Power cut death: Children ask where much-loved teacher is

By Stuart Dye

At the childcare centre where Folole Muliaga taught, the children keep asking "Where's Folole? Where's Folole?"

The 44-year-old loved her job so much - and needed the money - that she tried desperately to keep working even as her health was failing.

Mrs Muliaga, who was dependent on an oxygen machine, died on Tuesday after the power to her Mangere, Auckland, home was cut off by Mercury Energy.

Rev Petaia Lokeni, chairman of the board of trustees at the Congregational Christian Church childcare centre in Mangere, said: "Eventually we had to tell her that she must stop working - that her health was too important."

Mrs Muliaga, who held a diploma in early childhood education and was a founding teacher at the centre, finally accepted that she would need time off to recover.

"She could no longer sit on the mat and read to the children, which she loved," said her colleague Toniga Hewitt. "But we always thought she would come back when she got better. It's so sad.

"I haven't even told the children yet. I just don't know how."

Mrs Muliaga had taught in Samoa and when she arrived New Zealand she took the extra qualification to allow her to teach here. She worked at the Mangere childcare centre, a short drive from her home, from the time it opened in January 2005.

She agreed to take three months off work in February, but planned to return in the next few weeks.

Mrs Hewitt said Mrs Muliaga was dedicated to the 40 children at the centre and was a great organiser who was full of ideas to make learning fun.

"Since she's been gone the children keep asking 'where's Folole, where's Folole?'

"I've tried to explain she is sick, but now I don't know how to tell them what has happened."

Mr Lokeni said he had visited Mrs Muliaga in Middlemore Hospital earlier this month.

"I said a prayer with her for her speedy recovery and so she could come back to the children, and I told her we would keep the door open.

"What is happening in this beautiful country when this can happen? When profit means more than health? This is a murder."

The grief is still sinking in for the Muliagas. Lopaavea Muliaga is now a solo father.

The couple married in 1986 and had four children: Ietitaia, the eldest, then Tesi (Des), 18, Morwenna, 16 and Eden, 7.

They immigrated to New Zealand from Samoa six years ago. Mr Muliaga remembers resisting the idea.

"I told my wife I didn't want to move to New Zealand, but she wanted to - for the kids to go to school."

He got a job as a kitchen assistant at Centra Auckland Airport, while she, a primary school teacher with 15 years' experience, retrained in early childhood teaching at Auckland University.

When she graduated, she worked at the childcare centre run by the Mangere Congregational Christian Church.

"She was happy every day. She loved her friends," said Mr Muliaga.

Then her health started to fade. Already a "big woman" by her sons' own description, she had to stop work in February as a result of heart and lung problems.

Mr Muliaga had to cut his work hours to help care for her.

It soon became a day-to-day struggle to pay the bills.

"When my wife was healthy, we were a good family, not worry about any of this."

She was hospitalised for a month, and discharged three weeks ago to live at home.

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