New leader . . . Oamaru Pacific Island Community Group new chairwoman Moana Ahotaeiloa is looking forward to helping her community connect with one another through her role. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

When Moana Ahotaeiloa began to crave community connection, she turned to the Oamaru Pacific Island Community Group.

It was the group’s Friday night sessions that helped her family settle back into Oamaru, and now she has taken over the reins as the group’s chairwoman.

Former chairwoman and Waitaki district councillor Hana Halalele stepped down last year and is now the group’s general manager.

Mrs Ahotaeiloa, who is of Tongan descent, migrated to Dunedin when she was aged 3. She moved to Oamaru when she met her husband, Maheno rugby player Kisione, and they then moved to Dunedin.

Two years ago, they shifted back to Oamaru, with their two daughters, Mele (9) and Manu (7), and their son, Foliaki (20 months).

The Friday night sessions helped her daughters create new friendships while maintaining their heritage, and helped Mrs Ahotaeiloa reconnect with the community.

“They’ve really enjoyed going to that, and I’ve really enjoyed the adult conversations with my people – seeing old faces that I know, even founding members that are still there. It’s really nice to see and reconnect, and then connect with new faces as well,” Mrs Ahotaeiloa said.

She had a strong affiliation with Dunedin’s Tongan and Pasifika groups.

“I really wanted to get back in and be more involved. I really did start to crave being back in the community because moving to a new place it can be quite isolating. We do have family here but not many, so [it’s] just trying to get back out into the community, and be involved.”

The group had a strong base, with nearly 70 official members and, in collaboration with other organisations, it helped enable education, mentoring, budget advice, language week and health programmes for the community.

The operational and cultural aspects of the group were important for the community to bond together, she said.

“[It’s] connecting with their people, trying to support them to achieve whatever it is … with still keeping them true to themselves, and [having] a place where we can still do what makes us Tongan or makes Pasifika.

“We like to go and see what people need, support each other, raising our kids.

“It’s a family, supporting [each other] and we are behind you, wanting you to achieve and be successful – and have a lot of fun.”

Mrs Halalele was rapt with Mrs Ahotaeiloa’s appointment.

“We’re really delighted that she’s taken up that role. It’s really important for us to be able to provide those wrap-around social service support, as well as maintain their culture,” Mrs Halalele said.