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Empowering Pacific Aotearoa to combat COVID-19  

Empowering Pacific Aotearoa to combat COVID-19  

  • 16 Aug 2021
  • |
  • COVID-19
  • Tonga
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The Community COVID-19 Fund has supported the Re-kava-ring Youth Project to empower South Island-based Tongans to move positively through the impacts of the pandemic.

New Zealand’s Pacific population has faced many challenges with the pandemic however, the Tongan Society South Canterbury’s (TSSC) new youth project is empowering the region’s communities to get through any COVID-related hardship with a positive outlook. 

The Timaru-based not-for-profit organisation was established in 2016 with the goal to support and encourage Tongans to embrace their culture, heritage, identity, values and be empowered to traverse and navigate life in New Zealand.

Former President and current General Manager at TSSC Sina Latu says the organisation facilitates a range of family-centred programmes, such as stop family harm, women’s wellness workshops and men’s empowerment kava group, with the aim of achieving total wellbeing.

“We want to empower famili, kainga and the community to thrive and prosper – and for fanau and famili to live without abuse, violence or harm,” Sina says.

With more and more economic and social issues arising due to COVID-19, the Re-kava-ring Youth Project has been developed.  

“The idea behind the project was to increase the capacity and capability of the participants, to be empowered to get through COVID hardship, and have a positive outlook on life,” Sina explains.

“We really want participants to have confidence, and to develop sustainable solutions to challenges faced.”

The “re” in re-kava-ring refers to the recovering and reflect process, while “kava” represents the Tongan kava ceremony, where all participants are equal and is a place for sharing and respecting each other.

Finally, “ring” symbolises the kava circle being unbroken and working together to rebuild the community, giving people strength to become resilient against COVID-19 so they can achieve prosperity and wellbeing.

“We have several streams operating within the Re-kava-ring Project, such as youth empowerment and driver licensing, sexual health workshops, youth suicide sessions, gym workouts, employment support as well mental health and emotional wellbeing,” Sina says.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) established the Community COVID-19 Fund (CCF), to support Pacific communities and groups to lead and drive their own solutions to respond and recover from the impacts of COVID-19.

The TSSC successfully applied for a grant and received $50,000 for its multi-tiered Re-kava-ring project, which has a long-term target. 

Darren Folau, the MPP Regional Partnerships Community Initiatives Manager for the Southern region says in his mind, TSSC is the exemplar model of how CCF has enabled communities to thrive by ensuring community solutions to community problems. 

The CCF has enabled the group to continue empowering Tongans, and other Pacific peoples in the South Canterbury region, through education, learning and support, he adds.