Creating a sense of belonging

22 February 2023

Sina Latu can't sleep at night knowing there's an opportunity for her to enrich her community and not do anything about it. A full-time social worker by day, Sina's evenings are filled with supporting her kāinga.

Creating a sense of belonging – Tongan Society South Canterbury (transcript)

What started as a support group for a few young Tongans has grown into the Tongan Society South Canterbury, with more than 200 members.

In the beginning, Sina and her husband would host informal get-togethers and barbecues for the Tongan boys who came to Timaru on a rugby scholarship.

"We needed something where we can feel we belong. A group where we can feel we're connected, that this is us, this is who we are, we're Tongans and this is our group," says Sina.

"Pauline, now the Tongan Society president and I decided to call a meeting with our . We learned that this is what we all want – everyone thinks it's a good idea."

Using a 'roll out the mat' framework and regular , the society now runs a wide range of programmes each created in response to the community.

Group of children dancing in traditional Tongan outfits
Group of children dancing in traditional Tongan outfits

No one is left behind

The sessions take place once a week after school for the children to learn about Tongan language and culture.

The youth have , sports, games nights, and a programme to help them get their driver's license. Thirteen out of seventeen teenagers achieved their driver's license by the end of 2022.

"The youth tell us what they want and we are here to support that. The driver's license gives our youth independence and boosts their self-esteem. They can also help their parents with transport."

"It also ensures they are driving legally, keeps them safe and out of trouble. As a youth justice social worker, I don't want to see them end up in the system because of a silly mistake."

The women’s wellness workshops provide a space for women to connect, learn about women's health and develop new skills like sewing, weaving and crafting.

"We know that the women are the most isolated people in our family – the men go to work and the women stay home to look after the children, so we do the women’s wellness workshop to help them get out of the home, connect and feel valued."

Weekly kava sessions are a space for men to about topics, including mental health. They also run a healthy families campaign and a men's veggie garden programme.

Sina Latu smiling
Sina Latu smiling

We know our community, we know the needs, we know the solution. Everything we do, we do as a family, together.

Sina Latu

“Time waits for no man, our children are growing”

Tākai funding has supported the society to grow initiatives that focus on the wellbeing of their , incorporating positive parenting. Sina hopes to increase the reach of the society to continue supporting the growing Tongan community in South Canterbury.

"Seeing the confidence growing in people and everyone getting together to celebrate, it's worth all the running around and the crazy work, everything it's worth it."

"I feel we have helped our future – among our youth is the next leader of our society who will learn and grow over the next five to ten years before they carry on what we have started."

Do you have a great idea?

This community project was made possible with support from the Tākai Local Initiative Fund. Get in touch if you have a great idea to make positive change for whānau in your community.

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