Elena is heading home tell her people’s stories before they are lost
Wintec graduate Elena Pasilio (left) with her journalism classmates at Wintec, and tutor Charles Riddle (centre).
Elena Pasilio has a dream. The recent Wintec graduate and journalist wants to tell the stories of her home, Tokelau, through journalism.
Born and raised in Nukunonu, Tokelau, Pasilio moved to Hamilton, New Zealand with her husband and 8-month-old baby, to study the New Zealand Diploma in Journalism this year funded through a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade scholarship.
“It’s a short-term training scholarship for people to study in New Zealand. Mine was for a year. You sign a contract that says you will go back home upon finishing your studies.
“It’s about taking those new skills and training back to your home and applying it there.”
Pasilio’s passion is telling the stories and histories of her culture. With an overall population of only 1,500 people, and a population of around 400 on Pasilio’s island of Nukunonu, recording these stories is especially important.
Not only is the population very small, but Tokelau is traditionally an oral culture, and Pasilio says that if no one writes these stories down, they’ll get lost.
“In Tokelau we carry our history through stories. They’re spoken, passed down through our grandparents. They’re not written.
“I want to keep asking the elders about what they know. To jot their stories down before they pass on and leave with that knowledge.
“It doesn’t just have to be the histories and old stories either. It can be our everyday stories - because these stories will be history in the years to come.”
Although Pasilio has a natural affinity for storytelling and writing, it wasn’t always her first choice for a career.
“My island is very religious. My dad used to tell me I could be a nun, like his cousin Sister Kalameli. In Year 5, I made my mind up that I really wanted to be a nun. I held onto that for ages.
“After that I really wanted to be a teacher, because there was a shortage of teachers in Tokelau, and still is.”
After schooling abroad for several years though, Pasilio returned home and was employed as a journalist for a local newspaper.
“When the job for the newspaper came up I thought, wow, this could take my desire to tell our histories to another level.
“The media industry in Tokelau started up in the late 2000s, but it wasn’t until 2018 that we got our first newspaper. There’s a journalist called Fatu Tauafiafi based in Wellington and he’s a media specialist for the Tokelau National Office. He came to Nukunonu to help with the newspaper and he trained me, helped me gather my thoughts and taught me how to write a media release.”
Pasilio soon realised that this was the career she was made for. Tauafiafi told her about the MFAT scholarship and the Administrator of Tokelau Ross Ardern helped her with the application.
Before she knew it, she was on the long boat ride with her husband and child to Apia, Samoa, then on a plane to Hamilton, New Zealand. In January 2020, she began her diploma.
“I really enjoyed my time at Wintec. Charles Riddle [journalism tutor] is a legend. He was awesome and he really helped me with my studies.
“I have this problem where I am writing about a subject and I just go off course writing about something else! Charles really helped me align my thoughts this year and I learned lots from him. All the teachers were awesome though.
“Having my little family here with me helped me so much as well – they were my support system.”
Now that her diploma has finished, Pasilio is on the way back home.
“Tokelau is only accessible by boat. We have to quarantine in Samoa for two weeks and then travel home by boat for over 24 hours.”
She has clear plans for her future, building on the skills learned while studying journalism.
“This year taught me to step out of my comfort zone. Talking to other people in the media was really intimidating at first, but I’ve learned to be comfortable with it.
“Now that I’m going home, it’s so important to me to share our stories, for my own people and for the world. I want to utilise the connections I’ve found and help get Tokelau out there.”
“It's my home. I don’t see myself anywhere else. Our stories are unique and deserve to be heard.”
Find out more about studying the New Zealand Diploma of Journalism at Wintec.