Published Thursday 7 Sep 2023

Lea Faka-Tonga. Meet Sisilia, one of our Nurse Educators. Hear how she embraces Tongan culture and language.

The theme for Tonga Language Week this year is 'E tu'uloa 'a e Lea faka-Tongá 'o ka lea'aki 'i 'api, siasí (lotú), mo e nofo-'a-kāingá, which means the Tongan Language will be sustainable if used at home, church and in the wider community.  

The word TU'ULOA in the theme has a positive and progressive connotation and means to continuously grow, nurture, and sustain a valued idea, practice, event, or memory in an enduring way. Since 2011, Lea Faka-Tonga moe 'ulungaanga molumalu (Tongan language and culture) has been celebrated in Aotearoa New Zealand during Tonga Language Week. Each year, a different context is used to share these koloa (living treasures) with Tongan and non-Tongan.

We asked Sisilia Finau Peini, Nurse Educator: Pasifika, MHAIDS, GP Nurse, Registered Nurse (Forensics) and vaccinator about what Tonga Language Week means to her.

Tell us about yourself
I was born and raised in Tonga and migrated to Aotearoa with my husband, Teleiosi Peini of Nukunuku in 2003. I've got two handsome boys, Alifeleti (18yrs) and Maamaloa (17yrs). I am passionate about my culture, language, values, beliefs and Christianity.

What are some ways that you engage with the Tonga community in Wellington?
By supporting community initiatives such as Covid-19 vaccination festivals and church activities. I have been an academic and cultural mentor for Tongan student nurses at Whitireia Community Polytechnic for more than decade. For this reason, I have the privilege of liaising with some of the Tongan parents to offer opportunities for their children who finished college to enrol for nursing course. And I'm one of a few nurses that campaigned and launched the Wellington branch of the Tongan Nurses Association in 2014.

How important is it to celebrate Tonga Language Week?
This acknowledgement and celebration of our Tongan language here in Aotearoa is substantial for us. We feel valued and respected by the people of this country. This is also an opportunity for non-Tongan to learn some basic Lea Faka-Tonga and gives the staff of Tongan origin a chance to be experts of their language in their specific areas of practice.  

What do you personally love about the Tongan community?
Our Tongan core values of love (ófa), mutual respect (fakaápaápa), humility (anga fakatokilalo), and maintaining reciprocal relationship (tauhi vā) are the values that we as parents practise and encourage our children to take to school ('api ako) and everywhere they go. These values fit well with the organisation's values of respect (Manaakitanga), excellence (Rangatiratanga) and unity (Kotahitanga). "Vaevaemanava (sharing of breath) is the Tongan concept of unconditional sharing or providing for the welfare of one another – even if they are strangers".

How does speaking the Tongan language help in the health sector?
Tongan culture and language are the importance aspects of healthcare in New Zealand. According to an article by Te Whatu Ora Counties Manukau, the first Tongan nurse practitioner in New Zealand, Fakaola 'I Vaiola Siliva 'Otuafi, believes that being able to speak to Tongan clients in their own language makes a big difference in their care. It is so useful, especially for Tongan clients who can't speak English. It's nice to have the conversation in our own language; it makes them feel at ease and builds trust in our relationship.

Is there something that you would like to see changed for your people in the health system?
I would be great to provide more funding and resources to support the community's behaviour toward food, alcohol and tobacco. This approach is more likely to address obesity for better health outcomes and cost-effective interventions.  

 How do you embrace your culture and language?

  • We teach our children the importance of Tongan culture, language and values and to take them wherever they go.
  • To role model the Tongan culture and language at home, church and during community activities.
  • Practice! Practice! Practice! Practice!
  • Embrace mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Fun fact about the Tonga?
Captain Cook named Tonga as "the friendly island" as he found the people of Tonga to be very kind and friendly.  

Stay connected online by visiting the official NZ Tonga Language Week Facebook page.