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Future Leaders of Oceania (FLO) Scholarship winner: Melisa Fotu

The Future Leaders of Oceania (FLO) Scholarship is the first ever Pacific scholarship for Wintec kaimahi and Melisa Fotu, Kaiārahi - Pacific (community and partnership), is Wintec’s first recipient.

The scholarship recognises the aspirations of developing emerging Pacific leaders and its name acknowledges  the scope and breadth of its geographical reach. The scholarship supports the objective of leadership and governance growth in the existing Pacific strategy and is an initiative in Wintec's Pacific Equity plan.

The objective of the FLO Scholarship is to encourage the development of Pacific leadership in tertiary education, through the provision of opportunities for advanced professional development. It is designed to recognise Pacific kaimahi with leadership potential.

The scholarship has a maximum value of $15,000 to go towards their development and one week’s additional professional development leave.

We recently caught up with Melisa to learn why she applied, what she wants to achieve with the scholarship and what winning means to her.

What made you want to apply for this scholarship?

I wanted to apply to get support for the research I’m going to be looking at. When I’m applying for a scholarship or any sort of support, I’m always considering how this opportunity is going to support my family, community and myself. I was nervous to apply yet I had strong advocates who told me lovingly to apply regardless.

What do you want to achieve with the scholarship?

The area of research I’m looking at is Pacific Women’s Health, focusing on breast cancer. Our family lost our mum to breast cancer 21 years ago and I am also a vaine (woman), who is now in remission of breast cancer. Through my mums experience we learnt so much regarding our health system, from what was available then, and through my experience I’ve learnt about what’s available now. That is the real driving force for me.

Our medical and community support is so much more advanced now and what we didn’t know back then, has given us the opportunity to be proactive in the present. My fānau/Kopu tangata have learned to make sure we are fully informed, and we’ve become big advocates of making sure our families, especially the vaine are aware of how to complete self-checks and get regular mammograms and to listen to their bodies when they feel it’s telling them something needs loving attention. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, for peace of mind. 

This is something that is not always talked about in our communities, and I want to be part of how we look at solutions, prevention and awareness. Not to say it’s not there, and more so to bridge these services in a culturally appropriate manner, with our vaine who need it most. 

I would love for there to be a resource that could be published that highlights the early stages of signs and symptoms and how that can be a way of guiding families to what can happen. 

Also, another resource to support the supporting members of our communities, the fānau/Kopu tangata who are also going through this journey with their grandma, mum, daughter, wives, nieces, granddaughters, partner or friend etc. 

These champions often get overlooked and don’t receive the support they need. I feel the significance in my own experience with my mum, my loving partner and my girls. The way they cared, gave me space, clothed me, took initiative, mobilising community, nurturing my spiritual, physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, was the recipe to my successful recovery. We didn't have anything to prepare us for this experience, we just lived through it and got on with it. I would like to share strategies that helped our family, to people in these circumstances, in passing our aro’a along.

What does winning it mean to you?

This isn’t just for me, it’s for my family, HAMCIA community, Pacific and it’s bigger than that too. I think about how my girls have me, and I want them to look up to me and think our mum is a survivor of breast cancer, but she’s also the first one to win a scholarship like this. There is an inner leader in me that I want my daughters to see and feel proud to call their mother. I learnt this leadership from my own mother, who allowed me to step into my own leadership style. This is what I want for my daughters and all the daughters of the Pacific.

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