CM Health Staff Profile: Fanau Ola Social Worker Sitela Payne-Vimahi

Sitela Payne-Vimahi, a senior social worker with the Fanau Ola team, talks about her passion for making a difference in the lives of Pasifika people, how her faith guides her work.

Sitela Payne Vimahi


"My role is to poupou (advocate), tokoni (enable), and fakaivi'i (empower) our Pasifika patients, especially our Tongan community. I empower patients by educating them about the health and social system and how to navigate it. I ensure social issues are addressed and taken care of first as these have a huge impact on patient's mo'ui lelei lō tolu, (health and wellbeing). Taking a holistic approach by working with other health professions to apply these three concepts helps achieve better health outcomes for our Pasifika population.

Sitela says it can be a challenge to face many complex social issues within Kainga/Famili and individuals.

"A social worker can assist in navigating social services and systems that can be too complicated for many of our Pasifika people to get around. Pasifika people experience inequity and significant deprivation, with most family situations or needs not being met due to the unsuitability of set criteria in these systems. It can be frustrating as people are desperate for help, and I sometimes question if there is a light at the end of the tunnel and, if so, how far away is it.

"Then I remind myself it's 'one family at a time,' and take a leap of faith, work smart, hard, and trust that God will show the way. My motto in life is He 'oku 'ikai ha me'a 'e faingata'a ki he 'Otua 'For with God, nothing shall be impossible" (Luke, 1:37)'."

Sitela calls Māngere 'the heart of South Auckland' home, but grew up in Kolofo'ou, Nuku'alofa, Tonga, migrating to Aotearoa in the eighties.

"I had completed half of my nursing diploma when a co-worker suggested that I would make a great social worker. I had never heard of social work as a profession but found it reflected many of the values I was brought up with. I went on to complete a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Auckland."

A social worker for more than 20 years, Sitela says the most rewarding part of her role is seeing people's faces light up, knowing they will be ok and that tokoni (support) is available for them.

"It is the sense of amanaki (hope) that a social worker brings to our Kainga, who at most times have believed that there is none.

"One of the advantages of being a Tongan-speaking social worker is how easy to build that patient and social worker relationship (vā fetuʻutakí). It strengthens ngaahi fakamaʻú (engagements), feohi lelei (rapport), falala (trust), and fakaʻapaʻapa (respect)."

Knowing she is contributing to someone's life for the better is what drives Sitela, and she is proud of her faith in God, Tongan values, and her Tongan culture, tradition, and heritage.

"I was raised based on the four Tongan golden values which are 'Faa'i Kavei Koula' of Fefaka'apa'apa'aki (mutual respect), Feveitokai'aki (sharing, collaborating and fulfillment of mutual obligations), Loto to (humility and generosity), and Tauhi vaha'a (loyalty and commitment). These values are very similar to what underpins the essence of social work, such as the importance of human relationships, dignity, and worth of the person, integrity, and service.

"Having Faith in God helps to lighten the load and stress in life. God has given me a purpose in life, and that is to serve Him, the CM Health community, and the Tongan people so I can make a difference in this lifetime."

"Ko e 'Otua mo Tonga ko hoku tofi'a" "From God and Tonga I descend."

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