Conference to address health and wellbeing of young Pasifika a first for Aotearoa

The first national conference to address the concerns of New Zealand’s Pasifika youth population will be held in Auckland in April with around 350 professionals from the youth, health and social sectors in attendance.

GPS 2016 - Growing Pasifika Solutions for our young people will be held on April 21 – 22 at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau City. It aims to address the social sector issues that are relevant for New Zealand’s young Pasifika, such as preventing suicide, violence and addictions, improving mental wellbeing, understanding cultural identity, and public health and education priorities. 

The conference has been organised by a committee of 15 young Pasifika people under the guidance of Pasifika non-government organisation Le Va. 

Le Va chief executive Dr Monique Faleafa said GPS was not a business as usual conference because it is led by young Pasifika people with Pasifika views but modern approaches. 

“We’ve taken an authentic youth participation approach, co-designing this conference with young Pasifika people from all around New Zealand. Like so many of us, these urbanesians lead with traditional cultural values and deliver with contemporary execution. This is cutting edge leadership that will further identify solutions that work best for them, in the context of their families and communities.”

"Pasifika people make up 7.4% of the NZ population and are considerably younger than other ethnicities in NZ - the median age for Pasifika is 22 years. More than half the Pasifika people in New Zealand are under 24 years so it’s important we have young people leading GPS.”

Suicide prevention, mental health and addictions will be some of the big issues discussed at the conference. Since 2000, there have been three national surveys of high school students that found Pasifika students are three times more likely to attempt suicide than New Zealand Europeans. 

“Suicide is a tapu subject for many Pacific people, but in 2014 Pasifika communities across Aotearoa told us they were ready to talk about suicide, and they were seeking solutions to prevent suicide with a sense of urgency. Le Va has been leading New Zealand’s first Pasifika suicide prevention strategy and responding in many ways, and the talanoa (discussion) and action will continue at GPS 2016,” Dr Faleafa said.

“The community support for this conference has been amazing. Pasifika youth issues clearly strike a chord for many of us. We’ve been inundated with offers of support and contributions from role models our young ones are inspired by – including Krit Schmidt (MTV), King Kapisi, Tofiga Fepulea’i from Pacific comedy duo The Laughing Samoans, and Buckwheat (Lealailepule Edward Cowley) a Pasifika rainbow leader; they will be our MCs.  We also have our northern region Pasifika Matua Council, consisting of cultural leaders and knowledge holders from each Pacific nation.”

A discussion about what more can be done to ensure the mental wellbeing of high performance Pasifika sports people will open the conference on day two, with a high profile panel of Polynesian athletes leading the discussion including Sonny Bill Williams, Fiao’o Fa’amausili, Nigel Vagana, John Palavi and Jerome Ropati. The panel will be chaired by former All Black and Le Va manager, Savetama Eroni Clarke. 

Dr Faleafa said GPS would be identifying solutions that young people say work for them. 

“Over the last six months, our Youth Action Committee have developed three concepts that they say will create change: If we support radical acceptance, absolute inclusion and full participation, we will unleash the full potential of our young people.”

With this in mind, three young Pasifika people will lead keynote presentations.

Student Whitney Pa’u-Tuitasi, Pasifika youth advisor and board member Riki Welsh and Genesis Youth Trust mentoring services manager Flora Apulu will share their unique perspectives on the support that is needed to help young Pasifika reach their potential in New Zealand. 

This is the third GPS conference hosted by Le Va. GPS conferences are run every two years, building on knowledge and actions from previous conferences with a particular focus on improving the health and social issues for Pasifika.  

Registrations for the conference are still open. For more information and to register online, go to www.leva.co.nz.