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Uplifting Eke Panuku Pacific evening celebrates ākonga success

11 December, 2023

From accounting to architecture, Pacific students applauded for dedication to study and community


The 2023 Eke Panuku Pacific Awards at Ara | Te Pūkenga was a culturally rich opportunity to celebrate the success of Pacific ākonga at all levels of study, from pathway programmes to master’s degrees.

Applause, celebrations, dance and a strong sense of community filled the Aldersgate Centre to acknowledge the learners, mentors, tutors and executive team behind a year of milestones and memories for Ara learners from diverse Pacific cultures.

It was clear the Pacific Achievement office, the Elevation Pasifika mentoring and tutoring programme, and the Pacific Island Students of Ara (PISA) student executive all play significant roles in ensuring success for Pacific ākonga at Ara. Family too, were central to the success of the Eke Panuku winners with many dedicating their awards to parents, grandparents, partners and children.


Outgoing head of PISA Wikitoria Kurene, who was recognised with the Eke Panuku Pacific Supreme award in 2022, spoke emotionally about how the support networks at Ara had helped her “dig deep and find her spark” when she felt lost.

She wanted to inspire those gathered to continue to “seek opportunities to use their skills gifts and talents to lift our people and our communities to great heights”.

“Step out with passion, to lead with confidence and to serve with love. We are at a time when our voices and presence are being challenged,” she said. “Keep going, keep pushing the boundaries. Our decisions determine our destiny, and our destiny shapes our legacy.”

In all, 31 awardees were recognised for their academic achievement and community commitment. Many had rolled their sleeves up to help Ara’s active Pacific team at events such as Cultural Home and Pacific O2, but also at noho, expos and study jams, playing their part to secure the success of others.

Unaloto Artack exemplified this determination to give back. A diligent Level 4 student, now working towards her Bachelor of Accounting degree, she’s signed up to the finance role for PISA next year. Hailing from the old capital of Fiji Levuka, she was instrumental to Ara’s Fiji language week celebrations in 2023, and joined the Elevation Paskfika programme, sharing her knowledge with Level 3 students.

She was quick to acknowledge the support of her family and community in helping her achieve her study goals and said the evening of celebration had been an “eye opener”.

“Getting to see and learn new things and acknowledge everyone’s culture is great. It can be easy to stay close to your own community, but knowing more about people’s backgrounds will help me in my journey later because the workforce is so multicultural,” she said.


Many ākonga recognised at the 2023 awards are determined to ensure greater Pacific representation in their fields of study. Of Samoan descent, Winnie Palamo has completed her first year of a Bachelor of Medical Imaging. “It is so important to improve representation in the health environment I think it needs to grow more. Maybe one day we can take our learnings to the islands and share more there too,” she said.

As well as being part of the Elevation Pacific Mentoring team, Palamo was selected for the Canterbury Farah Palmer Cup rugby team. “The whole Pacific team has been so supportive of my juggle with sport and study, ensuring I can take leave and then work through the holidays. “I would say to others to take a step out of your comfort zone. It’s hard but the support is all around you to get you over the line.”


The Pacific Supreme award went to Sioeli Ofa, a Tongan third-year Bachelor of Nursing student hailing from the villages of Pea, Tongatapu and Feletoa, Vava'u. The night provided a double celebration for him as he received confirmation while at the event that he’d passed his nursing State Finals exam.

“I’d like to complete my master’s sometime in the next two years but I’m starting at the hospital in January in the acute orthopedics and trauma unit,” Ofa said.

A top Pacific peer tutor in the nursing department for the past two years, the citation for Ofa’s supreme award noted his dedication “increased success rates for Pacific nursing students” and celebrated his “passionate advocacy for health practice in a female-dominated field.”

Ofa said it had been rewarding helping make a difference for others.

“With new nursing students coming in you see their struggles in tutoring sessions but then also you see how stoked they are at passing their exams knowing that you’ve helped them in in some way in their journey.”

As well as mentoring, supporting the Elevation Pasifika programme, and providing leadership within the PISA executive team, Ofa was also celebrated for his advocacy through representing Pacific voices in local and central government spaces.

“Sticking together is important to me. Inviting in people who may feel like an outsider is important to me, so they stay connected. We are stronger together,” he said, on a night when togetherness and strengths of many were celebrated.


Full list of Eke Panuku Pacific Winners 2023:

Level 2 Academic Achievement & Community Commitment

Majenta Fasi, Jennifer Peaufa

Level 3 Academic Achievement & Community Commitment

Lisena Vura, Noah Saukuru, Iana Vaafuti

Level 4 Academic Achievement & Community Commitment

Unaloto Artack, Luisa Tokalauvere, Merewalesi Rogasagasa, Sharmila Devi, Liana Tominiko

Diploma & Degree Level 5-7 Academic Achievement & Community Commitment

Josephine Mavaega, Lydia Iosefo, Mac John Calvin Te, Siaosi Moimoi, Ben Phillips, Cashmere Chan Fou, Hazel Clementson, Semaema Lomani, Eneli (Henry) Lemalu, Natasha Lidgett, Ryan Gardiner,

Winnie Palamo, Matauaina Vanilau, Sioeli Ofa, Siulolo Palu, Sarah Nisha, Clarissa Koroiadi, Sammy Fawcett-Kay

Post-Graduate Level 8-9 Academic Achievement & Community Commitment

Vaito Asomua, Cecilia Tupou

South Canterbury Level 5-9 Academic Achievement & Community Commitment

Susana Oakes

Pacific Supreme Award

Sioeli Ofa

Elevation Pacific Mentors of the Year

Alicia Esera, Eneli (Henry) Lemalu

Elevation Pacific Tutors of the Year

Clarissa Koroiadi, Misikuki Pepa

Elevation Pacific Mentor & Tutor of the Year (South Canterbury)

Wiliyei (Betsy) Ramalasou

Pacific Island Students of Ara (PISA)

Wikitoria Kurene, Sioeli Ofa, Alicia Esera, Candice Aualiitia, David Ewing, Clarissa Koroiadi