In celebration of Niue Language Week, our staff member Iris Feilo-Naepi talks about the importance of her culture and her mission to help raise awareness for Pacific people’s mental health.
Born in Auckland, Iris was raised by her maternal grandparents since she was a baby.
“Both my parents were born in Niue. My father comes from the village of Alofi and my mother is from Avatele and Tamakautoga. I married a Niuean and he comes from Alofi and Tamakautoga and together we share two children and three beautiful grandchildren,” she says.
Eager to secure a better future for herself, Iris decided to pursue higher education wanting to acknowledge her grandparents and parents’ journey from Niue to New Zealand.
“Paying tribute to them was always at the forefront of my mind and looking at my young children I wanted them to look forward to their own future aspirations,” she says.
Studying a Bachelor in Health Science (Occupational Therapy), Iris went to Auckland University of Technology and completed post-graduate certificate papers in Allied Mental Health from Victoria University and Child and Adolescent Mental Health service from University of Auckland.
“It took five years to complete my studies and the most rewarding time for me was getting to graduate. Between juggling finances, looking after my own family, and working part-time jobs on holiday breaks It was a challenging time,” she says.
Growing up in a Niue household Iris was taught the importance of having strong connections with family. She credits her husband and extended family helping take care of the children while she focused on building a career in health.
Now at CM Health Iris is currently the Team Manager for Taunaki (CAMHS) and Faletoa (Pacific Cultural Clinical Liaison service).
Tuanaki is a specialist mental health service catered for children and young people living in the Counties Manukau region and the Faletoa team provides help for Pacific people with mental health problems.
“I was previously a senior clinician, so I knew my role well but learning about management has been a different experience I’ve come to enjoy,” says Iris.
“My focus at this time is improving Pacific access and Pacific understanding of mental health and its services. You need to enjoy what you do daily even if there are down days. There are some days that are challenging but that’s where the learning comes from and you grow from the learning. Your ‘toolbox’ becomes bigger with better ways to cope with challenges,” she says.
Iris uses her culture to ground herself and is thankful for her grandparent's instilling faith and strong family values.
“The philosophy of Niue is about sharing what you have with others. The idea of giving willingly and sharing abundantly is an ethos my grandparents taught me as a child through observation and by showing me what to do. They are people of strong faith and I carry this with me in my everyday work life.”
“The drive for my career and in life is my Christian beliefs, my family and I always think ‘what’s next?’.”