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Meet and greet . . . Waitaki's Pasifika community had the opportunity to hear what Minister for Ethnic Communities Jenny Salesa had to say at the Brydone Hotel last week. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

Minister for Ethnic Communities Jenny Salesa has urged Pasifika people in Waitaki to make the most of opportunities to advance their careers.

Ms Salesa, New Zealand’s first Tongan-born member of parliament, visited Oamaru last week, and spoke to a packed crowd at the Brydone Hotel.

The event had a uniquely Pasifika flavour, featuring dancing, prayers and hymns to go with the political campaigning.

Ms Salesa said the Government had invested in free apprenticeships and training, which provided opportunities for people to get qualifications while earning money.

“That’s not just building and construction,” she said.

“I encourage our people here in Oamaru, whether you are Pasifika or not, to look into the apprenticeships scheme.

“And [tertiary education] is still free fees for a year – that is like a big scholarship scheme for the whole country.”

Ms Salesa believed there were now more than 3000 Pasifika people living in the Waitaki district, bolstered by families moving from Auckland.

“It’s a huge influx from a few hundred,” she said.

“Some of that movement is for lifestyle, affordability of housing, for work and to be close to good schools.”

Members of the community were given a chance to ask Ms Salesa questions, which mainly centred on health and education, two areas of concern for the local Pasifika community.

Questions about health were mostly focused on costs preventing Pasifika adults from seeking professional advice until it was too late.

Ms Salesa said there was the potential for a Pacific health centre to be set up in Oamaru, but it would need to be community-driven.

“There are quite a number of Pacific health centres in Auckland and each and every one was started by the community,” she said.

“Do as much as you can to establish it right here.

“You need to have people on the ground and I wish you all the best.”