"We are here to serve, not to be served."

These are the words Vaha Tuielu lives by and what has most likely led him to receive a Queen's Service Medal for services to the Tokelauan community.

In 1966 Tuielu left Tokelau but since then he has actively supported the Tokelauan community in Rotorua.

For 16 consecutive years he served as the president of the Tokelauan Rotorua Community and with his commitment to keeping the Tokelauan language alive, he voluntarily ran language classes for several years.

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Vaha believes people are here to serve and not be served. Photo / Stephen Parker
Vaha believes people are here to serve and not be served. Photo / Stephen Parker

He has lead forum groups to translate the Tokelau bible and dictionary and translated for and offered guidance to Te Lumanaki Pacific Service to better support Pacific families that have been involved with Oranga Tamariki.

But even with all this to his name, when he received the news his question was, "why me?".

"I felt humbled. I couldn't believe it.

"I have always said to my family we are here to serve not to be served and so whatever gift or skill we have, we have to open our eyes and open our hands."

After 50 years living outside of his island, Tuielu is passionate about his people - even presenting every Sunday for the Tokelauan news channel to share stories and significant events with the community.

"I suppose for me that is where my heart is. It is where my people are and where I was born.

"Language is very important. It is our communication, our sharing and showing our love."

He said to the best of his knowledge, the original language had already disappeared and his people had tried to hold on.

"There are a lot of things that need to be done to keep lifestyle, beliefs.

"A lot of things that have been lost, the culture, the people, the faith so we need to work a little bit harder."