Unitec - Leading the way with Maori and Pacific support

A familiar face in the community, Linda Aumua (Fiji) is back at Unitec’s Waitākere campus in Henderson as the Head of School, Healthcare and Social Practice. One of the first things she noticed upon her return was that Māori and Pacific students are thriving. She attributes some of this success to the fantastic support that Unitec offers



Anna Smith (Apia, Samoa) and Evelyn Hikuroa (Ngāti Maniapoto) are responsible for supporting Pacifica and Māori students in Unitec’s Bachelor of Nursing programme. They ensure that students are aware of, and have access to, financial, wellbeing, whānau/fanau, and counselling services. They also refer students to external services, such as Fono and Waipareira Trust.


Anna says staff have much broader aspirations than just supporting students in their studies. “We want them to strengthen their cultural identities and to take pride in this.”


They also want students’ whānau/fanau to feel at home on campus – it’s important that family members understand what it means to study at Unitec, so they can support the students at their end and help alleviate family pressures so students can succeed.


Other staff members support Māori and Pacific students on top of their day-to-day work. Nursing staff member, Vimlesh Shukla (Macuata Labasa, Fiji), notes that a lot of students are reluctant to ask for help.


“It’s very important that we understand why they’re reluctant to access support, and break down those barriers.”


Fi Elisa Hukui (Niuean – mother from Mutalau, father from Alofi) has worked at Unitec’s Free4U computing in Henderson since 2007.


Free4U is an important and successful programme which provides introductory self-directed computing courses to the community.


Fi moved to Aotearoa in 1975, and had amazing teachers whose passion for teaching inspires her to instill the same passion in her own students.


“I just love getting to know people,” says Fi. “You get to see who they really are ... everyone comes to Free4U because they want to learn, regardless of their background.”


Fi acknowledges that learning can be scary, especially in a modern world where digital skills are often a prerequisite for success. At Free4U, the learning environment is friendly, welcoming, and supportive, and she and Free4U team share in the students success, be it gaining employment, self-confidence, or continuing further studies and graduating.


Helena Finau (Aotearoa-born Tongan – mother from Fua’amotu, father from Vava’u) - a team leader within the Student Wellbeing team – always starts conversations with a cup of tea and a snack. She understands it’s sometimes hard for Māori and Pacific students to open up and disclose personal matters, but she believes this is why it’s even more important to do the work she does.


A big part of Helena’s role is creating projects with students – she’s currently working with Bachelor of Health and Social Development (Health Promotion) students to create informative material on sexual health and she also runs a Pacific mentoring programme at Henderson campus.


Like her Unitec colleagues, Helena believes that the best way to help students is by forming strong, long-lasting relationships, and that these relationships can take a long time.


Evelyn agrees, “Trust doesn’t happen overnight”


“After all, they’re why we’re all here in the first place,” says Helena. 


Meet Grads Leastra and Andrew





Making the decision to study a Bachelor of Social Practice at Unitec did more than just prepare Leastra (Ngā Puhi) for a rewarding career as a social worker. It helped her leave a physically and emotionally abusive relationship.


Leastra says a lot of people take up social work because they’ve experienced some form of trauma in their lives, prompting them to want to support others in similar situations. She says she was surprised at how Unitec’s degree encouraged, supported and celebrated what her and her classmates had been through.


While studying, Leastra worked part-time at Tu Wahine Trust, a kaupapa Māori counselling, therapy and support service for survivors of sexual harm and violence within whānau. Leastra was one of the first people whānau spoke with once they’d been referred.


Four years of study was a big commitment, but one Leastra says her lecturers fully supported her through. “I was unprepared for the sexual harm and abuse kōrero in my first week at Tu Wahine, so much so that I almost had a nervous breakdown. I contacted my placement coordinator who handled the situation amazingly and was able to help me get back on track.”


After graduation, Leastra came to the realisation that she still has a way to go on her road to recovery, so she decided to return to Waitākere campus to study the New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing (Mental Health and Addiction Support) – and she’s loving it.





Andrew, who’s Samoan and moved to Aotearoa with his fanau in 2009, recently graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing at Unitec. Andrew attributes his passion for nursing to his Christian values; he and other members of his church regularly donate food to the homeless. This work got him thinking about how else he could serve his community.


Andrew initially studied Unitec’s Certificate in University Preparation before moving into the degree programme on a scholarship.


“It was awesome that Unitec has services like Te Puna Ako and the Pacific Centre, which are dedicated to supporting Māori and Pacific students.”


For Andrew, one of the highlights of the programme were the interactions with his lecturers – “they were so approachable!” He also found that cultural awareness was a massive part of the programme, and is instrumental in helping students understand different cultural needs and values.


Andrew and his cousin Taulaga (who also lectures at Unitec) run presentations at their local church on healthcare issues that are most relevant to the congregation; diabetes, gout, and strokes. They also measure blood pressure, glucose (sugar) levels, weight, and check for other medical conditions.


“Respect is a massive part of Samoan culture, so it was hard, going in as someone young, to tell these elders what to do,” he recalls.


Andrew, however, has found that having Unitec’s degree has made a big difference in his interactions and is committed to growing preventative healthcare in his community.