Halalele grateful to serve

Ground-breaking . . . Hana Halalele, beside Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, makes her declaration at the Waitaki District Council’s inauguration ceremony at the Oamaru Opera House on Tuesday. Inset: the 12th Waitaki District Council. PHOTOS: SONIA MARTINEZ/KAYLA HODGE

Coming from humble beginnings, Hana Halalele is a testament to her own strength.

Growing up as a young Samoan girl in Oamaru, Cr Halalele experienced many hardships. She struggled to find her path, and never envisioned her life would be anything like it is today.

To a background of spirited cheers and applause, Cr Halalele broke new ground again, being appointed as the Waitaki district’s deputy mayor at Tuesday’s inauguration ceremony after being elected as the district’s first Pasifika councillor in 2019.

‘‘To be honest, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, and also excited about [what] lies ahead, for the work we all do collectively for the community,’’ Cr Halalele said.

Traditionally, Pasifika did not put themselves forward for leadership roles, preferring to lead in the background, but she felt grateful to be able to serve her community in a broader sense.

‘‘With my generation, I feel if there is a calling to serve in this capacity it’s important to do whatever we can to support others, to always stay grounded, live on purpose and ensure we work from a place of alofa [love] and tautua [in service to others].’’

The Oamaru Opera House was packed with Cr Halalele’s family and the wider Pasifika community — many of whom yelled ‘‘aye’’ when Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher passed the motion to make her deputy mayor — and it was a humbling experience to share the moment with them, she said.

Her mother, Toeafiafi Taiti, and her aunties, whom Cr Halalele referred to as ‘‘the management team’’, were always quick to put her in her place, but guide her through life. Their support meant everything, and in return she wanted to pass it on to the next generation.

‘‘It’s important for me to help motivate and inspire others, especially our younger generation, to consider community roles like council.

‘‘For my daughters and nieces and nephews and our local school students that came along [on Tuesday] night to perform their items, and watch the ceremony was my greatest highlight, because if they don’t see it, they can’t be it — and hopefully one day one of those students may consider standing for council.’’

Growing up in Oamaru, Cr Halalele’s mother raised her, and her three siblings, on her own. They spent nights at women’s refuge, went through custody battles, and dealt with the emotions that came along with that.

‘‘Nothing prepares you for that — but it’s also what makes us stronger.’’

As a teenager, Cr Halalele was ‘‘disengaged’’ at Waitaki Girls’ High School and almost left early, if it had not been for her family’s support.

Through her mother, and other pioneering Pasifika women, Cr Halalele found her way through the Oamaru PACIFICA Women’s branch and the Oamaru Pacific Island Community Group and its mentors.

‘‘I am product of that trailblazing work and I need to do my part to carry it on.

‘‘I finally managed to find my pathway and calling that led me to become a social worker and do what I now do in the community.

‘‘That’s why I love what I do, it’s purposeful, fulfilling in many ways. My life’s work has been dedicated [to] the community — I’m a huge advocate for social justice and doing whatever I can to help support the needs of others.’’

She planned to continue that work in her role as deputy mayor, and her goals were simple — to build on the work of the previous council, including being influential at regional and national forums, support economic and community development, and create cultural inclusivity to ensure the entire community’s cultural needs were considered when making decisions.

Cr Halalele replaced former deputy mayor Melanie Tavendale, who did not seek re-election this term. The two had formed a close bond and Cr Halalele said she had ‘‘huge respect’’ for Mrs Tavendale.

‘‘To have learned, listened and observed from her over the last three years has been an amazing experience for me, likewise acknowledging the hard work and lessons I have learned from our 11th council.

‘‘I have massive shoes to fill and I’m very grateful for the opportunity Mayor Gary Kircher has given me, and while I can, I will give our community everything I have.’’

Cr Halalele expressed her gratitude at the public acknowledgement from Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio of her achievement in becoming the first deputy mayor of Pacific heritage to hold the title outside of Manukau City, Palmerston North and Porirua City.