Leonora Houma has overcome more than most to complete her Master of Education at the University of Waikato, and she hopes it shows other young Solomon Islanders what can be achieved.
The mother of three had already been teaching for many years in the Solomon Islands, but after immigrating to New Zealand with her husband and their three children, she struggled to find work.
She decided to further her studies as an adult student, but when her husband had to go back to the Solomon Islands to take up a job contract, she was faced with studying, looking after their three children and working to support her family.
“It was tough for me because I was studying and trying to support my family. It was one of the hardest things I have had to do.”
With a background in languages, Leonora completed her Masters’ specialising in Language and Literacy Education. As she started studying at the University, she also secured a part-time role at the Waikato Institute of Education, which eventually turned into a full-time role.
Leonora describes herself as someone who enjoys challenging herself, balancing motherhood, parenting, teaching and work in her community. But doing it all on her own with her husband working back in the Solomon Islands was not something she ever pictured herself doing.
“I’d work all day starting at 8am until 5pm, then start studying from 8pm until the small hours, sometimes 3am or 4am in the morning if I had an assignment.
“I thought we’d come to New Zealand, get a job and that would be it. It wasn’t what we had imagined though and it was tough.”
Leonora says she is the first woman from her Solomon Island village to achieve a Masters’ degree, and she wants to use it to show other young Solomon Islanders what can be achieved.
“I have an aspiration to be a role model, to let young women from my village and my region and even my country, understand what is available to them.
“Growing up as a woman in a Melanesian culture has its challenges. I am the only one from my family and from my extended family and my village to reach this level of education.”
Leonora says the University’s Pacific community helped get her through her studies, and she felt well supported throughout her Masters’ qualification.
“I’m glad I did my studies at Waikato. You feel like you belong to the community because of the support. The lecturers are so supportive of all the students.
“The University cares about the wellbeing and welfare of Pacific students to help them be successful in their education, and it helped to keep me going.”
Now her studies are complete, Leonora will continue working at the Waikato Institute of Education, but she also wants to work more in her community to show what can be achieved with education.
“I want people to see education is not just for the young. I am an adult student and there is always possibility if you put your heart, mind and soul into it,” says Leonora.
“I want to use my experience and knowledge to encourage younger Solomon Islanders in New Zealand to see the importance of education. The opportunities are in abundance here, it is up to us to make the most of it.”