose Waikato to study because she’d heard the education faculty was one of the best and had outstanding academics. “And I liked the way Waikato catered for minority groups, such as Pasifika students. I really feel at home here, and there’s a strong and tightly woven Pacific community in Hamilton. I now consider Waikato my home here in Aotearoa.”

‘Elisapesi is self-funding her study, which has meant a lot of family sacrifice, and so she is grateful for any financial assistance she earns by way of scholarships and awards. “I want to thank the University of Waikato from the bottom of my heart for acknowledging its Pasifika students’ achievements,” she says.

Meanwhile, despite his study commitments, Jay is a keen rugby player, selected last season for the Waikato under 19s. He also had an interview with an agent from Japan, but his mother had something to say about that. “I said finish your degree first!”

There are 28 Waikato students receiving TAPA awards this year. They’re being presented to recipients on 24 October. Jay will be there, but ‘Elisapesi won’t be; she’s presenting her research at a conference on the Gold Coast, Australia.

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