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Pasifika scholarship winners aim to address inequality in NZ health system

Four Pacific health students with a passion for social justice are the recipients of the inaugural Leaupepe Elisapeta (Peta) Karalus Scholarship at Wintec

The recipients of the inaugural Leaupepe Elisapeta (Peta) Karalus Scholarship at Wintec (left to right) Wintec Chief Executive David Christiansen, Tia Mihaere, recipient Jeremii Lavasi’i’s brother Chris Lavasi’i, Ioana Marsters, Merelita Momo and Peta Karalus. Photo by Stephen Barker.

Four Pacific health students with a passion for social justice are the recipients of the inaugural Leaupepe Elisapeta (Peta) Karalus Scholarship at Wintec, Hamilton.

Named after respected Pasifika health practitioner and advocate Leaupepe Peta Karalus, the scholarship is a recognition of her significant contribution to Pasifika communities in the Waikato.

Announced late last year, the scholarship shows a commitment from Wintec to creating more opportunities for Pasifika learners to study with fewer obstacles.

Ioana Marsters (Cook Islands), Merelita Momo (Fiji), Tia Mihaere (Kiribati and Māori), and Jeremii Lavasi’i (Samoa), are each the recipients of the scholarship that pays for tuition fees to complete a degree in the areas of health and social practice at Wintec.

The value of each award varies but is on average equal to the total sum of $30,000 per annum.

Awardees were chosen on the merit of their application, personal character, desire to achieve degree-level study and their involvement in cultural and community life.

The four award winners were formally recognised at a Pasifika community, staff and students’ fono held at Wintec on Wednesday. Karalus was present at the ceremony to meet the recipients of the scholarship and to present them with their awards.

Wintec Chief Executive David Christiansen spoke at the event about the barriers that Pasifika students have and continue to face in the New Zealand education system.  With the introduction of the scholarship, it is just one way that Wintec is working towards equity and better outcomes for its Pasifika students and their communities.

Recipient Ioana Marsters is using her scholarship to pursue a Bachelor of Social Work, where she hopes to contribute to the future of Pasifika communities and to address the inequalities many Pacific Islanders face in the health system.

“My personal motivation for choosing social work as a career centres around a strong sense of social justice that has been instilled in me by my parents and extended whānau,” says Marsters, whose mother was also a nurse.

“I have a particular interest in addressing the inequalities I have seen Pasifika families struggle with. Advocacy and support seem to be hard to access for many families who struggle to navigate the complex health system.”

Imbued with a similar sense of justice is Merelita Momo, who is studying in the Bachelor of Nursing programme.

“I have a strong urge to care and help those who are vulnerable,” explains Momo.

“I want to use my abilities to continue to help anyone that is vulnerable. I’m inspired to go into a career where I can constantly help people overcome problems, and to work towards building a stronger and healthier community.”

Tia Mihaere, who mother was also a nurse, is a proud member of her I-Kiribati community, and has strong connection to both her Kiribati and Māori heritage, “walking tall in both worlds” as she describes it.

Mihaere, who is enrolled in the Bachelor of Nursing programme, says that “although the health system works hard to meet the needs of all, I see a disparity and misrepresentation in the workforce for a lot of Pasifika and Māori people.”

“In becoming a nurse, I aim to create awareness, offer excellence and connect further with my community,” she adds.

For Jeremii Pauletta Lavasi’i, who is also enrolled in the Bachelor of Nursing programme, receiving the scholarship will create a better environment for him to pursue study and to focus on spending time with his family, something that he hasn’t been able to do as much from having to work to fund his studies.

He says his “ultimate goal is to work in the community as a public health nurse and to use the skills I have learned in my community.”

Three of the recipients began their first year of study this year, and one student is already part way through their degree.

Applications for the next round of the Leaupepe Elisapeta (Peta) Karalus Scholarships open in June this year.

Discover more about studying  Health and Social Practice at Wintec.

Read more:
eLearning programme changing how STEM is taught in the Pacific
New scholarships enable Māori health professionals to earn while they learn

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