Sesilia Faletoi (pictured) says she feels blessed having been brought up in a household where Gagana Samoa was the only language she was allowed to speak.
Born in Samoa, 17-year-old Sesilia moved to New Zealand with her family when she was a youngster and after spending time in Auckland, she is now Christchurch-based.
The Year 13 Catholic Cathedral College student was recently awarded a Tautua (Youth) Language Champion Honour at the inaugural Tautai o le Gagana Language Champion Honours which took place during the closing ceremony of Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa - Samoa Language Week 2021.
This is the first year the Honours have been held as part of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) Pacific Language Weeks series.
The awards recognise the many years people have invested into their language and culture, and into the vibrant Samoan community of Aotearoa.
“Gagana Samoa and fa'asamoa is my first language, and I will always be proud of that,” Sesilia says.
“Being brought up in a household where the Samoan language was the only language I was allowed to speak has been one of the biggest blessings I have received.
“Even though I didn't know it at the time, I realise now I was one of the lucky ones.”
There are many second and third generation Samoan New Zealanders who did not fight for their children to keep using Gagana Samoa like her parents did, she adds.
This has motivated Sesilia to be an advocate of the Samoan language to younger Samoans around her, at school and church, and to inspire them to keep hold of beautiful Gagana Samoa.
Sesilia’s recent achievement at the Tautai o le Gagana Language Champion Honours means everything to her as it is a sign she is doing something in her community to embrace her language and culture, she says.
Looking ahead, the dedicated young woman intends to keep encouraging parents in the community to uphold the Samoan language to pass onto future generations.
“If parents can pass on their knowledge to us at a young age, our language will continue to flourish, and we will be strong in our cultural identity.”