Q&A Harry Toleafoa Empowering Pacific

Educating and empowering is what motivates legal educator and community advocate Harry Fatu Semuā Toleafoa everyday. Having dedicated his life to educating Pacific people to know their legal rights, Harry tells LAUMATA LAUANO it would be for nought without the effort from his parents who hail from Vaigalu, Lepā (father) and Vaie’e, Safata (mother) in Samoa.



What is your role and where do you work?


I work for the Mangere Community Law Centre as a legal educator and community advocate. We facilitate legal education workshops to all sectors of the community and advocate on behalf of people who require assistance.

Where were you born and raised?


In West Auckland, but I currently reside in the Promised Land that is Mangere.


Where did you complete your education?


Avondale College, before I studied Law at the University of Auckland.


How many languages do you speak, and what are they?


Aside from English and Samoan, I’m beginning to learn Cook Islands Māori for my fiancé (now wife). I also speak Hebrew and Spanish after a few drinks.


What made you pursue a career in law?


Because I care about people. I see law as a vehicle of change to bring about help for the most vulnerable communities.


What are some of the challenges you have come across in your profession?

There is a substantial lack of cultural competency and diversity across the legal profession. Until measures are undertaken to address this, the profession will struggle to understand the very people it aims to assist. Furthermore, we operate in a Eurocentric legal system that is not reflective of the community it serves.



What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?


There is no greater reward than seeing people being empowered and resolving issues on their own accord.


What motivates you daily/what are your ‘whys’?


I’m a product of my parents’ sacrifice and the Pacific migrant dream. I’m forever indebted to my family who gave everything so I could live my dream.


I live in Mangere, where a lot of our people are struggling.


It really motivates me to carry out my job to the best of my ability in the hopes of empowering our people.


What’s a little known fact about you that you would like to share?


I worked as a rubbish collector during summers.


It is one of the most humble and rewarding professions.


What does it mean to you to be Pacific in your role?


It means everything. Without homogenising the Pacific experience, it is often our point of difference.


Our cultural values influence our practice and perceptions.


These are underpinned by respect, service and love. You perceive people holistically.


You acknowledge the rich history, ancestry and diversity that clients bring.



This article was first published in issue 72 of SPASIFIK Magazine, read this and more articles like it in the latest issue of SPASIFIK, out now.