Tuvalu community celebrate independence

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Members of the South Island Tuvalu community came together in Oamaru over the weekend to celebrate their national day of independence.

The Oamaru community were preparing to host about 200 people on Friday at the Athletic rugby clubrooms to acknowledge the 36th anniversary of the island nation’s move to full independence on October 1, 1978. Tuvalu was formerly known as the Ellice Islands and was administered and protected by Britain.

Organiser, Mafa Alaloto, said it was important that smaller groups scattered around the South Island were able to come together to celebrate as they had done for many years back home.

The formal part of the weekend opened early on Saturday morning with a church service, the reading of a message from the Tuvalu prime minister, an address from mayor Gary Kircher, followed by cultural entertainment and speeches from members of the Tuvalu community.

The theme for the gathering was ‘Lead Tuvalu with Honour and Sincerity.’

Mrs Alaloto said the Tuvalu community had grown significantly in Oamaru since she first arrived in 2008 when there were only four families. Now there are 19 families, about 100 people including children.

She said job opportunities and lifestyle are drawing wider family members and friends to Oamaru but for her the major attraction is the schools.

“The children fit in well and the schools are very supportive.”

“There is good communication and we find the children are focused on their school work.”

Tuvalu is located midway between Hawaii and Australia and comprises three reef islands and six atolls. It is the fourth smallest country in the world at just 26 square kilometres and Mrs Alaloto said it currently has a population of 12,000-14,000 people.

“Tuvalu is only three metres above sea level and we are affected by climate change.”

“Fear is another reason why people are coming to New Zealand.”

“There are nearly 4000 people in New Zealand now,” she said.

Independence Day celebrations coincided with a week-long focus on language, September 29-October 5, and about 30 school students spent most of last week at Camp Iona, Herbert, learning to speak their native language and understand their culture.

Mrs Alaloto said while the students meet regularly during the school term to discuss homework and issues affecting them, it was a good opportunity for the kids to get to know each other better.

By LINDA MCCARTHY