When Maldanoeline (Malda) Sinaumea graduates with a Bachelor of Teaching from the University of Waikato in April, it will be a special moment not only for her but also for her father sitting in the audience.
In Safotu, the village where he grew up in Samoa, his surname was never mentioned or called out for an achievement.
“I take pride in making him proud to hear such a name echoed and called in a place we have called home for the past 20 years,” says Malda, 21.
To add to the emotion of the day, Malda will be the first member of her family to ever graduate from university. She has five brothers and two sisters and a large extended family who she hopes will be able to come to the Claudelands Events Centre for her graduation.
Malda was only one-year-old when the family moved from Samoa to South Auckland. She attended Fairburn Primary School in Ōtāhuhu, where she will return to begin her teaching career.
“It was where the passion for teaching started. To be offered a job there where some teachers and the principal still recognise me is amazing.
“My family, we were the bunch of kids who after school got picked up an hour later. The teachers all knew us.”
When Malda was in Year 11 at Ōtāhuhu College, the school counsellor encouraged her and other students to apply for the $10,000 Pacific Excellence Scholarship at Waikato University.
“No one filled it out because we did not think there would be chances for students like us at a low decile school. That made me fill out the form to prove to my peers that anything is possible.”
She also received a TeachNZ Kupe Scholarship, worth more than $22,000. It aims to attract highly accomplished Māori and Pacific students to the teaching profession and support them to become inspiring teachers in early childhood, primary and secondary education.
Moving south to Hamilton in 2019 to start university was a new experience. Malda had no family in Hamilton and in the Bryant Hall of Residence, she was the only Samoan.
Homesickness was a big challenge.
“I have grown up surrounded by a big family so independence was hard to tackle at first.
“I stayed in the hall for three years. My parents wanted it. They felt more of a sense of security that I was on campus.”
Malda says she has made lifelong friends at Waikato University.
“My peers and I shared the same experiences and it was refreshing to be surrounded by such inspiring people.
“The materials, the resources, and especially the support at Waikato, was amazing. Tutors and lecturers constantly check on you and make sure you are okay.
“The second lockdown was hard. I was missing my family because I couldn’t come home to Auckland, and was juggling everything online.”
Malda has fond memories of the University's Hamilton campus and Hamilton itself, and plans to return to do a postgraduate degree.
“What I have enjoyed the most about the campus was the green scenery and hidden gem study spots that acknowledge nature.
“Most importantly, this campus was overflowing with rich biculturalism, which was evident through the diverse community at the University, as well as reflected and emphasised throughout our studies.”
Malda's professional placements were at Woodstock and Pukete primary schools and Fairfield Intermediate.
She had started at Fairfield before lockdown and developed a relationship with the students which meant she was able to ensure they were safe. Malda had developed such a good relationship with her class that she was able to check up on every student. Many students had no access to internet or online learning.
The most important thing she has learned studying at Waikato is to have no fear.
“Take a leap of faith. Making mistakes allows for learning and taking a leap of faith can land you somewhere unexpected but necessary for growth and experience!”
Malda has now moved back home to South Auckland, where she is doing volunteer work and mentoring for whānau and friends, before starting as a new teacher at Fairburn Primary School in January.
She has the keys to her classroom and is already thinking of ways to decorate it so when students enter, they know about Maldanoeline Sinaumea, where she came from and where she has arrived. Home.