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By Dr Timote M. Vaioleti, founding and current chair of IMPAECT*
Over the last ten years and up to 2019, IMPAECT* (Indigenous Māori and Pacific Adult Education Charitable Trust) was engaged in a culturally based adult learning process with a group of seasonal workers from Tonga, to make their experiences in New Zealand less daunting and more constructive while at the same time keeping their ambitions and those of their families in mind. The Government introduced the Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) scheme in 2007, a seasonal labour strategy allowing for the temporary entry of migrant workers in the horticulture and vinicultural industries, with a preference for workers from the Pacific nations. Workers are able to remain in New Zealand for up to seven months unless they come from distant countries such as Kiribati and Tuvalu in which case, they can stay for nine months.

IMPAECT* recruited workers from Tonga for Kono Horticulture (a subsidiary company of Wakatū Inc) based in Motueka which was the only Māori business in the RSE scheme. Drawing successfully on culture, IMPAECT* established a fānau (children of, extended family)–centric pastoral model which was informed by the values of Kono Horticulture and enhanced by Tongan values and understandings. The model adhered to a leadership and management style which was traditional in nature, based on kinship, reciprocity and underpinned by collectivistic notions of support, a system well embedded in both Māori and Tongan cultures. From such reference points, the pastoral care model embraced not only the workers but also their families who remained in Tonga. In fact, families in Tonga were involved right from start as maintaining fānau cohesion with a family member being absent was of prime concern to IMPAECT*.

The above photo shows the Pou Awhina/fānau matriarch, Maleponi Taunaholo (front left), the RSE workers and their families in a hui for the fānau-centric pastoral care model to seek feedback for improvement before the RSE team leaves for New Zealand.

IMPAECT* is a Charitable Trust based in New Zealand and Tonga and has working relationships throughout the Pacific, Asia and Europe. It has contributed to the efforts of UNESCO and other NGOs towards the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Its constitutional objectives include advancing culturally appropriate development for both Māori and Pacific communities to achieve outcomes that are authentic to them.

In its 10-year RSE partnership with a Māori owned business, the model attracted attention from political and cultural leaders in New Zealand and Tonga.

Culture affirmed
Wakatū is an internationally recognised indigenous business of the land and sea with a considerable asset base. As a family business they value tikanga Māori. The workers are accepted as part of the extended family of the tribe (whanaungatanga), to engage in a reciprocal relationship of respect (manaakitanga), to value what the land produces as gifts (kaitiakitanga), to share in the many activities of the marae, and to uphold the reputation of the tribe (rangatiratanga). The terms of the relationship are set by creating understanding, providing information, and inviting an engagement based on honesty and accountability to each other (pono). A pōwhiri is held every year despite many workers being repeat workers. This ritual can be overwhelming; however, many workers become aware of its spiritual meaning and feel privileged to have been given such a welcome.

Tonga is a stratified society, and this is expressed in various cultural practices and behaviours. Its structures are often unseen, its language and honorific systems are complex and multiple layered. These layers include royalty, nobility, the elite, the religious sector, as well as age and gender. The integrity of individuals is maintained by vā, a relational space that separates while holding each together to maintain their individual integrity while still being an integral part of the coherent structure. These are the anga fakatonga or the Tongan being or Tongan philosophy. A Tongan person understands life and their role in it through these anga fakatonga lens. Anga fakatonga is a principal concept integral to the fānau-centric approach of our RSE programme.

The notion of fānau with its commonly understood rank and loyalty embedded in anga-fakatonga was the tool to lead, order routine, operations, relationships and shape work performances quickly. Leadership within the team was matriarchal led by the Pou Awhina who had the respect not only of the workers but also of the families in Tonga as well as the employer. Every evening following the work day, the Pou Awhina would call the workers together to share in the evening meal together. This is followed by reflection, prayers, and singing, a time known as lotu faka-famili (family prayer), a guided sharing which encourages the workers to reflect on their day, their insights, new learnings, and challenges. Through ongoing sharing then the group is able to strengthen, share concerns, and find resolutions to potential problems.

In addition, IMPAECT* drew on the work of Vaioleti (20111) on cultural indicators for success in previous Tongan projects to form a framework from which the workers were expected to fulfil, these being:

  1. ‘ofa, love and its subgroups “mafana/warmth” which drives ‘ofa to action
  2. faka’apa’apa, respect
  3. feveitokai’aki, reciprocity
  4. lototō, humility
  5. feongoongoi, transparency and accountability
  6. fatongia, one’s role, duty, or obligation to family and community
  7. ako, to learn or to teach

These values were base competencies that should lead to the workers have a willingness to learn fast, a level of tenacity to stay on task given the newness of most activities and approaches, willingness to be a team player, resourcefulness, loyalty to the employing host as well as to IMPAECT*’s on the ground feingainga/ mehikitanga (matriarchal) leadership.

Ako allowed the workers to settle into routines in the workplace and their recreated fānau (family). This is a vital stage and the point of intersection of the workers to merge to create a common and cohesive fānau and workforce for the next seven months. The worker composition may have heads of families or be from different distinctive groups of the Tongan hierarchical structures but must adjust to routines expected by IMPAECT* and the business character of the employer/s. Continuing contextual application of the above values in the RSE group’s employment and domestic activities promotes tauhi e vā (to maintain the symbolic space to provide balance and state of harmony) between individuals, groups, and with Kono Ltd the employer.

The IMPAECT* leadership within the group would apply the above values throughout the period of RSE work in Motueka. They were regarded as vital for productivity, quality work outcomes, and maximization of the workers income each year. With the above values as an umbrella, this framework became the principal underpinning that held and regulated their relationships in a new land, new values and systems. An emphasis on cooperation and collaboration is paramount and fundamental to Tongan society as is the obligation to their collective kin (kāinga) whether they be based in New Zealand or in Tonga.

1 Vaioleti TM (2011) Talanoa, Manulua and Founga Ako: frameworks for using enduring Tongan educational ideas for education in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton