Pacific Pioneers of Social Services

 

This page is dedicated to telling the stories of the Pacific People who founded, started and influenced Pacific Social Services in Auckland/Aotearoa.  

Fa'amausili Tuilimu Su'a Magele Brown


 

  • Founder of "O Le Lafitaga Trust"

  • 2001 - She received a Queens service medal in for her services to the community. In the same year she was appointed a Justice of The Peace in New Zealand

  • 2002 she moved to start-up “O le Lafitaga” in Samoa.

  • 2004 she became a judge in Samoa at the Land and Titles Court. 

  • She is the first Samoan woman to become the Deputy President for the Land and Titles Court

  • Is currently a consultant in Samoa and lives in Vailele

In February of 2017, Fonua Ola's Executive Director Wesley Tala'imanu had the opportunity interview Mrs Brown, a key pioneer for the establishment of a Pasefika organistion in the social services sector. Upon her visit, they discussed a range of topics around how "O Le Lafitaga" came in to existence, as well as how it paved a way for other Pasefika social service providers. The following transcript is of her interview which took place on the 10th of February. 

"In 1988 I was working at Waikowhai school in the accounts department and often came across low-income families who I felt needed to assisted, supported, educated and trained. There was a large number of Pacific families within the community at that time, and there were several instances where Pacific parents were having trouble providing their children  basic school necessities to ensure that they were well equipped. These necessities included uniform, stationary, and even food.  I tried my best to assist low-income families by arranging to collect donations for uniforms and school fees, as well as educate parents around how to prepare proper meals for their children. At the time, I believed it was crucial for children to have proper lunches because a poor diet affects a child’s ability to retain information in class. I then began to further assists low-income families with issues that they faced outside of school, at times this would include speaking on their behalf to water and power companies to put payment plans in place so that families weren’t going without due to their financial situation. 

I was asked by the principal to further investigate why alot of Pacific students were not attending school, and a common issue that kept surfacing was the financial burden that the families carried because of the frequent occurrence of fa’alavelave. A lot of my work-time was spent attending to the needs of these families, and it then dawned on me that God had placed me in a position where I could assist families in different areas of their lives that they really struggled in.

I made a final decision to resign from my job and pursue a career in this field of work. The principal and the Board of Trustees called me in to a meeting and pleaded with me to stay. They said they would offer me any pay I’d like but I didn’t budge, they could have offered me a million dollars to stay and I would have declined the offer. I was firm in my decision to leave because I truly believed that I had an obligation and a calling from God to serve my people. My husband in particular was not happy with my decision to leave my job as we had a mortgage at the time– and he became increasingly frustrated because when I would go food shopping and distribute this food to the families I had been working with.

I then had to think about office space and how to go about securing an office-space. I applied to the council for a building behind the Foodtown in Mount Roskill, a lot of people had told me that my application would be unsuccessful because a lot of them had failed when they applied for the same building. I cheekily said to them, “Well watch me get it, I have friends in higher places”. My application was successful and I got the office in 1989. I had no resources at the time, so I went back to the principal of Waikowhai and I managed to get their old computer, calculators and carpet just to help me set up. I pondered on a name for the organisation, I asked the Lord and he gave me “The Refuge” which translates in to Samoan as “O Le Lafitaga”. God and I were the only workers at the time. As we progressed, I was fortunate to have other people come on board despite the fact we had little-to-no money, but had the same vision to help better our community and its people. The work we were doing was amazing.

A lot of our work was carried out in Central Auckland, Mount Roskill and Onehunga. We provided counselling, budgeting and social work. We would also did hospital visits, put together food-parcels, and set-up a furniture bank in 1992. The furniture was made available to low-income families and refugees also – this was the first thing of its kind to be set-up by a Pacific Island organisation. Later on we organised motivational programmes within three high schools in Mt Roskill, Lynfield and Onehunga. Efeso Collins is my nephew, so I’d get him and another guy to come in and motivate these young people, our programmes gained a lot of attention from people of other ethnicities who then wanted to become involved with what we were doing. Some of the other things we ran included Christmas programmes for children, as well as a social senior’s group. We would hold a fiafia night and invite all of the Pacific Organsiation that we worked alongside, as well as politicians of the area, to come together to celebrate and acknowledge the work that had been done throughout the year. We also ran nutrition programmes to teach how to make good food choices for the kids lunches rather than buying unhealthy food from school.

I think we had close to 1700 people coming in for help, we tried to find different ways to create employment for some of our clients by assigning them with jobs within the work that we were doing just so they had a bit more income. My niece was a secretary for a lawyer, but she left her job to come and help me out – and sometimes her and I would get as little as $30 or $40 a week each. I was very passionate about helping our Pacific people, especially those who had just come from overseas because they weren’t eligible to get money if they hadn’t been here long enough. They needed money to get by! I almost lost two cars in the process because I had next to no-income. I carried out the work that I was doing for the peoples benefit, to see them rise and come up. In 2001 I went to Samoa and I felt that God was calling me back there. Since living in Samoa I have worked within the prison and in schools, and I always encourage the kids in to do well and to help their parents, as well as aim to contribute to Samoa. I felt that I had a calling from God to go back so I left my family and moved over with only my 15 year-old daughter at the time who is now a doctor, but I was enriched and fulfilled by working in a field that I felt hugely benefited the people."