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Oamaru’s Tongan youth are becoming role models for their peers across the country. Gus Patterson reports.

Last year, the Oamaru Tongan community was chosen as a face of a national campaign to promote positive wellbeing to other Pasifika youth around New Zealand.

The campaign, recently launched by Pasefika Proud, showcases Oamaru’s large Tongan population and its positive social outcomes through a series of videos.

A group of 15 Tongan people living in Oamaru, aged between 13-22, were charged with creating a resource to showcase how their cultural identities helped with their wellbeing.

They started by designing a carry bag with words and messages crucial to wellbeing printed on it in the shape of a penguin, project leader Sipa Tahaafe (22) said.

It was called the Bag of Wellbeing, or Kate Mo’ui Lelei.

“Our values and culture are things we carry around with us every day,” Miss Tahaafe said.

Tongan people living in Oamaru loved the small town connection – it brought them closer and they looked out for each other, she said.

“Being a Tongan, living in Oamaru, is very special . . . you still get the vibes of the islands here.

“We actually still get a taste, a sense of our culture because of the strong community that we’ve got here.”

They were asked to share the values which keep them, their families, friends and community safe and strong, to help other New Zealand Tongan youth, through the medium of video.

An Auckland videographer travelled to Oamaru to film a series of four “mini-movies”, highlighting the values the group had chosen as being important to their wellbeing in Oamaru.

The videos were set around the themes of fefaka’apa’apa’aki (mutual respect), feveitokai’aki (sharing, co-operating and fulfillment of mutual obligations) and tauhi vaha’a (loyalty/commitment).

Filming was done in a single day, Miss Tahaafe said.

“It was very intense, but it was awesome.

“We never really thought we would have to make a promo video.

“In the rehearsals for that, we needed to push some people out of their comfort zone, which is great.”

The videos were developed and produced by Oamaru’s Tongan youth and featured several Oamaru landmarks, such as the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, the Victorian precinct and Steampunk HQ.

The project used Tongan language and values, but the messages had universal appeal, Miss Tahaafe said.

“Even though we say it’s a Tongan resource, anyone can take it and use it as their own, which I find really cool,” she said.

Waitaki Tongan Community president Tuavale Misiloi said she was “so proud” of everyone involved in the project.

“The thing is how they connect themselves and who they are .. to the place they live and be proud of being in Oamaru,” Mrs Misiloi said.

“It’s a safe place for their wellbeing [and] that is the most important point.

“They are lucky to live here in Oamaru, it’s so strong and vibrant.”

The videos can be found on the Pasefika Proud Facebook page and website.