Engaging Pacifica communities- Papakura High School builds a Fale
By Kerry Monaghan
Papakura High School Principal, John Rohs never imagined his school would one day be the proud owners of a unique Pacifica structure that now proudly sits in the forefront of the school’s grounds.
Known as a Fale, John says the semi open air structure is a venue that can be used for Pasifika events, meetings, celebrations and concerts, but will also be open to anyone in the community to use.
The Fale is believed to be one of the biggest built on school grounds in the South Auckland region, and will be an important symbol of the school’s connection and engagement with the Pasifika Community in Papakura, and sends a strong message to the community of identification as well as an important part of Papakura High School.
Constructed over three months and officially opened on Friday 5th April, the idea of the Fale came about from the school’s Property Project Manager, Steve Waters who suggested the idea after funds from the Community Trust Grant Organisation, Trillian Trust had funding available that had yet to be applied for.
For Principal, John Rohs, the answer was an absolute yes! And so, the application process was set in motion by Steve.
John says applying was one thing, but to find out their application was successful was something else as it had always been a dream of the school to have Fale built.
“I never for a moment thought we would be successful in receiving the grant, and we are so grateful, because as a school, we could never have afforded something like this. So we have Steve to thank for setting in motion the steps from application, through to the design work, procurement and organising the construction.” says John.
With design involvement from the school’s Board of Trustees and the Board’s Samoan and Tongan Ministers, steps around the entire Fale were constructed and construction details such as the roofing.
John says adding the unique roofing shingles was a labour of love and a massive piece of work by the construction team, giving the effect of an upturned Waka (boat) from the inside ceiling.
“It’s a beautiful building and when we had the official opening ceremony, our Samoan Minister, Reverend James Matamua talked about Pasifika People who voyaged here in their Waka, and when you look at the ceiling and how it was constructed, it was a beautiful metaphor in what he said.” says John.
For John, having their own Fale was important for the community to feel that Papakura High School sees the engagement with both the Maori and Pasifika communities, and as a strong statement about who Papakura High School is.
“The fact that we have such a diverse Pacifica community with a large number of students Samoan and second largest being Tongan, we also have a small number that have Nuiean heritage and Cook Islands, with a smattering of students from Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati. We want everyone to feel that this is likewise, their place too.”
John also feels that it will help give the school a sense of pride in promoting self -belief and pride in students, their language, identify and culture and an overall symbol of aspiration for the Pasifika young people who have mixed Pasifika origins, mixed Pasifika Maori origins, or Pasifika Pakeha origins as their sense of identity is not always as strong in other places.
“Our Papakura Pacifica community is a diverse community. Papakura is quite a different place, so we have a lot of mixed Maori Tongan students which adds a different dynamic compared to other parts of South Auckland. So, the Fale is there to promote a sense of who they are in identifying as young Pacifica.”
With such positive feedback thus far from the community and the public, John says one of the most important things in receiving a gift like this is the Trillian Trust and similar organisations see the benefit of their disbursements for the community, not just schools and creates an ongoing relationship between the two.
“The fact that this Fale has come about is an amazing story of what is possible when people have some imagination, and we trust that our community will respect it, just like our Wharenui so everyone can enjoy it.” says John.