Our Pacific community: Charting Pasifika's progress in NZ

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Wins and losses are shown in Salvation Army report on state of our Pacific community.

Emeline Afeaki-Mafile'o's Affirming Works Ltd has youth leaders working with students across South Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Emeline Afeaki-Mafile'o's Affirming Works Ltd has youth leaders working with students across South Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The Pacific community has stamped its mark firmly on New Zealand society. There are 20,000 more Niueans living here than in Niue.

Auckland's second most widely spoken language is Samoan. The Pasifika Festival and PolyFest are the biggest events of their kind in the world. The next time you're in South Auckland, note the number of large-scale Pacific Island churches you see. Or take a look at the All Blacks' backline.

Pasifika is the youngest and fastest growing population in New Zealand.

Today the Salvation Army issues a report - More Than Churches, Rugby & Festivals - looking at the state of Pasifika people in New Zealand today.

Education/achievement

Pacific student achievement - and the need to improve it - has long been the focus for government and community strategies.

Over the years there have been targeted programmes aimed at encouraging Pasifika families to enrol youngsters in early childhood education (ECE).

High schools with large Pacific student populations have joined forces with universities including AUT and the University of Auckland and implemented mentor programmes that link Pasifika tertiary students with secondary pupils - in an effort to boost Pasifika numbers at tertiary level.

The Salvation Army's report suggests that such focused programmes are working.

Social policy analyst Ronji Tanielu said figures over the past few years were pleasing, but there was still more to be achieved.

"There are still major issues, but there are some improvements - access to early childhood education, our young people going on to university, which I think is a big one.

"Despite coming from decile 1 and 2 concentrated schools, despite low ECE participation, they're pushing through."

Mr Tanielu said the most pleasing thing to see was that the percentage of Pasifika students attending university was now at a similar level to non-Pasifika students.

Employment/income

Pacific people continue to be at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to employment - and therefore, income.

It seems the past few years have been hard for many Pacific Island families, with the rate of unemployment climbing steadily.

A high number of Pasifika are becoming consistently reliant on governmental benefits. Almost 13 per cent of working-age Pasifika receiving a Work and Income benefit last year.

The Rev Uesifili UNasa, chairman of the Auckland Council's Pacific Advisory Panel, said many families - now second or third-generation Kiwis - were in a better place and had earned qualifications and attained jobs that paid well.

But he acknowledged that there was still a high number of Pasifika families in the depths of poverty. Many were working two or three jobs to pay school fees and make ends meet.

"The proportion of our people are not as well off compared to the average New Zealander.

"People talk about the gaps in education, income and employment getting closer. But they're still the same."

Last year, the Salvation Army provided 6429 food parcels to Pasifika clients - a dramatic rise from 1140 in 2007.

There were 983 Pasifika people who took up the Army's budgeting service, up from 241 in 2007.

Mr Tanielu said such figures were a challenge not only to political leaders but to the Pacific community as well.

"Sixteen per cent unemployment, we've got a huge income gap. Our average income has risen only $2 in the last five years."

Identity

The first wave of Pacific migrants arrived in the 1940s and 1950s.

New Zealand opened its gates after a big labour shortage at the end of World War II and young Tongans, Niueans, Tokelauans, Samoans and Cook Islanders happily crossed the ocean to take up these jobs.

More Pacific Islanders are now born in New Zealand and with that, a new Pacific identity has arisen.

The Salvation Army's report suggests the term "Pacific Island" is now in itself multicultural - with more and more intercultural marriages with other Pacific groups as well as with European, Maori and Asian people.

Ministry of Pacific Affairs chief executive Pauline Winter said: "There's an emerging Maori-Pacific or inter-Pacific new young person among us, who has a different reality than say, their grandparents.

"A lot of them will say that they're from Mangere or Otara. They're proud of their family's heritage, but they feel that they're New Zealand Pacific. There's a contribution that our young ones are going to make, in terms of forging their Pacificness and urban New Zealand Pacificness. That's an emerging group. They're also developing, in their own way, their own language."

Crime

The rate of conviction of Pacific people is around 1.6 times that of the overall population.

About 1000 Pasifika people have been imprisoned each year in the past three years and they make up about 10 per cent of the prison population in New Zealand.

However, figures from 2011-2012 show only 32 per cent of Pasifika prisoners released within the previous two years returned to jail.

That figure was slightly higher for the overall population, with 37 per cent of non-Pasifika prisoners being jailed again soon after release.

Pacific people were 15 per cent less likely to report crime than the overall population.

Housing

Owning your own home in New Zealand is, for the majority of Pasifika, a far-off dream. Most Pacific children grow up or will grow up in a state house or rental property.

Figures from the 2006 Census showed almost 60 per cent of the Pacific population lived in a Housing New Zealand-owned home or other private rental property.

In comparison, only 33 per cent of non-Pacific people are in the same situation.

The report suggests that cultural factors as well as bad credit and simply a lack of understanding about home ownership are all barriers.

Social analyst Mr Tanielu, who grew up in South Auckland, said that for many in the Pacific community, owning your own home was foreign and it was "normal" to be living in a state house.

"Pacific people struggle [in this aspect] because they've got high debt, they've got the normal family obligations, remittances back home and you can't save for a deposit," he said.

"You're generally on a low income anyway, so there's huge challenges to home ownership."

Social hazards

The report focuses on poker machines and how they affect neighbourhoods where there is a high Pasifika population.

But it also touches on the issues Pacific Island families face; when church and familial obligations - including weddings and funerals - call for money to be given.

In areas with a high Pacific population, including Mangere-Otahuhu, Papatoetoe-Otara and Manurewa, there are more poker machines to be found compared with other parts of Auckland.

Mangere MP Su'a William Sio said poverty was the key reason many Pacific people were gambling.

"If people can't afford to make repayments on loans because the interest is too high ... if they're earning a minimum wage, they're going to be looking around, trying to make a quick buck. That's the reality."

Mr Sio said that although policy-makers needed to make moves to tackle these issues, it was also up to the Pacific community to act.

"The gambling thing is a big issue for us as a community. Some churches use bingo and the Lotto numbers for fundraising. But I do speak with other churches who focus on other things such as voluntary donations, youth work and homework centres," he said.

Emeline Afeaki-Mafile'o's Affirming Works Ltd has youth leaders working with students across South Auckland.

One woman's mission to help Pacific youth grow

Emeline Afeaki-Mafile'o has a simple desire - to help young Pacific people realise their potential.

In 2001 she founded Affirming Works Ltd, a non-profit organisation that runs mentoring programmes for young people aged 15 to 25 years.

Its Tupu'anga (to grow from your roots) programme sees youth leaders working with students at Mangere College, Papatoetoe High School, Otahuhu College, Aorere College and McAuley High School. Thousands have gone through the programme, including All Black prop Charlie Faumuina and rapper Young Sid.

Mrs Afeaki-Mafile'o said the programmes helped to motivate young people, who were constantly being told what they could not do.

"It was always about taking them out of South Auckland and showing them what they could aspire to be, whether it was being the first to finish 7th form or graduate from university or even better."

Affirming Works has since opened the Community Cafe in the heart of Otahuhu, in Great South Rd. A social enterprise, the cafe helps fund its mentoring programmes.

"We have open mic nights where young people come and sing, say a poem or just share with the community. This is their space."

The group launches a new mentoring programme today in several primary and intermediate schools in South Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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