Scholarship success after family tragedy

A Porirua student’s hard work and ambition in the face of a major family tragedy, has seen her win a full scholarship to Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

girl with very long purple-blond hair smiling with mouth closed
Daniella Gibson, who is in her first year of study towards a conjoint degree in Law and Commerce, is one of 12 winners of the inaugural Ngā Hoe a Kupe Pathfinder Scholarship, which is awarded to students from seven schools across the Wellington region. The scholarship—worth $50,000 over three years—means Daniella has guaranteed financial support, academic mentoring, and other assistance available to her throughout her undergraduate degree programme, including accommodation at a student hall in her first year of study.

Daniella was raised alongside her younger sister and brother by her mum Ly You. “She worked nights while providing care thorughout the day and was the only source of income for our family,” explains Daniella. “Her support has shaped how I have grown and my outlook on life.”

She is the oldest grandchild on either side of her family, so has always felt the expectation to be a role model. Having this scholarship will allow her to be the first in her family to get a degree. “This will be  a major honour for me and an even greater honour for my wider family—this scholarship has enabled this lifelong goal of mine to happen.”

Sadly, Daniella’s mum passed away in October 2019 after a two-year battle with cancer, leaving she and her siblings parentless.

“We went to live with my aunty Lane You-Keller and uncle Hugo—they have four kids of their own, so we became a family of nine. They even renovated their garage to make two rooms, so that my sister and I could have our own rooms,” says Daniella.

Despite all the upheaval and grief, Daniella continued to achieve fantastic academic results, and in 2020, was appointed head girl of Aotea College.

“My focus last year was school work and the well-being of my school in general. I was always busy with events I organised for the school—even COVID-19 didn’t stop me from creating ideas and executing them online for the school to participate in. I was also working to maintain my Excellence Endorsement for NCEA Level 3, and I’m proud to say that I did achieve that.”

Daniella was juggling school leadership, extra-curricular activities and academic work with helping out at home, often stepping in to babysit her younger siblings and cousins. Through her school she was also part of a successful business initiative called Remojo Tech, which refurbished donated laptops and donates them to students in need. The study circumstances created by the COVID-19 lockdown saw them donate 30 laptops to students.

“It was amazing to see the impact we had on people’s lives—I want to continue to do that in my future career.”

Daniella says her desire to fight social injustices was a big factor in her decision to study law.

“Marching for Black Lives Matter and climate change made me curious about law and what impact I could have working for Government,” she says. “Being head girl and an older sister and cousin, and being socially engaged has taught me that I love to look after people, serve people and fight for justice.”

Aotea College Principal Kate Gainsford chose Daniella for this scholarship, and Daniella says she’s eternally grateful for the opportunities it has provided.

“I love my studies—it’s amazing to be able to relate what I’m learning to everyday life. Sometimes the workload can be challenging, but overall I love it,” she says. “What I’m enjoying most of all is my lecturers—they all teach in a way that intrigues and keeps me engaged, and they explain all the big concepts in a clear, relatable way.”

Daniella has joined the Asian Students’ Association, the Asian Law Students’ Association, the Commerce Society, the First Year Law Society, and the Cambodian Club. These are just some of the highlights of her new life at the University.

“I love living in Wellington city. Everything is a walk away instead of a bus and a train. And I love the sense of independence I have—I feel like I am really embarking on a new chapter of life.”

Without the Ngā Hoe a Kupe Pathfinder Scholarship, her financial circumstances would have prevented her going to University.

“Receiving this scholarship means so much to me. I now have the opportunity to learn more and to have a career that can lead me to great success, and one day give back to my family.”

The 2022 Ngā Hoe a Kupe Pathfinder Scholarships are now open for applications. Applications close 1 October 2021, and further information can be sought from Gail Ah-Hi at