Long-time educator and supporter of the Pasifika community Hellen Puhipuhi has been recognised in the New Year Honours.
Puhipuhi, of Whanganui, has been awarded a Queen's Service Medal (QSM) for services to the Pacific community and education.
Puhipuhi is also a well-known supporter of the wider Whanganui community.
She founded and directs the Born and Raised Pasifika Early Childhood Education Centre (ECE) in Aramoho and the Pasifika Learning Centre in Tawhero.
Born in Fiji, Puhipuhi came to New Zealand in 1972 as a young teacher on a Commonwealth Scholarship.
She jokes that her father may have been drinking on the day he registered her birth.
"The certificate lists my birth date as the day he registered me.
"I was already about 12 weeks old so in a way it's been good because I get to celebrate my birthday twice."
Her father was also responsible for the two Ls in her first name.
"I really do think he had been drinking," she laughs.
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One of Puhipuhi's first postings in New Zealand was at Rānana, 60km upriver from Whanganui.
"It felt like home to me because it reminded me of my village at home and I loved the pace of life and the people."
Her sense of connection led to permanent residency and the establishment of a family in New Zealand.
She has also maintained her Fijian identity and has been a key leader of the Whanganui Fijian Community Group since 1991.
"I think my childhood in Fiji inspired my enjoyment of multiculturalism.
"The Indian population in Fiji, with their variations in customs and beliefs, always interested me when I was a child.
"I think I have always enjoyed diversity."
As an educator, Puhipuhi sees that maintaining a sense of personal and cultural identity within a multicultural society is integral to a child's self-esteem and ability to thrive.
She helped to establish the Pasifika Vision Forum Charitable Trust in 2000, which inspired the establishment of Born and Raised Pasifika in 2003.
"Pasifika families were not engaging in early childhood education to a large extent and we identified a need for ECE centres that would give children opportunities to learn about the culture they were born into as well as the ones they live with."
Her strong relationships with Whanganui iwi and the Whanganui District Council helped garner support for her venture.
After 10 years, demand for placements at the centre was outgrowing the roll capacity and plans were made to establish a second centre.
The Learning Centre at Tawhero opened in 2017 and several similar pan-Pacific pre-schools have opened in other New Zealand locations.
Teachers at the Whanganui ECEs have fluency in Fijian, Samoan, Rarotongan, Māori and English.
Each year, there is fundraising to enable a group from Born and Raised Pasifika to visit one of their sister pre-schools in Samoa, Rarotonga or Fiji.
Puhipuhi's initial vision included the possibility of establishing Pasifika primary and secondary schools but after seeing how well Born and Raised Pasifika graduates have progressed through their further education, she believes the ECE learning may be enough.
"Our first graduates have done so well.
"They have become leaders at their high schools and carry that foundation with them.
"Their early education has taught them respect - for themselves, each other, their families and community, for the earth and for the existence of a spiritual being."
Puhipuhi has chaired the Pasifika Vision Forum Charitable Trust since 2002 and the Whanganui Pasifika Community Group since 2001.
From 2003 to 2005 she was a member of the Ministry of Education's central region Pacific Talanoa Advisory Group, developing and implementing strategies for Pacific education.
She co-authored the government-commissioned Pasifika Early Childhood Scoping Report, reviewing the relationship between language acquisition, cognitive development and quality teaching in immersion and bilingual settings.
And she is a member of the government's ECE Advisory Committee and ECE Research Policy Forum.
Locally, she helped to develop the Whanganui Welcoming Communities Plan, which has become the Whanganui District Council's foundation document for welcoming newcomers to Whanganui.
She has been a member of the Minister of Pacific Island Affairs' Advisory Council and the Whanganui Mayoral Advisory Group and has been one of the lead organisers for the Whanganui Festival of Cultures since 2011.
In November, Puhipuhi received the 2019 Sunpix Community Leadership Award from the Ministry for Pacific Peoples.
"I am both grateful and humbled," she said.
"To be honoured for doing what you love is truly fulfilling."