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Samoan student lives her dream as she strives to become third generation pharmacist

Friday, 3 June 2016

Leah with dads class photo at school of pharmacy 418
Following in his footsteps: Pharmacy student Leah Mualia holds a photograph of her grandfather’s graduating class from the Otago School of Pharmacy.

Student Leah Mualia is inspired to become a pharmacist by her grandfather, a Samoan pharmacist and Otago graduate.

“He’s worked so hard all his life,” Leah explains of her 71-year-old grandfather, Le Mamea Ropati Mualia. “He’s the reason I get up every morning; he once told me ‘Leah, you have to work hard if you want to reach your goals; if you have a dream you have to chase it’.”

The honourable Le Mamea returned to Samoa on a Government scholarship after graduating from Otago University in 1970 and established his own community pharmacies, MultiPharm Ltd, in Sogi and Apia. His son, Mathew – Leah’s father – also followed the family tradition, though he studied at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.

Although she grew up in an apartment above one of the pharmacies in Sogi, Leah says it was not until recent years that she decided she wanted to become a pharmacist.
Now that she is on her way to become a third generation pharmacist Leah is humble in her appreciation of the opportunity she has been given.

“I’m so grateful and humbled and thankful for this opportunity, because there are a lot of kids my generation who would do anything to get into a health science.”
She is loving every minute of her studies. “I love it, I love learning, I love the lecture theatres, I’m enjoying the classes, I’m surrounded by great people.

“Every time I walk into the lecture theatre I’m like ‘is this real?’, I can’t believe it, it is my dream.”

The honourable Le Mamea has become a leading figurehead in the Samoan community, a politician for several years he was most recently appointed a member of the Council of Deputies, the equivalent of deputy prime minister in New Zealand.

He came from a modest background and worked hard during his time at Otago University to ensure he was successful and could provide a good life for his family, Leah says.
His work ethic has been top of Leah’s mind throughout her health science studies last year as she was determined to make the most of her opportunity and to gain entry into the School of Pharmacy.

She also credits her older sister Christina’s support in helping her achieve her goal. Christina (22) graduates with a Bachelor of Science majoring in microbiology from Otago University this year.

“She was the one that pushed me last year, if I wanted to go out with my friends she told me I would have to stay and study; she had her eyes on my back, she was the one that pushed me.”

Leah says there are very few pharmacists in Samoa and with a population with generally low economic status and poor health, she hopes to eventually return to her homeland and like her grandfather and father before her, care for her people.

Article written by Liane Topham-Kindley for PharmacyToday, June 2016

Photographs by Rewa Pene