In celebration of Kiribati Language Week, Fanau Ola Social Worker Mateata Teatao talks about the importance of her culture and her passion for helping Pacific people through their most vulnerable times.
"I always knew I wanted to help people. My mother is a social worker, and I saw the power of what they can do by watching her. There aren't many I-Kiribati social workers in NZ, so I wanted to help change that and offer a younger perspective,"
Born in Kiribati, Mateata migrated to New Zealand in 2006 and described adjusting as a culture shock.
"I hail from the islands of Abaiang, Abemama and Maiana. I loved growing up in Kiribati; it's a simple way of life, and we're all surrounded by our families. I was 12 when I came to New Zealand, and I remember struggling with the cold weather,"
"When we first came here, I recognised we looked, talked and dressed differently, and when you're a teen, you feel like you have to fit in. But now that I'm older and a mother of two children, I realise it's about embracing who you are,"
Starting undergraduate study in 2012 at Massey University, Mateata gained a Bachelor of Social Work. Since then, she's worked as a Registered Social Worker at Middlemore Hospital and currently in the Pacific Health Development – Fanua Ola team for several years. She says it's a privilege to focus her work on advocating for high-risk Pasifika patients and their families.
"For some patients, it can be hard, especially when they feel unwell, don't know where to turn, and English is not their mother tongue. As a social worker, I have the chance to step in as a voice of reassurance and serve my people,"
"Being in the Fanau Ola Team has opened up many opportunities. I've engaged with inpatient departments like Emergency care, Maternity, Surgical Wards, and Community Services to help and advocate for patients and families."
"When supporting families, my drive is to help people see their strengths and reach their potential, especially when they feel vulnerable. I carry my cultural values of family, spirituality, language and respect."
Being fluent in her language, she hopes to pass on speaking Kiribati to her children. Celebrations for the island's Independence Day happen on July 12. It's an important day for her family. She mentions the Kiribati communities gather to celebrate together from all over the country.
"This year, we're doing sports days for three days in Hamilton, and on Saturday, we have a cultural celebration with lots of singing and dancing,"
Mateata sees the value and uniqueness of her culture. Sharing the phrase - 'Au kaunganano nakoira I-Kiribati iaon NZ, tina kawakina ara katei ao ara taetae n Kiribati, riki ibukia ara ataei ma roro n rikirake aika a rikirake iaon NZ' – I encourage us, I-Kiribati in NZ, to maintain our culture and language, especially among our younger generation.'