Le Va is a national organisation based in Auckland. They collaborate with national organisations and communities to help Pasifika achieve the ‘best possible health and wellbeing outcomes – igniting communities and creating change.’

Le Va means the space. It is not an empty one, it’s a relational space.

Their education programmes include: Mental Wealth Online – a mental health literacy programme for on-line gamers and their families on positive online behaviours (staff are currently working with this group to co-design resources); Rebuilding Wellbeing online workshops – helping people learn the skills needed to cope with the psychological challenges of lockdowns and Covid-19 – and how to communicate effectively when someone is showing signs of distress; an online resource, Aunty Dee, that young people can use to help them work through problems; Catch Yourself, practical resources and information on how to manage frustration, anger and maintain respectful relationships; Atu-Mai, a violence prevention programme for young Pasifika; a programme to build the capability of the non Pasifika health workforce to provide effective services for Pasifika; Le Tautua, which supports emerging Pasifika leaders to develop their cultural leadership perspectives and skills; and FLO: Pasifika for Life suicide prevention programme Talanoa, a community programme that aims to engage and empower Pasifika families and communities to ensure they know how to prevent suicide, and to respond safely and effectively when and if it occurs.

This article is about the FLO Talanoa suicide prevention education workshop that is part of the overall the FLO: Pasifika for Life Programme. Leilani Clarke is one of the FLO Talanoa facilitators.

“The aim of the FLO Talanoa workshop is to mobilise community leadership – to give a community the knowledge and skills needed to prevent suicide, so they can go out and support their community.

“We value collaborations with the likes of Homecare Medical (New Zealand’s national telehealth service) the NZ Warriors and NZ Rugby League and many more.

“We receive a lot of requests from our Pasifika communities throughout the country to run our FLO Talanoa workshops. It is a programme that was co-designed with communities, for communities, using clinically-safe and evidence-based knowledge combined with cultural wisdom.”

Last year Le Va held a FLO Talanoa in Oamaru. It was hosted by Fale Pasifika o Aoraki. Lusi Fifita was, at the time, a community support worker there, and helped to organise the talanoa.

“We thought it was a good idea to ask Le Va to come and run a FLO Talanoa. We have a lot of migrants from Tonga as well as migrants from Auckland. In this town suicide and depression are not talked about. It is a topic that no one touches on. Especially the males. And it is the men who are more depressed – Tongans, Samoans – they are very prideful. They won’t open-up easily.

“I did flyers and sent out emails to every leader in town including church ministers. I went around and personally invited some people.

“It was really good to see the people in the community open-up about the subject. We learned how important it is for us to create the open space [the va] for people to talk about the signs that people are depressed, the steps leading up to suicide.

“Le Va provided kai, so we had some guys who were working and couldn’t come to the sessions join the group for a while. And they started to open-up a little too.

“It was a safe environment for the people to be confident enough to open-up about stories that have been affecting them for a long time: to learn new knowledge and how to accept different opinions – while at the same time knowing that confidentiality was a protection over them.

“At the end we got into groups and talked about what we had learned, and how we would go out there and share it with everyone in the Pasifika community.

“The workshop gave me more leadership tools.

“To me leadership is making a commitment to help others follow in the same direction: spreading words of encouragement, making people feel comfortable and safe so they can share.”

In fact it has been Lusi who has been one of the community leaders on this issue.

Once a probation officer, she was accepted into the Police College (her career goal) but she was forced to give up her dream because of a family issue. She decided that working in a community organisation would look good on her cv, so she took the job of community support at Fale Pasifika. She has now left the organisation and is employed as a security guard – another good point, she hopes, on her cv.

So she knows a great deal about Pasifika men, especially the young ones, who get depressed and angry and end up in prison.

Since the FLO Talanoa workshop, she has been talking with some of the local palagi probation officers. They really want another workshop that can be held at a time to suit young men – so they can be helped from offending.

“The probation officers want to be part of it too, delivering the message to our community. We want all the leaders in the community to be able to work together.

“It means so much to me, dealing with these young Pasifika guys. They come from the islands where there is a different lifestyle, where they have their cultural traditions. They can’t do some of the things they would in the islands and here they get into trouble with the law. I now know how to approach them in a way that they don’t feel attacked: a respectful way.

“I have a new goal, to keep the community together. Its mostly about the men – and parents. Everything starts at home. I want every parent to know about how to recognise depression and anxiety and the steps towards suicide so they can take the lead in their own homes.”

Sesilia Latavao was a participant at the FLO Talanoa.

“They gave you all the information. It is an important topic especially when our Pacific Islanders always hide our feelings and shut out the world so problems and anger and depression build up inside you.

“I have been through a lot. I was taken advantage of when I was young, and I have had a toxic marriage. I shut the world from me. I have talked to other people about the talanoa – about how good it is to get our feelings out. That we are not alone with the situation and that we must have someone to open-up to and communicate with. I have learned to share a bit more of my experience. It is a slow process opening-up and knowing that we are not alone. But the people that I talk to – they have trust in me.”

Sesilia belongs to a mothers’ group at Women’s Refuge, where there is similar support and leadership: “We learn to be ourselves and be successful and to love ourselves – and to be open. I have been a stay-at-home mum, but I am looking into studying social working because I want to help people going through hard times.”

So the FLO Talanoa provides information and skills – and starts the process of change in the wider community.

Leilani is confident that people are learning from the talanoa:

“A post workshop evaluation is conducted at the end of each workshop and it’s encouraging to see participant shifts in skills, knowledge and confidence in having those B.R.A.V.E conversations. Participants become more aware of the warning signs for suicide, where to go for help and what to do when a person is in distress.

“It’s not one person or organisation that can prevent suicide. Instead, it is a collective effort. Organisations and communities all working together”.

Fale Pasifika o Aoraki
The Pasifika population in mid-Canterbury is small and scattered – but with a main office in Timaru, and others in Oamaru and Ashburton, Fale Pasifika o Aoraki is able to offer holistic support and education to around 500 people every year.

Ofa Boyle, the CE, says that their fale approach means that their team of ten can respond to the underlying needs of their people:

“When someone comes in it is usually for one thing, like high debt or family violence. They don’t really tell us the underlying issue. So we always talk and talk until we find this. Then we work with the whole family, not just addressing one thing. We call it the fale model.”

Fale Pasifika o Aoraki has a Whānau Ora contract so navigators can work with families to address these issues or refer people on to other agencies. The organisation also has a number of established programmes that provide informal education – building self-esteem, cultural identity and empowerment.