Southern representative for Kau Tulī Okirano Tilaia, 18, hails from Christchurch, where he is studying a range of first year courses at the University of Canterbury. Of Samoan heritage, Okirano is the eldest of three boys and leads by example.
In 2019, Okirano was a recipient of the Leadership and Inspiration award at the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards, after co-organising the vigil following the Christchurch mosque shootings.
Made up of six young Pacific leaders hailing from around New Zealand, Kau Tulī plays a key role in representing Pacific young people by claiming a seat at the table to help influence and shape decisions made for Pacific in Aotearoa.
The group aims to help inform and shape the Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ response to achieving goal four of Lalanga Fou and the Pacific Aotearoa vision of having Confident, Thriving and Resilient Pacific young people.
Q. Why did you want to get involved with Kau Tulī?
A. I mean why wouldn’t I? Who would turn down the opportunity to be part of a mahi that would empower, inspire, and support the amazing Pacific young people of Aotearoa? My passion has always been about putting our people first; building and sustaining confident, thriving, and resilient Pacific young people. I also saw this Kau Tulī initiative as an opportunity for me to grow as a leader so I can continue to help my local community and village. I know being immersed in a positive Pacific space with other creative and inspiring young people from across Aotearoa will expand my capability and strengthen my understanding of the Pacific vision and goals for the future of our people, especially our young people.
Q. What role have you played in the initiative?
A. Personally, I think my role has been to be a learner and a voice. Through this initiative, I have been learning more about who I am, where I come from, and how I can make a difference in my own community. I have learnt the importance of valuing my culture, but also valuing the special connection with other Pacific cultures (my brothers and sisters who share the vast ocean that unites us). I also believe my role has been to share my voice, to share my story and lived experience. I think this role has been fundamental for all six of the Kau Tulī members. We all have our own unique story to be shared and acknowledged.
Q. What outcomes do you hope to achieve with this Kau Tulī?
A. The main outcome I hope to achieve with this initiative is really to establish a platform for all Pacific young people to thrive and have the freedom to define their own success in an ever-changing world. It is such a blessing to be where I am today, and I just hope I can build and sustain a future where all Pacific young people can be proud to live and conquer their dreams and goals. More importantly, a future where success is defined within and not by the world outside of us.
Q. Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
A. In five years, I hope to have graduated from university. More importantly, I hope to see myself in a space where I am more confident, self-aware, and courageous to go out in the world and be ME. After completing my degree, I hope to land myself an opportunity in the international diplomacy realm; my studies have been focused on people and society and I hope I can work in a space where I can learn more about people from all walks of life and make a difference in every interaction and conversation I have. Five years is a long time and so much can happen, so I want to continue to be open-minded and trust that God has a great plan. Jeremiah 29:11