|Prof. Konai Helu Thaman adorned with a red garland|
I first discovered Konai, when I first started teaching in the early 1990s and it was through reading her poem "You, the choice of my parents" that I became interested in her poetry and academic works. In fact, at her discussion when she was introduced, a Tongan man sang her poem and it brought tears to her eyes as he sung her poem like lyrics to a song whilst strumming a ukulele. Simply beautiful.
The last time I met with Konai was in 1999 when I was working at the Ministry of Education on an initiative and I was working in a team that was organising a conference for local educators i.e. principals and teachers. When it came to a keynote speaker, the only academic that I could think of who could make a significant contribution to the discussion, at that time was Konai and the committee agreed and she gracefully accepted. She was a gentle and graceful now as she was then and so very down to earth with much humility.
In the room, it was pleasing to see a lot of Pasifika academics, undergraduate/post-graduate students, educators, community rep's etc. sharing in the conversation, her experiences resonating in many ways and listening to her experience as a senior high school student in Auckland and then an alumni of the University of Auckland from the department of Geography (where I also graced the halls - we have that in common!) before leaving for California to pursue her PhD and then to Fiji where she has taught for 40+ years.
After her discussion, it was open to the floor (audience) to ask questions and one of the remarks from a fellow colleague whom I went to University with and is now on staff at the University of Auckland was that there are only 3 Pasifika professors in the world and she didn't count those who were of Maori or Hawaiian descent and two of them were in the room i.e. Professor Konai and seated next to her was Professor Tagaloatele, Peggy Fairburn-Dunlop from AUT University, Manukau campus.
The third professor that I am aware of, I had also met a couple of weeks prior was Professor Malama Meleisea at the opening of the SAAB, Sei Orana store (ground floor of the Samoan House or NZ Samoan Consulate buildings). I had bought a reprint of his book and asked if he didn't mind signing it as I had studied his book at Uni and wanted to restock my depleted bookshelf. He was kind to agree and also offered that there was a Samoan version currently ready for press to soon be printed.
I'm not sure that my academic path will take me in that direction but I did make an appointment to meet with Professor Tagaloatele next week to discuss becoming more involved at the Manukau Campus in the near future when she greeted me. I think this is important in the sharing of ideas and encouraging other fellow Pasifika women to complete their various degrees to open up further doors of opportunity.
There I also met up with some past Pasifika educators and friends/colleagues and I want to make time to meet regularly to discuss some of the pressing issues that we are aware for Pasifika educators in Auckland primarily. It would be a time of supporting, encouraging, informing and sharing stories with the view of making the educational landscape better for our children, grandchildren and generations to come...