Mangere College Dean and Teacher Alisi Tatafu says working in the heart of South Auckland has opened her eyes to the stark contrasts between two worlds – those who “have” and those who “have not”.
A proud Tongan, Alisi spent her early years in Tongatapu and Ha’apai before she relocated to Auckland with her family in 1981.
Teaching Social Studies and Geography in South Auckland presents many different scenarios than what Alisi experienced when was a student at Epsom Girls Grammar School and the University of Auckland, she says.
“I have gained insight to youth issues for Maori and Pacific students, ranging from poverty, neglect, addiction, abuse and violence which affects their studies,” Alisi says.
“This drove me to do more for Maori and Pacific youth to deliver engaging and culturally responsive programmes students can connect with and balance their Hauora (wellbeing).”
In 2011, Alisi became involved in suicide prevention after a former student took her own life; and in 2013, she co-founded Toko Collaboration Charitable Trust, which delivers Tongan ethnic specific suicide prevention programmes around the country.
Most recently, Alisi has added authorship to her list of accomplishments.
The children's book featuring the popular Mate Ma'a Tonga (MMT) rugby league team – The Rise of the To'a – was released during Tonga Language Week.
Co-authored by fellow Teacher and Writer David Riley, the book follows the journey of a young Tongan boy learning about Tongan culture.
The project has combined her passions of education and Pacific empowerment, and motivation for the book stemmed from the 33 awesome and phenomenal MMT men who played in the MMT/Kau To'a matches from 2017-2019, Alisi explains.
“We can’t forget the proud and loud Tongan community in New Zealand and the worldwide Kingdom of Tongans who travelled from Tonga and around the world to support the MMT matches.
“Another key motivation is our young Tongan children raised in New Zealand that accompanied their parents to the MMT matches – it was an honour to see all the family there including babies, cousins of all ages, uncles, aunts, grandparents, the palangi neighbours and non-Tongan MMT fans.”
Collaborating with David and former MMT captain and illustrator Sika Manu on the book has been a huge highlight for Alisi, while finding time to write has been her main challenge in the process, as well as with editing the book.
“I really wanted the book to represent all Tongans, so had some long talanoa and exchanges with David, who edited the book.
“Finding funds to publish a high quality book was a bit nerve racking, however, we received support from Creative NZ Community Funding, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) with the support of New Zealand High Commission in Nuku'alofa.”
Alisi says she is humbled by the feedback she has received from readers all over New Zealand.
“Tongans and non-Tongans of all ages are enjoying learning more about the MMT players and Tongan culture, plus the illustrations drawn by Sika Manu were just awesome.”
Now focused on securing funding to translate and publish Rise of the To'a in Lea Faka Tonga, Alisi’s quest to empower her people continues.
She is also planning to collaborate with her “brothers” David and Sika again on further projects.
“Watch this space everyone,” she says.
Visit HERE to purchase Rise of the To'a.