Rosie’s leaf of Faith
When a Pacific family arrives in New Plymouth and connects with Aere Tai’s local provider the Vaimoana Pasifika Charitable Trust, there’s a good chance Fijian Rosie Belau will be there to welcome them with a bunch of taro leaves.
Rosie arrived in New Zealand in 2001 and first settled in Auckland, where she was able to buy taro from the local markets. When she came to settle in New Plymouth, she thought it would be too cold for taro to grow – and she was partly right.
“You can’t grow the actual taro (the root crop) but you can grow the taro leaves,” she says.
Rosie admits the leaves were usually thrown away, until her mid-wife told her they are a great source of iron.
Once she learnt how to cook them (by either boiling or steaming) she used the Vaimoana Trust’s back garden to grow them in abundance and give to Pacific families coming to the region as part of their welcoming. In fact, if they have room for a garden, she encourages them to plant taro at the homes they’re staying in.
It’s just one of the ways Vaimoana makes them feel welcome.
“A lot of Pacific families arrive in Taranaki not knowing if there is a Pacific community they can connect to,” she says.
“But once they know about Vaimoana, they know they can be part of an organisation that understands and can help them, whether it’s dealing with Inland Revenue or finding skills and trades courses they can enrol in or just some of the education and language courses which are run here at Vaimoana.”
Rosie’s move to the region for employment opportunities reflects the growing diversity of the Pacific population.
Whereas the original Pacific pioneers to Taranaki were predominantly Samoan, with many from Wellington, more recent migrants have tended to come from Auckland with a strong Fijian presence.
Undoubtedly its most celebrated Fijian is rugby star Waisake Naholo, who first came to the region in 2011 to play for the Taranaki provincial side. Rosie says Waisake is a local legend, particularly after starring in the Naki’s first National Provincial Championship triumph in 2014 and making the All Blacks – although it ended cruelly when he broke a leg on his debut against Argentina which ended his World Cup dreams.
Despite the wealth of the province in recent years thanks to its natural gas and dairy sectors, Rosie admits being off the main track can create a sense of isolation from the rest of New Zealand.
But being part of the Aere Tai Midlands Pacific Collective provides a huge boost to the organisation.
“It is very exciting to be able to be part of it, particularly when you see some of the work done by Pacific providers around the region,” she says.
“There is some excellent work being done by K’aute Pasifika, the lead provider in Hamilton, and others in Tauranga, Gisborne, the Hawke’s Bay and Tokoroa, which we can learn from. Being able to share our knowledge and resources can only benefit us.”
And what makes Rosie particularly proud is the way those who lead the Taranaki Vaimoana Pasifika Charitable Trust, namely secretary Itamua Mataiva (Iva) Robertson and her husband and treasurer Taotua Namulau’ulu Joshua (Josh), do their work behind the scenes without fuss or fanfare.