We can't underestimate our power to influence

Guest blog from Drua Pasifika Addiction Network

The Drua executive committee drives the work of the Drua Pasifika Addiction Network. The committee represents a range of stakeholder groups across the alcohol and drug sector, including alcohol and drug services, mental health, gambling, district health boards, health promotion, as well as public health and consumer representatives. The leadership group shared some of its reflections about the #GPS2016 conference.

Drua committee member Phil Siataga observed that while the current Pasifika generation faces many of the same illnesses, issues and problems of previous generations, there are new and more problematic manifestations of these longstanding problems emerging. This is especially the case with addictions, with new legal highs, synthetic drugs and a plethora of harmful substances available that were not previously easy to access. The damaging nature of these new drugs brings greater complexity to the challenges facing the alcohol and drug sector.  

Ned Cook, who has worked in the area of problem gambling for many years, reflected that new forms of online gambling – hugely accessible on laptops, phones and mobile devices – bring new risks that enhance and complicate existing problem gambling challenges. Ned noted that while modern technology is part of the problem, it could also have a role in providing cutting edge solutions. This was echoed by other Drua committee members, who consider the Aunty Dee problem solving tool to be a positive example of harnessing technology to generate solutions. 

To accurately map, forecast and create services that meet the needs of tomorrow’s generation requires co-design and collaboration with young people. The Pasifika youth voices at #GPS2016 said loud and clear that that when our young people are in crisis, they first turn to their friends and peers to help them solve problems. An important piece of the jigsaw puzzle involves ensuring that they know where to go and how to get help when they need it.

The new complexity of issues facing the alcohol and drug sector was balanced by huge respect, pride and excitement for the Pasifika young people who were so well represented as leaders at GPS. Mark Esekielu, manager at Youthline and member of Drua, affirmed the importance of meaningful partnerships with the next generation - which was demonstrated throughout the GPS conference.   

We must never drain a young person's capacity to dream." Dwaine Faletanoai

Another take-home message identified by the Pacific addictions sector was the importance of creating accepting safe spaces for young people so that they can thrive and aspire to whatever it is that they want to achieve. Drua member Dwaine Faletanoai said, “We must never drain a young person’s capacity to dream". 

Phil Siataga spoke of how he hoped for a future that was characterised by contentment, fellowship, joy and flourishing for our young people. It was a particularly special conference for Phil because his daughter Talia Grace Siataga was also participating as a scholarship recipient, presenting on a panel and doing spoken word poetry. 

Pulotu Bruce Levi, chair of the Drua executive, noted that this was one of the most heart-warming elements of the conference.  Many long-serving Pasifika mental health and addictions workers and leaders view the conference as growing and supporting the next generation of leaders, including their own children. This is the epitome of ‘growing Pasifika solutions’ and provides much hope for the journey and challenges ahead.   

We can't underestimate our power to influence." Saveatama Eroni Clarke

Le Va’s Saveatama Eroni Clarke, as Drua secretariat, had a similar ‘pay-it-forward’ moment when he facilitated the sports panel including Sonny Bill Williams. In this YouTube clip Sonny Bill talks about how as a boy, Eroni visited his school as a current All Black and encouraged him in his journey. This was a defining moment and he remembers how important it was to him at the time.  When young people now approach him, he remembers Eroni’s kindness and encouragement. This prompted Saveatama to reflect that we must always reach out and share dreams, so that others feel that the dream is within reach. "We can’t underestimate our power to influence and we must hear the calling to be role models and inspire others in a spirit of humility and service."

To conclude, #GPS2016 squarely confronted the problems facing the alcohol and drug workforce and our community, but it was also committed to providing and showcasing solutions. It was heartening to see the next generation stepping up to challenges and modelling the solutions themselves. The Drua executive thanks Le Va, the Matua Council and especially the Youth Action Komiti who put the conference together so thoughtfully.