Attendance at the ACE Hui Fono Regional Workshop in Alexandra, October 2021 provided an opportunity for Emma McLean from Central Otago REAP to explore opportunities within her community to bring people of all cultures together to share and celebrate the richness of diversity through dance, music, food and storytelling. Emma says the Hui Fono regional workshop was an opportunity to learn and connect with the Pasifika way, and it was inspiring.

Over the last 20 years Central Otago has evolved into a multi-cultural community, which creates an opportunity to embrace and learn from each other. The Pasifika community is an active and growing part of Central Otago and a vital component of Aotearoa’s seasonal workforce.

Following the Hui Fono regional workshop and a South East Asian Festival held in Alexandra, Heather Harries of Welcoming Communities and Emma collaborated to create more opportunities for the community to share culture and stories in a safe and welcoming environment. This was kicked-off with a Bollywood dance session. It demonstrated a thirst in the community to engage in such activities as the room was full of women of all ages and fitness abilities. It was also a profound experience for the dance tutor Manisha Gautam; she expressed a huge depth of gratitude to share her passion and skill with the community she was now living in and said it gave her a true sense of belonging.

Heather and Emma then approached long-term Central Otago resident and Pasifika Central leader Kusitina Colailago to see if she’d be keen to be involved in a Pasifika workshop. The answer was a resounding yes. Kusitina says that to embrace a community you must bring your culture and share yourself.

“Receiving an invitation like this opens a new understanding about each other and a sense of acceptance. Post Covid there has been a sense of vulnerability in the community and this event provided an opportunity to share our stories and strengthen our links.”

These discussions resulted in 30 people turning up and participating in a Pasifika dance class in Alexandra where there was a great deal of laughter, dance and shared food. Learners brought their smiles, wore lavalava over their clothing and leis around their necks as they learnt new dance moves, followed by cake made from cassava and coconut milk.

“The event was so valuable on many different levels,” reports Heather. “It was not only fun and engaging for those who attended, it was equally significant for the dance tutor Meraine Rotaria who works as a care worker at a local rest home.” The residents and carers from the home made up half of the participants, and this meant that Meraine was able to display her talent and culture with the residents who have only ever known her in uniform.

“Now they see her in a different light,” says Heather, “as they see the person behind the uniform.” Since the Pasifika dance workshop, Welcoming Communities and Central Otago REAP have run a series of cultural capability workshops for a range of organisations and education facilities, including the Choices programme. This is just the beginning – watch this space for what lies ahead!