Nestled in the walls of the University of Waikato is a safe space for Fijian students, where they can be themselves, speak their language, and carry-on cultural traditions, in what can be an intimidating environment.
Waikato University Fijian Students Association (WUFSA, pictured) is a small group, which President Esira Tulagi says was created to provide Fijian students with a space to embrace their culture on campus.
“We understand what we do is small, but every small action leads to greater change when it comes to promoting and nurturing the Fijian language and culture,” Esira says.
The Association is the proud recipient of the group category in the inaugural Fijian Language Champion Honours, awarded to WUFSA at the conclusion of Macawa ni Vosa Vakaviti - Fijian Language Week 2021.
This year signalled a year of transition for the Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ supported Pacific Language Weeks series, with changes including a themed approach, increased funding and announcing Language Champion Honours for each of the nine ethnic groups involved in the Language Weeks series.
Pacific communities expressed, through engagement with MPP, the need to acknowledge the significant contribution, service and leadership, made by Pacific pioneers, past and present, who had championed languages in Aotearoa.
Esira says to be recognised by MPP in this way is an incredible honour.
“This award signifies to us what we are doing is making a difference in our community and we only hope it inspires others to do the same - thank you very much to our Fijian community in Hamilton for nominating us and MPP for selecting us for the award for language champions.”
The student group has also linked up with the Fijian community in Hamilton, working together to organise events such as cultural workshops.
“During these workshops we educate the next generation of Fijians (who may not have grown up in Fiji) about the significance of our cultural traditions such as the Sevusevu ceremony,” Esira says.
“Cultural traditions and languages are a form of knowledge passed down through multiple generations.
“It would be a real shame to lose it and not pass it on to the next generation because we feel afraid to embrace our culture in Aotearoa.”