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Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai honoured at Pacific Welcome

Wednesday, 15 March 2017 10:12pm

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Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai performs an acceptance dance, after receiving a Special Acknowledgement from the Division of Health Sciences, University of Otago for her contributions to the Pacific community.

Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai is simultaneously passionate and humble about the work she does as Manager of the University of Otago’s Pacific Islands Centre; indeed she believes so strongly that her work is a team effort that she felt uncomfortable being singled out for a special honour last month.

Tofilau received a Special Acknowledgement for a member of University staff for their significant contribution to the Pacific students’ community at the Division of Health Sciences and to the community at large.

"It means that WE are doing a great job – everyone who has enabled the Pacific Islands Centre to provide for Pacific students, their families and their communities."

The award was presented during the formal welcome to Otago’s Pacific Island Health Science Students at the Hunter Centre – and Tofilau performed a moving acceptance dance. Although this was led from Health Sciences, students from all Divisions and wider community attended, as her work and commitments extend beyond Health Sciences.

For Tofilau, the award is for everyone.

“It means that WE are doing a great job – everyone who has enabled the Pacific Islands Centre to provide for Pacific students, their families and their communities.

“I seriously considered not turning up but I am proud I did – to acknowledge the wonderful journey. It has been an awesome journey and I truly was blessed to have all those wonderful people, University leaders, community leaders, students over the years – man, we have some wonderful stories about that journey, what a journey and we worked together and this was for all of them!”

Associate Dean (Pacific) Health Sciences Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga says Tofilau has become the “Pacific face of the University of Otago” for Pacific families who wish to know more about what the University has to offer.

“She has led the development of pathways which have made Otago feel more accessible for Pacific students, including the Pacific On-Campus Experience programme for high school students, the Pacific Leaders on Campus experience, the University of Otago homework programme in Auckland and Dunedin schools, the University’s Pacific Welcome ceremony, and many more.

"Even when she is on holiday in the Pacific Islands and around New Zealand parents and students seek her out for advice, so really she has no holiday even then!"

“Even when she is on holiday in the Pacific Islands and around New Zealand parents and students seek her out for advice, so really she has no holiday even then!”

Tofilau, who moved her family to Dunedin far from their own community in Auckland in 2002 in order to take up her role as Manager of the Pacific Islands Centre, believes her work is her calling. She holds a high chief title from Samoa and is highly regarded in her community.

“I am passionate about Pacific success and the holistic support we provide here at Otago is the formula for Pacific success.

“A sincere thank you to everyone who has assisted me, taught me, journeyed with me. We still have lots of work to do so onwards we march and I would like to acknowledge the Health Sciences Division and the local Council of Samoan chiefs for the honour. Not unto us o Lord, not unto us.”