K'aute Pasifika founder Peta Karalus went from homesick nursing trainee to honoured Pasifika leader
She started her life in New Zealand as a painfully homesick teenager at nursing school.
Decades later, Leaupepe Peta Karalus set up Pasifika-focussed service K'aute Pasifika in Hamilton, and led the development of a network around it.
She is now a well-known Pasifika leader in the Waikato, holds a high chief title - Leaupepe, and has just collected an honorary fellowship from Wintec.
Karalus accepted the honour in traditional Samoan attire at a graduation ceremony at Hamilton's Claudelands Events Centre on Wednesday afternoon.
She'd successfully applied for a New Zealand Government Nursing Scholarship but cried for weeks at her Hawke's Bay nursing school.
There was different food, it was her first time away from home and having her own room - though colleagues found one other Pasifika lady in Hawke's Bay to introduce her to.
In her final year, she met her husband, Dr Pauli Noel Karalus when she called for a doctor after a patient collapsed.
A trip back to Samoa in 1980 turned into a three-year stint working there, as the pair couldn't leave until Peta had served her bond.
Scarcity of doctors and resources meant Samoan nurses did things like stitching wounds and innovating, she said in her graduation speech.
"It was without a doubt the best time of my nursing career."
The Karaluses then returned to New Zealand and worked at Waikato Hospital.
The couple had nine children together, and over the years Peta completed a Bachelor and Master's degree, and tutored nursing at Wintec.
But poor health statistics for Pasifika tugged at her attention, leading her to create K'aute Pasifika with local Pasifika communities in 1999.
She led the organisation for 18 years before her daughter, Rachel Karalus, took over.
It now provides health, social, and education services to more than 4000 Pasifika people around Hamilton.
In her graduation speech, Peta dedicated her acceptance of the award to her husband, and gave a hat tip to K'aute Pasifika chair Edgar Wilson, saying "no palagi has advocated more for Pasifika than him".
But health inequalities persist despite decades of work, Karalus said, and the time for talking and plans is over.
"Now, we want actions," she said. "Because people are dying, sometimes unnecessarily."
Earlier in her speech, she had acknowledged another ethnic community: those killed in the Christchurch mosques on March 15.
"Some people say 'This [attack] is not us'. But I say this is us," she said. "We just don't go out and shoot people with guns when we don't like the look of them. Instead, we use walls, fences, policies, police, silence, violence to exclude and control."
Other achievements on Karalus's list include leading creation of the Aere Tai Regional Collective and Network - which links Pasifika providers from Tauranga to Taranaki - and the education-focussed Pasifika Power Up Plus programme.
Her honours include a high chief title, Leaupepe, from the village of Fasito'outa, Samoa, and being made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2006.
While Peta said she questioned whether she was worthy of the Wintec Fellowship, Wintec chair Barry Harris said she had too many achievements to list.
The fellowship is one given to people who had not used traditional academic pathways, but who earned it by applying their knowledge and skill to help the wider community, he said.