Pacific Island students have jumped at the chance to connect and celebrate their culture at a speech competition.

More than 100 students from around the Bay of Plenty participated in the Waiariki Pasifika Secondary Schools Speech Competition this week.

Western Heights High School student Jimmie Setu-Galo, 14, won the junior Samoan category.

He was one of nine from the school who attended and said they didn't have many chances to embrace Pacific culture, as the languages were not taught in school.

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"We went to represent our school and show off our culture," he said.

The school's Pasifika mentor Netina Setu-Galo encouraged the students to participate.

"Some of these guys don't have much of a connection to the island side of things. Three of the girls' fathers have passed away so it was their way of showing respect to their dads," Setu-Galo said.

Western Heights High School speech winners Mele Kauwale, Jimmie Setu-Galo and Initia Sellesin. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Western Heights High School speech winners Mele Kauwale, Jimmie Setu-Galo and Initia Sellesin. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

She said the inaugural competition had been 18 months in the making. It had been planned by representatives from the region.

"Not everyone on the committee was of Pacific Island descent but we all had a heart for the kids."

Tyla Davis-Leo, also from Western Heights, came third in the English senior category and said it was a good opportunity to connect with the island cultures.

"Even though we didn't understand some of the speeches it was beautiful to see we were not the only ones."

Rotorua Boys' High School students Jimah Ruland-Umata, 16, Maleki Schuster, 13, who won the English section. Photo/Stephen Parker
Rotorua Boys' High School students Jimah Ruland-Umata, 16, Maleki Schuster, 13, who won the English section. Photo/Stephen Parker

Rotorua Boys' High School also celebrated success at the competition, winning both the junior and senior English speech sections.

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Senior winner Jimah Ruland–Umata, 16, jumped at the chance to enter the competition.

"Ever since I was in intermediate I've been fond of public speaking. I thought this would be a good opportunity to have a go at another," he said.

"Overall I thought the day was pretty cool because the whole focus wasn't on the competition but trying to bond with different cultures.

"For me even though as Pacific Islanders we're not really native to New Zealand, it's important we be recognised because a large majority are here and we're here to stay."

Junior English winner Maleki Schuster, 13, got involved to learn more about his Samoan culture and said he'd been inspired to learn about others.

Speech winners:
- Cook Islands Māori (senior): Richard Itu Davey,Tokoroa High School
- Fijian (junior): Harold Rounds, John Paul College
- Fijian (senior): Malaia Kolibasoga, Rotorua Girls' High School
- Samoan (junior): Jimmie Setu-Galo, Western Heights High School
- Samoan (senior): Initia Sellesin, Western Heights High School
- Tokaelau (senior): Mele Kauwale, Western Heights High School
- Tongan (senior): Atu Lolohea, Katikati College
- English (junior): Meleki Schuster, Rotorua Boys' High School
- English (senior); Jimah Ruland-Umata, Rotorua Boys' High School