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A Pacific youth perspective on the Pacific youth survey

Opinion Piece by Flora Apulu

I, like many others, often wonder if when my ancestors and forefathers made the courageous decision to migrate from the pacific, if they had envisaged the realities of growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand today.  

I first-hand can say that being a pacific island young person living in urban New Zealand has not always been easy.

While scrolling through Facebook, shortly after the Youth 2012, Pacific Young People Report was launched, I read a post from the New Zealand Herald, headlined “Young Pacific people remain blighted by unhealthy food, barriers to healthcare and poor conditions at home – with an estimated one third living in a house where someone doesn’t have a bedroom.”

I paused, sat there and thought; here we go again – regardless of whether this report found positive areas of development for our Pacific young people, irresponsible media continue to focus and place too much emphasis on the negative. Adding to the ongoing bias deficit views that some members of society have towards pacific young people.   This type of media coverage continues to feed the ignorance of others supporting such views: “looking down” on pacific island (young people). 

I would like to congratulate the Youth Survey Report team for their efforts towards producing this report. I can’t say I am completely surprised with the findings reported, but given this was data collected four years ago I wonder just how much things may have changed since then, whether the current climate for Pacific young people (living in New Zealand) is worse or better.

From my daily experience of working alongside at risk/in risk young people, whose realistic challenges have resulted in their lack of engagement in education, employment and most importantly connectivity with their identity and a sense of belonging and purpose.  I still wished the headline had reflected on the positive trajectories for pacific over time when comparing the data from all three series of Youth2000 surveys 2001, 2007 and 2012,  painting a picture of hope and aspiration; with improved family and school relationships, aspirations to achieve in academia, life satisfactions and lower rates of depressive symptoms and so on.

We, pacific know, we offer the potential of exciting and vibrant contributions particularly within our families, communities, sports, song, dance groups and academically.  Furthermore, within an ever changing New Zealand culture and society we have shown much resiliency in our ability to adapt to ups and downs – potentially an inherent gift. 

I first-hand know and walk alongside amazing pacific young people, my peers, who are a part of the solutions towards a brighter future. They include researchers, lawyers, political leaders, activist, disrupters, and doctors, artists, poets, creatives – all breaking down barriers and breaking the negative stereotypes for our pacific island youth.

Yes, this report highlights many areas of concerns, which should not be ignored, and that need to be addressed by all of us. These concerns highlight some issues that have been historically reoccurring and also issues that are unique to the current generation of pacific island young people. 

Now that we have this quantitative data, we need to seek out more solutions to the problems which are backed by good information and evidence to influence our policy and decisions makers in this country, but we also need those policy producers and decisions makers to have a fuller appreciation of the wealth in which we do offer and infect into society, and the appreciation to know we in fact have the solutions to our own problems therefore – ask us, involve us.

I want to see a New Zealand where every young person regardless of their ethnicity feels like they are connected to the environments and society around them, and they have access to and feel confident to take the opportunities available, enabling them to reach their fullest potential and live in a society where they feel valued and belong in. 

Maybe then we can hope for a brighter future in a place that our ancestors dreamed for us.

Flora Apulu 

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