Trending at Number 1 in the New Zealand Twittersphere last week was an event partly organised by three University of Canterbury Pasifika students: Riki Welsh, Wesley Mauafu and Josiah Tualamali’i. Growing Pasifika Solutions for our young people #GPS2016 was held in Auckland on 21 and 22 April. The event brought together around 500 attendees, including a number of high profile Pasifika and mental health advocates, such as Sonny Bill Williams, Mike King, MTV host Krit Schmidt and comedian Tofiga Fepulea’I (Laughing Samoans), to talk about creating a flourishing future for Pasifika young people in New Zealand.
MBA student and Pacific Development Team member Riki Welsh shares how they got involved.
Just over a year ago we received an email from Le Va (a non-government organisation working with social services around the country to provide better delivery for Pasifika communities) asking for help to organise a small youth conference in Christchurch.
We accepted the challenge, ran the conference and impressed the Auckland based funders so much that they offered two of us (Riki and Wesley) positions on their organising group for a major conference being planned in 2016 and one of us (Josiah) a position on the board of their organisation that delivers millions of dollars of services every year. Naturally we all accepted.
Six months of planning, five trips to Auckland, multiple Skype meetings and phone calls, and in the blink of an eye the entire conference is finished and we’re left with a whole new energy, passion and promise from all sectors of New Zealand about the future of Pasifika young people in New Zealand.
We got involved with Le Va and the GPS conference because of our passion for Pasifika young people, but also because of the alarming rate of suicide by Pasifika young people in New Zealand. The leading cause of death for young people in New Zealand is suicide, worse than motor vehicle accidents. New Zealand is at the top of the OECD for death by suicides for young people and the horrifying thing for us is that Pasifika young people have the highest suicide attempts of all groups in New Zealand.
We all know someone who has died by suicide, so doing something proactive about it is so important to us. The GPS conference allowed for some extremely important conversations to take place. Never have we seen a conference where experts in the field present their research, which is then critiqued by Pasifika young people who were able to add real lived experiences of suicide attempts and self-harm to the research presented.
We feel like a national movement has been started and we hope that it leads to real change for the Pasifika people of Aotearoa.
While at the conference, Riki was interviewed by Tagata Pasifika. Check out the Tagata Pasifika story on the conference here, and a New Zealand Herald story about Riki and Wesley’s meeting with All Black superstar Sonny Bill Williams here.