Q&A with new White Ribbon Ambassador Reverend Hana Popea
Otago Theology alumna and Presbyterian Church minister the Reverend Hana Popea has recently been named a White Ribbon Ambassador. Reverend Popea was born in Samoa and brings a Pasefika perspective to issues of family violence in Aotearoa New Zealand.
In this Q&A she shares her personal journey, her role as a White Ribbon Ambassador and her aims to create a church support network to help prevent and stop violence towards women and children.
White Ribbon Day, Friday 25 November, is the international day when people wear a white ribbon to show that they do not condone violence towards women. It was started by a men's movement in Canada in 1991 and has been officially adopted by the United Nations as its International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Firstly, can you share with us a little background about yourself?
I was born in Samoa, grew up in a Christian home with hard working parents (Popea and Mapu), and my precious nana, with my extended aiga (family) living in our village of Salelesi. My dad died when I was 11 years old, then my grandma passed away in 1988, so my mum raised six children on her own. Life was not the same for me without my dad – and my mum took care of us while fighting her own ill health. She's been a pillar of strength and a true inspiration to our family, as she taught and raised us with alofa (love), respect, reciprocity, resilience, cultural awareness and Christian faith. My older siblings were living in New Zealand when I got to college age, working to support our aiga in Samoa.
I started my studies at Samoa College in 1984, before migrating to New Zealand with my younger brother in 1986 – and we all lived in the best part of New Zealand, Dunedin . I worked for three years to earn money to assist with the costs of my studies at Logan Park High School, then moved on to study Science Technology and nursing at Otago Polytechnic. In 1991 I married Reverend George Mauigoa, a student from Malua Theological college who was studying for his PhD at Otago University. Following our wedding, we moved to Samoa where George served in the Samoan Congregational Church Religious Education sector and we both pursued Law through correspondence at the University of the South Pacific (Fiji).
Our son Migliore was born in 1993. At the time, George was unwell, and we were shocked by his sudden death a short while later. After George's funeral, my son and I returned to New Zealand in 1995 and settled back into our adopted hometown of Dunedin. But life was not the same again, with lots of grief and questions flooding my head – my life had been turned upside down. However, my faith, my heritage and my upbringing slowly helped me to develop, to adapt, to motivate and shape my new life as I grew into the woman I am now. In 2017 I married Reverend David Dell and we currently live in Karori, Wellington.
When did you first become interested in studying for a Bachelor of Theology?
In 1995 I started to explore options around furthering my studies and trying to find answers to my many questions. Although I was brought up in the church all my life, my understanding of God was somewhat limited. But questions about God were not encouraged with the pressing needs of working to fill bank deposit slips. The daily reality of living with suffering and death (my dad, my grandma and my late husband) undoubtedly constituted the greatest challenges to my faith. A faith which was not about the conquering of fear and doubt, but more about the courage to believe while living with my doubts and fears. Seeking understanding, while trying to find answers and healing, was what had drawn my interest to starting my studies in Theology at Otago University in 1996.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Theology in 2001, a DipGrad in 2002, a Post Graduate Diploma in Ministry in 2019 and I'm now working towards completing my Master of Ministry at Otago.
Do you have any special highlights from your university studies?
The amazing staff of the Theology department helped and guided me to succeed in my studies. It was at Otago University that I met my late husband and I still have many friends from there. I have learnt to budget well. I used to live on Leith Street south, so it only took two minutes for me to walk to the University – it was so very handy to everything, that I didn't need a car – and with my mum assisting with the home life of my son and I, it was great to be able to pour myself into my studies and work.
Did your studies at Otago help shape your career?
My studies at Otago have most definitely moulded, focussed, transformed and grown me as a person – and widened my horizons for what could be possible in my life. They provided me with the tools and the lens to explore and view the world at its best. My foundational studies, my experience with suffering through the deaths of close family members, and my relationships with God and other special people have helped me to mature in my faith, find healing and have shaped me and my career.
I completed my two years of formation studies at Knox in 2004 and was called into parish ministry in Wellington in 2005. I became one of the few Samoan female ministers to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ) – and I have lived out this calling for the last 17 years.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?
I love to see women, men and young people grow and flourish in their Christian faith as they develop their skills in leadership and learn to share their experiences and help to bring transformation into the lives of other people. I love to be part of a community where people respect one another, where they value the ordination and leadership of women, and where opportunities are not restricted by age, race, socio-economic standing or gender – and where study and new beginnings in life are inclusive and available for all.
You have recently taken on the role as White Ribbon Ambassador, can you explain what this entails and why it is important to you?
I am very humbled to be appointed to this role. I believe we all have responsibilities in making a stand to support the principles of the White Ribbon Campaign – and to be positive role models in conveying these principles and important messages around preventing violence towards women and children in the wider community in NZ.
White Ribbon Day, on 25 November, encourages us to wear a white ribbon and to recommit ourselves to the task of preventing family violence in our homes, schools, churches, sports clubs, universities, work environments and local communities. The annual White Ribbon campaign each year is a platform for New Zealanders and the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and to promote respectful relationship. And to be reminded of a moral principle that says, “treat others the way you want to be treated yourself”.
Family violence is at epidemic levels in our society and is among the leading causes of death through violence towards our women and tamariki. Violence and abuse against women and children is a violation and discrimination of their human rights and it has huge negative impacts on their health, wellbeing and opportunities in life. Raising awareness and breaking the cycle of violence and abuse against women and children can bring about hugely positive outcomes in them gaining their rights, finding respectful relationships, living with healing and freedom, and contributing in creating a safe and better society.
What do you hope you can achieve in the role, and how will you work towards those goals?
It is my hope that people will listen and not ignore this serious problem in our society. That I can motivate women and men to take an active role and partner with White Ribbon in raising awareness and understanding, and to play an active part in preventing the longterm impact of violence on the mental and spiritual health and wellbeing of women and children.
I have committed myself to working through my roles in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, and Pacific Island communities to help raise awareness, to write resources, to promote and communicate change, to offer training, to role model healthy relationships, to challenge policies, to stand up for those who are struggling to have a voice, and to do everything within my strength to make New Zealand a place where all people are respected and everyone has the right to strive to fulfil their potential and dreams.
Do you have any advice for students starting out at university or deciding on their path after their degree?
I feel like I am an advertisement for the old saying, “no pain, no gain”. Take advantage of all the opportunities you have, be positive, follow your dream and try your very best. Open yourself to new ideas and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Look for ways to enhance your current academic experience – and be prepared to be inspired to shift direction and to be led down new learning paths.
The scholar Patricia Cross wrote: “Learning is about making connections”. Two of the most useful things I learned as a student is to develop the ability to make connections from one subject or context to another, and to use this ability to make connections across diverse groups of people. So that when you step into the workforce or wherever you might find yourself, you'll be able to keep learning and keep reinventing yourself as you go.
Faafetai – soifua ma ia manuia.
Kōrero by Margie Clark, Development and Alumni Communications Adviser