E soso’o le fau le fau - connecting the fibre to another fibre.
December 5 2023
By Tofa Amanda Moors-Mailei
A Samoan alagaupu (proverb) 'E soso’o le fau le fau - connecting the fibre to another fibre'. This proverb illustrates how stronger bonds are made through connections. It speaks to the strength and unity found in the collective nature of our community and serves as metaphor for the work and vision of the Australian Pasifika Educators Network (APEN).
Our work is grounded in community collaboration, connection & relationships, unity and strength and most significantly tautua (service leadership).It's been a week since we delivered the inaugural (in-person) Australian Pasifika Educators Network conference. I’ve been reflecting on the stream of photos, social media posts & tags, emails and text messages we’ve received from participants that have been overwhelmingly positive, encouraging and motivating. I am filled with a profound sense of pride and inspiration for the future of APEN, Pasifika educators and learners in Australia.APEN Conference 2023For many of us, our journeys as educators are deeply grounded in our ancestral connections, our stories of migration and our love, commitment and tautua to our families and wider communities.
As the co-founder and co-chair of Australian Pasifika Educators Network and in my capacity as Manager, Policy and Advocacy (Student Equity) at the University of Technology Sydney Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion, this "work" is a natural extension of my personal and cultural beliefs and values. Much of my work involves championing racial justice, cultural safety, and culturally responsive pedagogy and practice in the facilitation of educational access schemes to create equitable pathways to higher education. I lean into the transformative ideas of renowned Tongan and Fijian writer and anthropologist Epeli Hau'ofa, who was pivotal in amplifying Pacific cultures and knowledges, his teachings have guided much of my thinking, feeling and doing of this work.Through APEN we continue to integrate Hau'ofa's vision of empowerment and communal stewardship alongside our lived experiences to reshape education for our communities.
These perspectives help us to address and challenge systemic inequalities in the Australian education system - that have disproportionately disadvantaged our communities. This combination really fosters an educational ethos where Pasifika educators and learners not only confront and understand systemic challenges but do this while embracing our rich cultural heritage, values and beliefs and understanding our critical global role. We want to cultivate an environment that empowers educators and learners with a sense of pride and responsibility, encouraging them to become active global citizens who value their unique identities and contributions to the world.
Oceania is vast, Oceania is expanding, Oceania is hospitable and generous, Oceania is humanity rising from the depths of brine and regions of fire deeper still, Oceania is us. We are the sea, we are the ocean.
– Professor ‘Epeli Hau’ofa (1939-2009)
The 2023 conference was an opportunity to shift the dial on practice and pedagogy when it comes to Pacific learners and communities. There was much talanoa (dialogue) about strengthening and uplifting of educators to collectivise our voices and change the way Australia does education.I personally felt invigorated by the exceptional lineup of panelists, keynote speakers, and guest speakers, each bringing a unique and inspiring energy that set the tone for our gathering. Each speaker, an expert in their respective fields, shared insightful perspectives and personal experiences that not only enlightened but also motivated us. Collectively, their contributions made the conference not just a gathering for knowledge exchange, but also a source of inspiration and empowerment for all attendees.
Today’s event was so heart warming, engaging, inspiring and meaningful. I left the event feeling motivated and challenged and spent the commute home thinking about the ways in which I as an educator can make more of an impact in my work with children in the early years and their families.
~ Sela Atiola. APEN Conference participant.
Pro Vice-Chancellor, Engagement and Advancement Professor Alphia Possamai-Inesedy spoke to Western Sydney University’s commitment to Pacific people through various programs and initiatives, including the Pasifika Achievement to Higher Education (PATHE) program which collaborates with schools, students, and the community. She added that the PATHE Academic Scholarship, collecting specific Pasifika and Māori identifier, the establishment of the WSU Pacific Reference Group, support for the development and delivery of the annual Australian Universities Pacific Associations Conference, and implementing Talanoa wellbeing sessions since 2018 for student and community mental health, reinforced WSU’s commitment to the Pacific communities. Malaemie Fruean OAM, Chairperson of the NSW Council for Pacific Communities spoke to the crucial role of collaborative efforts in education and community building, emphasising the strength and unity of the Pasifika communities. She acknowledged our connections to and stressed the value of, shared experiences with Australian First Nations peoples and aspirations in forging a resilient and inclusive future together.
L-R: 'Alopi Latukefu, Prof. Katerina Teaiwa, Dr Vaoiva Natapu-Ponton, Charlie Palupe, Sione Teisi.
Our keynote speakers, Professor Katerina Teaiwa, School of Culture, History & Language; Vice-President, Australian Association for Pacific Studies shared her experiences and insights on how we might reimagine collaborative practices to bridge cultural, academic, and community divides while ‘Alopi Latukefu, Director, The Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education addressed the synthesis of traditional Pacific education with contemporary global influences in creating educational frameworks that are inclusive, well-rounded but also adaptive to the rapid advancements in technology. Both speakers, weaved their personal narratives of migration, education, family, and those who influenced their lives and work, leaving us inspired and eager to hear more.
Charlie Palupe, Director, Strategic Governance Queensland Department of Education; Senior Research Fellow at Griffith University Pathways in Place Dr Vaoiva Natapu-Ponton and Thomas Reddall High School, Student Learning Support Officer, Sione Funaki Teisi joined the keynote speakers in a panel discussion that delved into government policy, equitable access to education, and the critical importance of wellbeing. They highlighted the challenges of preserving cultural identity, the quest for equity in education, and the need for advocacy to ensure representation and opportunities for Pasifika educators and learners. They emphasised the importance of service-oriented leadership and creating support systems for mental health and the critical role of self-care and well-being to maintain equilibrium to empower oneself to uplift others. This rich dialogue underscored the unique intersection of policy, identity, community support, and empowerment in the Pasifika context.
“You can't help others, if you can't help yourself, you have nothing for others if you're not healthy, if you're not eating right, if you're not sleeping enough” Prof. Katerina Teaiwa,
APEN Conference Keynote speakers.In the lead up to the conference, we challenged participants to engage in our virtual Jamboard, then on arrival and throughout the day, share their ideas using post-it notes on the Vision Board. The idea was to help participants to shift into a mindset of reflective and forward-thinking ideation, strategising and solution-focused talanoa. We asked them to contribute their insights and experiences on four provocations.
Imagine a future where Pasifika educational methods are integrated into mainstream Australian education looks like. What changes would we see, and how would this transform the learning experience for all students?
How can we bridge the gap between traditional Pacific knowledge and contemporary educational practices to create a more inclusive and diverse learning environment?
What role can technology play in enhancing Pasifika educational connections, and how do we ensure it respects and amplifies the unique cultural values of the Pasifika community?
In what ways can educators and policymakers work together to ensure that the voices and needs of the Pasifika community are not just heard but actively shape educational policies and practices?
APEN Conference Vision board
The incredible conference workshops featured a diverse range of topics and presenters, each deeply entrenched in Pacific methodologies and focused on empowering the Pasifika learners and community in educational contexts. Educators encompassed a broad range of expertise from higher education academic researchers to practical in-school programs, and innovative digital creations and technology. This range highlighted the multifaceted nature of educational approaches, showcasing how various sectors innovate and collaborate to contribute to the enrichment and empowerment of the Pasifika community through education. As a Pasifika educator, I was especially proud that the all presentations contributed significantly to the broader goal of empowering the Pasifika community through education in ways that respects and reflects their cultural heritage, values and perspectives.
..I eagerly anticipated the event and went home exhausted, content, and with a head full of new ideas. ..I spent the weekend reflecting on all of the things I had learnt. I really appreciated the opportunities to engage and share ideas with a diverse and knowledgeable collection of people. I was really torn between which workshop to attend. I would have loved to have gone to all of them. ~ Giorgio Di Scala, APEN Conference participant.
While there was rich talanoa about the challenges and triumphs of being Pasifika educators in Australia, participants also shared their ideas on advancing access and meaningful participation in education for learners. They emphasised the importance of culturally responsive practice and challenging dominant narratives in the Australian education systems. The solutions, ideas and further provocations were truly about nurturing a future where every learner and every community thrives in Australian society.The inaugural in-person conference of the Australian Pasifika Educators Network has set a powerful precedent, demonstrating the incredible mana (energy, spirit) of unity and collaboration our people have in education in Australia. By sharing our diverse stories and working together towards shared objectives, we are creating new narratives, we are writing our own stories, from a place of strength, resilience and alofa (love).
We have a renewed spirit, a clear vision, and a definitive purpose as we enter 2024 and beyond. We are prepared to take on challenges and will continue with our goals to enact positive change with and for our communities in Australia.