Scholarships shaping Pasifika futures

After my degree I want to do everything. I want to write, teach, make films. I want to be creative. Pasifika people are great story tellers and I want to use that to help in the work I hope to do with Pasifika communities here in New Zealand.—Kaitlin Abbott, Teresia Teaiwa Memorial Scholarship 2020

Kaitlin Abbot and Esther Patu, the two scholarship recipients, holding a framed picture of Teresia Teaiwa
Esther Patu and Kaitlin Abbott recipients of the Teresia Teaiwa Memorial Scholarships for 2020.

The Teresia Teaiwa Memorial Fund was set up in 2018 in honour of the late Teresia Teaiwa who led teaching of the world’s first Undergraduate Major in Pacific Studies (PASI) at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington from 2000.

As a poet, mother, activist, and scholar, Teresia was a much-loved role model and inspiration for women across the Pacific region. And thanks to the generosity of our supporters the fund—now in its second year—has reached its goal and this year was able to realise Teresia’s dream of providing scholarships for two students majoring in Pacific Studies.

Postgraduate Pacific Studies student Kaitlin Abbott’s realisation that she could have a ‘Pasifika university experience’ occurred during her undergraduate PASI studies. When she discovered that not only could she look at her other subjects through a Pasifika lens but that her lecturers in those subjects encouraged that, she realised she had an opportunity to use her own experience to make a difference to the lives of others in her community.

Pacific Studies helped me to see and accept that you can have a Pasifika perspective at university, and it has encouraged me to use that perspective in other subjects. I didn’t think I could do that. I want to show others from the Pasifika community that they can have a university experience that works for them too.

For both young women, these scholarships are giving them the opportunity to focus on their studies without the added stress of how they will manage financially.

Esther Patu is in her second year of a joint BA/LLB with majors in Pacific Studies and Law and a minor in International Business. She says she plans to pursue a career in law, criminal or environmental, and she dreams of being part of shaping a better future for the Pacific and Pasifika people

She says that she has found Pacific Studies to be a hugely important part of her study mix, “PASI (Pacific Studies) has allowed me to be more critical in my thinking, especially about all things Pasifika, and more able to have the hard conversations about what the Pacific has and continues to endure.

“It’s made me more self-aware and it’s giving me the tools I need so that I can be a part of shaping the future of the pacific.

Studying PASI and being Pasifika in a system that doesn’t necessarily cater to us means empowerment for me as a Pasifika woman, and it motivates me to strive to achieve my goals and dreams.
—Esther Patu, Teresia Teaiwa Memorial Scholarship 2020

“Pacific Studies for me is not just an academic thing,” says Esther, “It goes much deeper and gives me a connection to my ancestors, the people who put me here.”