Pacific woman on a mission

posted: 12:30 pm - 12th April 2018
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(Picture caption: Asena Tolungamaka is presented with her award at the Prime Minister's Pacific Youth Awards.) 

Asena Tolungamaka is on a mission.

The nearly 24-year-old has a dream to become the first Pacific female Prime Minister and she is doing all she can to make that dream a reality.

Of Tongan heritage, Asena grew up in Favona, South Auckland and has never been shy of putting her hand up to help create a better society for Pacific people to live in. 

A Law student at the University of Auckland, Asena is involved in many initiatives aimed at helping Pasifika in New Zealand to thrive. 

The Pacific ambassador at her university, Asena has helped to set up Navigators of Success and Navigators Pasifika and MāoriSuccess Stories there. 

She has been a speaker at the Pathways, Circuits and Crossroad Conference hosted by the Human Rights Commission; and she mentors students involved in the Chancellors Award for Top Pacific and Māori Scholars. 

Last year, Asena completed an internship at Auckland Council where she was offered the opportunity to select someone to shadow.

She chose Mayor Phil Goff and Councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins, and the insight she gained while attending committee meetings was profound, Asena explains.

With an impressive list of achievements to her name already, Asena decided to apply for the 2018 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards, staged recently. 

“I knew if I were lucky enough to get the award, the exposure to opportunities and resources I would receive would help me immensely with everything I'm doing,” Asena says. 

Her dream came true when she was selected to receive the Air New Zealand Leadership Inspiration Award (supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) – one of eight categories up for grabs at the awards. 

“I cried because once I got the news I had won as I knew the impact this award will have will be great,” Asena says. 

“It’s not just about me, but it will be about everyone I can encourage or motivate.” 

Asena adds if a brown kid from South Auckland can win such an award, then anyone can. 

“I felt overwhelmed with love because I knew this was God and I knew how proud my parents would be. 

“It was what I was praying about so there's not much I can say that will truly express how I felt when I got the news, and how I still feel now.”

Winning this category at the prestigious awards means Asena will have the opportunity to intern at the New Zealand Embassy East West Post in Honolulu, Hawaii for a week.  

She will have the chance to attend targeted diplomatic events occurring in the post centred in the exciting Pacific Hub.

 For Asena, it is an exciting learning opportunity and also a stepping stone in helping her reach her goal of working in local or central government in the next decade.

However, she says the greatest thing to emerge from winning this award would be if a child who has grown up in similar circumstances to Asena, sees what is possible and pursues their dreams.  

“I believe we can all achieve but the difference between people who do, and do not, is opportunity and what they do with the opportunities they have. 

“So I hope this encourages, motivates and inspires someone out there to pursue their dreams. 

“It's going to be hard, I know that for a fact, but it can be done. And I hope they do it.” 

Visit MPP for more information on the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards.