Helena Cook

Helena Cook
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Talofa lava,

It is my honour to be considered for the role of Pasifika representative on the National Women’s Committee. As the daughter of a Samoan migrant father and an Irish migrant mother, ideas about identity, place and belonging have always been important to me. I believe that the TEU offers a place of solidarity and community for Pasifika people and I hope to be part of the conversation around how we best protect our members, the vulnerable and those who dedicate their lives to service of others.

I grew up in Ōtautahi in a family which has always valued connection, stories and tautua. My interest in learning more about the place of Pasifika people in New Zealand led to a master’s degree on Pasifika MPs in the NZ Parliament, and then to a PhD on political representation and identity performance of MPs in the UK and in NZ. My current role is director of the Pasifika Pathways programme, a one-year pre-university diploma designed to help Pasifika students transition to university. This is a role which means so much to me; I have the privilege of being part of the academic journey of students who might never have considered tertiary study. I can see what the future looks like for our people and it is amazing. Any small way I can be part of that, particularly by advocating for Pasifika women, means a great deal to me.

In order to develop this future, it is vital that Pasifika people have voices to represent them and to reflect the diversity of perspectives which make up the Pacific region. I know from my own experiences how challenging finding your identity as a NZ-born Pacific person can be and the importance of seeing someone who looks/lives like you represented. I would advocate for consideration of the ways gender and ethnicity intersect and honour the specific experiences of Pasifika women in tertiary educational environments. We know that often the voices and the stories of brown women go unheard unless we make them heard. We know that sometimes we are reluctant to put ourselves forward and challenge the system. This is something that I feel very deeply about and will strive to ensure that those voices are heard and represented.

The union is a place where people can come together, and it is essential that we strive to be good manuhiri in Aotearoa by honouring tangata whenua and Te Tiriti o Waitangi and working together as tangata o le moana. The whāinga of the union are central to my engagement with others and my work as an educator. Tū kotahi, tū kaha demonstrates the importance of ensuring we have spaces where unity, solidarity and inclusion are prioritised and where wāhine voices are actively acknowledged and respected.

I look forward to hearing the stories of other women and telling our own, so that we can work together building a community that fosters, empowers and protects its people.

Fa’afetai tele lava,