When Pacific peoples move across oceans to new lands and new cultures, they face new challenges as they adapt to their new environment.
Peni Seru-Ben has experienced this first-hand after moving from Fiji to New Zealand as a young man over a decade ago.
Now settled in Whanganui, Peni does everything he can to help Pacific people venturing out of their comfort zones for new horizons, to hold on tight to their culture and identity.
The Family Start Services/Te Oranganui Whanau Practitioner is an integral member of the Fijian community in New Zealand – firstly in Hamilton where he was based for 11 years before moving to Whanganui in 2017.
Peni’s work with the Fijian community in New Zealand includes founding Fijian Language Radio programmes; designing language guides for community classes; choreographing Fijian dances and mekes at events, such as Ai Tukuni Show at the Rugby World Cup 2011.
For the past four years, Peni has coordinated the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) supported Fijian Language Week - in Hamilton and now in Whanganui.
This work has included promoting Fijian Language Week on radio; being a committee member for the Waikato Nesian Festival where culture and Pacific languages are promoted; and being a Trust member and Judge for Waikato-Bay of Plenty Poly Festival.
Peni says all the work he does, is done out of love, to help Pacific peoples thrive in New Zealand.
“Pacific peoples face new challenges as they adapt to their new environment and home in New Zealand - culture is our identity and we need to revive it before it’s too late,” Peni says.
Growing up in Fiji with parents as Teachers, Peni says he moved around the Pacific nation a lot.
He also qualified as a Teacher, and taught for five years in Fiji before moving to New Zealand, where he eventually graduated from the University of Waikato with a Degree in Education, and then joined Drugs and Addiction Services as a Project Coordinator, in Hamilton.
Throughout his career and within the community, he has seen a need for Pacific peoples to flourish in New Zealand, while maintaining their sense of identity.
Peni has many goals he would like to achieve for the benefit of Pacific peoples, such as setting up a Pacific Youth Performing and Cultural Arts Centre in Whanganui; publishing Fijian language books for youth; and continuing his crusade to strengthen the Fijian/Pacific language and culture.
He says language is a central element and expression of identity and of key importance in the preservation of group identity.
“Language is intrinsic to the expression of culture - as a means of communicating values, beliefs and customs, it has an important social function and fosters feelings of group identity and solidarity.
“As the Fijian idiom goes ‘Tekivu mada mai Jerusalemi’ - meaning everything starts from home.
“Children must be taught that we are all different and that differences must not only be accepted but celebrated and their Pacific culture and language is something they have to take pride in.”
New Zealand is a melting pot of the Pacific: and while we adapt to live in this new land – we must hold on to our culture and identity – at the same time appreciate other people’s cultures, he says.