Auckland Law School students win 2013 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards

18 December 2013
Reina Vaai and Mary Tiumalu

Two outstanding Pacific Island students from the Auckland School of Law have had their humanitarian efforts recognised through this year’s Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards.

Mary Tiumalu (22) received an Inspiration Award and Reina Vaai (23) received a Mobiles4Good Award, each carrying up to $5000 in prize money to help them continue their outstanding mentoring work with Pasifika students and their families.

Both New Zealand-born Samoans, Mary is a fourth-year law and arts student and Reina is a fifth-year law and arts student at the University of Auckland.

Both had hard working parents who inspired and encouraged them to do their personal best and to help others in need and both feel fortunate to have been given the start they have enjoyed in life.

Reina Vaai
Reina worked in the office of Samoa’s Auditor General and made the most of the opportunity by setting up a voluntary project called Readers’ Revolution and taking 1000 books with her to distribute among small villages.

She is really interested in family law and is an aspiring writer, photographer and documentary maker with ambitions to make a mini documentary series about young Pacific Island people who have had to struggle.

“Some people wonder why I want to go off and make documentaries when I am studying law but I see the two as being complementary,” she says.

“I have always been interested in people and my passion for helping others has grown - law has opened my eyes to the injustices people face and videography gives me a means of bringing that to people’s attention.”

Reina is involved in the Pacific Island Law Students’ Association (PILSA) particularly through outreach programmes which encourage Pacific Island students from low decile schools to attend university and study law.

She is a mentor for Mangere students through a programme called Pacific Power and is proud that many of the people she has helped have gone to law school and are doing well.

Among other activities, Reina is a youth leader in her church and has volunteered with the St Vincent de Paul Society, working with primary schools, women’s refuge and the City Mission.

Mary Tiumalu
Mary’s drive to work hard and help others is linked with her upbringing – both her parents lived through struggles and she feels she breathes their stories.

The eldest in her Samoan family, her mother Turu came to New Zealand at the age of 13 to continue her education. She lived with an aunt in Grey Lynn and walked from there to St Patrick’s School in Panmure and back every day

“It was very hard for her to leave her family in Samoa,” Mary says.

Turu met her husband Tauave when he came to New Zealand and they settled in Massey, raising four children – son Jeremy and daughters Elaine, Nora and Mary.

“They were very pro-active in making things better for themselves – it was their dream to achieve a better life,” Mary says. “They passed this dream on to me and they always encouraged me to do my best and do something I’m happy with.”

Mary loves to give to others and, along with two colleagues, mentors Pacific Island students at her old school, Auckland Girls’ Grammar School (AGGS) through a programme called Polycation.

“We launched the programme this year and it’s hugely successful,” she says. “We want to do more to bridge the gap between the school and parents, the school and students, and students and parents.

“We’re using the Pasifika Parents’ network and looking at other ways to get more information out there.”

Mary says whole families are involved in the programme and it requires commitment. “It’s holistic, focussing on cultural awareness, spiritual wellbeing and academic achievement.

“I’ve seen great progress in students’ confidence and self-esteem and I’m proud that one of our Polycation students won the AGGS Positive Achievers’ Award while still in the fifth form this year.

“A lot of people doubt themselves and their abilities but with encouragement they can be inspired to work harder.
“This year, so many people I’ve helped are reaching their goals, it makes me scream with excitement on the inside.”

Mary is co-president of PILSA next year, which seeks to empower and serve Pasifika students and celebrate the diversity within the Law School.

Through PILSA, she helped set up a community-based project TULA’I (Together Using Law Against Injustice) and she is involved with Law in Schools, a project which examines issues facing young Pasifika people and youth groups and educates them about their fundamental legal rights.