Supporting Pacific transgender youth in South Auckland

Issue: Volume 103, Number 6

Posted: 15 May 2024
Reference #: 1HAgXX

Steva Auina, a proud Fa’afafine and advocate for LGBTQIA+ Pacific youth, is turning the tide in South Auckland secondary schools with Laulima.

Celebrating O Le Alofa and Laulima: Steva Auina (middle) with Kiva Jackson and Olivia-Sianna Masoe, senior pacific engagement advisors for the Ministry of Education.

Celebrating O Le Alofa and Laulima: Steva Auina (middle) with Kiva Jackson and Olivia-Sianna Masoe, senior pacific engagement advisors for the Ministry of Education.

Laulima is a visionary programme formed in 2022 by Steva Auina, the director of O Le Alofa Ltd. It stands as a beacon of hope and unity for Pacific rainbow youth in South Auckland.

With its roots firmly planted in the ethos of collaboration and inclusivity, Laulima aims to cultivate a nurturing environment where every “rainbow kid”, as Steva affectionately calls her students, feels a sense of belonging and can thrive.

At its core, this programme embodies the spirit of ‘Laulima,’ which is a Samoan term loosely meaning ‘many hands working together’. This reflects its commitment to collective empowerment and mutual support.

Inspired by the vibrant energy and resilience of Pacific rainbow youth, the programme embraces diversity as its greatest strength, fostering a culture of acceptance and celebration of each person’s unique journey.

The programme is funded through the Ministry of Education’s Pacific Education Support Fund.

Breaking down barriers

Vogue balls are a joyous and high energy underground queer subculture founded by African American and Latino LGBTQIA+ communities in the USA. Among many other facets of a ball, voguers will compete for trophies and the reputation of their ‘Houses’.

In 2022, through her involvement with vogue balls in Auckland, Steva noticed an increasing number of Pacific youth in attendance. She also noted the vogue balls were held late in the evening and wondered if the timing was impacting on homework or study time.

When Steva spoke with some of the participants to check in about their education, they would respond with “we love school, but we want to be here [at vogue balls] too”.

 “They felt like they needed to come to vogue balls to feel that sense of community, that sense of belonging,” says Steva.

Steva recounted her days as a student at Kelston Boys’ High School in West Auckland and the joy she felt in being a part of a group of transgender friends known as ‘Kelston Kweenz’.

“The schools can only do so much – they really want to support the students, but they don’t know how to. Sometimes it comes down to the approach,” says Steva.

Necessary supports

To help bridge the gap between what schools can and can’t support, and with the backing of the Ministry of Education, Steva is currently working with and mentoring Pacific students who identify as fa’afafine or transgender through the Laulima programme.

Weilette, Elijah and AJ are in their final years of school at De La Salle College in Tāmaki Makaurau. They share how important Laulima is to their engagement with education and overall wellbeing.

“The programme really made us feel validated and heard,” says Weilette.

AJ adds, “Having someone like Steva supporting us means a lot; she just gets us.”

The programme funding has made it possible for Steva to provide necessary resources to support the learning of her students too, including laptops, desks, and chairs for a study corner at home, AT Hop cards for the bus, uniform items, and school fees.

“Having the resources like stationery and laptops provided to us through Laulima helps us to be more engaged with school and schoolwork,” says Elijah.

Laulima currently supports students from Kelston Boys’ High School, De La Salle College, Southern Cross Campus, Mangere College, Avondale College and Aorere College on a weekly or monthly basis.

Steva with Year 12 Laulima students Josephina, Maria and Weilette, and their teacher.

Steva with Year 12 Laulima students Josephina, Maria and Weilette, and their teacher.

Making connections and aiming high

Participating rainbow students say the highlight of the programme so far is the Laulima showcase held last year.

The showcase brought together an array of inspiring fa’afafine, fakaletī, akava’ine, fakafifine and takatāpui actors and creatives in a performance that displayed genuine storytelling, artistry, and resilience.

The showcase was well attended by families, local community members and friends, all eager to witness a spectacular evening of entertainment.

“Some of our teachers came to watch the showcase too. We felt really supported by them and felt like they were proud of us. Also, some of the boys from school came to watch and support us, it was heartwarming to see them there,” says Weilette.

The event held a lot of sentimental value for the students, proving that their dreams are valid and attainable.

“The showcase allowed us to connect with our rainbow communities, the older generation who helped pave the way for us. They’re the reason we can have programmes like this in school,” says Weilette.

“It was a safe and inclusive space for us. We all felt very loved during that moment. It was a really beautiful event that I hope we can do again” adds AJ.

Looking out for the younger generation

Earlier this year, O Le Alofa Ltd hosted a black-tie event named Chapter 31, to celebrate the successes of Laulima and set the foundations for an exciting journey ahead.

It was an intimate event attended by ‘aiga, agency representatives and school staff. Chapter 31 acknowledged important personal and professional milestones achieved to date, including the two-year anniversary for O Le Alofa Ltd.

Steva and her students are really keen to hold another showcase for their families and communities.

Currently, Steva is the sole facilitator of Laulima, and although she has hopes to expand the programme, more hands are needed to reach this goal. She says the interest in Laulima has increased considerably and she would love to offer it where needed.

Weilette emphasises the need and hopes of programmes like Laulima, saying, “I want the government to see that there are people like us out here who are struggling. [Laulima] makes us feel like we belong in these spaces, and it encourages the younger generation too.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:50 pm, 15 May 2024

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