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Milestone celebration as Pacific Office opens at Wellington campus

Monday 30 September 2019 2:49pm

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Wellington campus Associate Dean (Pacific) Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu (left) with Hon. Jenny Salesa on the evening of the University of Otago, Wellington Pacific Office opening in late July.


A formal ceremonial and multicultural celebration was held at the University of Otago, Wellington in July, to mark the official opening of the school’s first Pacific Office.

The special occasion brought together Pacific community representatives, health, education and public sector leaders, church and community leaders, government leaders and members of parliament, Pacific nation representatives and University of Otago leaders, health professionals, and staff and students past and present.

Guests were welcomed with a Mihi Whakatau led by the Rautaki Hononga Māori (Māori Strategic Framework Project Manager), Toa Waaka, followed by a celebration in honour of the many Pacific nations that were represented. Blessings were offered by Pastor Kwan Matautia and Reverend Vaegaau (Au) Liko, with cultural performances from the Polynesian Club at local high school, St Catherine’s College, from Lesieli Latu and Teisa Latu, who performed a Tongan tau'olunga dance, and from vocalist Eden Iati.

"The University is also seeking to increase the numbers of Pacific staff members and support their professional development, in addition to encouraging stronger links with our Pacific communities within New Zealand, and also extending further into the Pacific region and beyond."

Speakers at the opening included the Associate Health and Education Minister and New Zealand’s first Tongan-born and Tongan-speaking Member of Parliament and Cabinet, Hon. Jenny Salesa, and the Minister for Pacific Peoples, Hon. Aupito Tofae Su’a William Sio. Opening remarks were given by the University Chancellor, Dr Royden Somerville QC, and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University’s Health Sciences Division Professor Paul Brunton.

The Dean and Head of the Wellington Campus, Professor Sunny Collings, says the School’s aim is to train increasing numbers of Pacific scientists, researchers and health professionals to help meet the health needs of the diverse Pacific communities in Wellington, New Zealand, and the Pacific.

“The University is also seeking to increase the numbers of Pacific staff members and support their professional development, in addition to encouraging stronger links with our Pacific communities within New Zealand, and also extending further into the Pacific region and beyond.”

Associate Dean (Pacific) Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu, who heads the new Pacific Office in Wellington, says the University of Otago remains committed to supporting the training of a health workforce that is well-qualified to meet the health system demands in New Zealand and address the needs of its increasingly diverse population groups.

“The opening of the office is an acknowledgement of the strong and growing Pacific presence at the Wellington Medical School campus that includes fourth-, fifth- and sixth-year medical students, radiation and physiotherapy students and postgraduate students.

“It is also a physical space where staff can continue to focus on supporting Pacific students with their studies, with an emphasis on recruitment and retention, as well as the successful completion of their studies.”

Dr Sika-Paotonu says the opening demonstrates the school’s commitment to meeting the goals laid out in the University’s Pacific Strategic Framework: showing leadership on Pacific matters; encouraging Pacific research excellence; strengthening community engagement; promoting growth and development; and encouraging the development of Pacific curricula.

"You are providing a beacon for Pacific voyages and giving passage for Pacific navigators to thrive academically and in leadership roles at the University of Otago."

The Pacific Office is positioned within the Dean’s Department at the Wellington campus and is also supported by Pacific Mentoring Advisor, Tina Uiese, and the Pacific Undergraduate Programme Facilitator and Community Liaison Advisor, Sepola Poni Faavae.

The event also offered an opportunity to acknowledge the appointments of new Pacific staff members to the University’s Wellington campus: Aiono Professor Alec Ekeroma (Samoa) as Head of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Women’s Health; Dr Ruth Toumu’a (Papua New Guinea) as Teaching Fellow for the Higher Education Development Centre; and Ms Faavae (Tuvalu).

Pacific academic leaders from the University of Otago were also in attendance and included Associate Dean (Pacific) Health Sciences Division, and Head of the Va’a o Tautai Pacific Health group, Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga, Associate Dean (Pacific) at the University of Otago, Christchurch and President of the Pasifika Medical Association, Dr Kiki Maoate, Associate Dean Pacific (Sciences), Dr Mele Taumoepeau, Associate Dean Pacific (Commerce) Esmay Lemalu-Eteuati, Pacific Academic Staff Caucus (PASC) Chair and Pacific Research Fellow, Dr Ramona Tiatia, Senior Health Promotion Strategist, Dr Viliami Puloka, and Dr Telesia Kalavite from Te Tumu - the School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies.

The Hon. Alfred Ngaro and Agnes Loheni MP were also in attendance, together with the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University’s Sciences Division Professor Richard Barker, and former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University’s Health Sciences Division, Professor Peter Crampton.

Aiono Professor Ekeroma, who was welcomed at the evening, says the new office is a major win for Pasifika health and signals a commitment to growing the Pacific health workforce.

He offered his deep gratitude to University leaders for creating the Pacific Office.

“You are providing a beacon for Pacific voyages and giving passage for Pacific navigators to thrive academically and in leadership roles at the University of Otago,” he told those at the opening.

For more, take a look at the information distributed at the opening.