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Nursing graduate's perseverance pays off as he fulfills grandparents’ dream

Mary Afemata

Elijah Muaiava’s plan B has turned out to be an A choice as he's 'learned to love' nursing.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

The importance of serving his family and community has seen a young Samoan man persevere to achieve tertiary success and fulfil his grandparents’ dream.

Elijah Muaiava (from the villages of Faleula, Faleatiu, and Vailu’utai) has just graduated with his nursing degree and he starts in his new role in January 2024.

The 20-year-old’s grandparents Maria Sylvia Ah-Cheung and John Muaiava longed to see their grandchildren pursue tertiary education.

"My grandparents wanted at least one of their grandchildren to go university, what started out as their journey became my own," he says.

As one of six siblings, Muaiava is the first to graduate from university in his family.

Graduating from Auckland university, he joins the Māori and Pacific Admissions Scheme (MAPAS) alumni as Muiava entered the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences through the scheme.

Muaiava attended De La Salle College in Māngere. While he knew wanted to work in healthcare after high school, he wasn’t exactly sure what.

“Initially I wanted to do med, I was thinking that’s where the big bucks are, I always liked science and biology in high school and I genuinely like helping people, as corny as that sounds.”

His Year 12 results made him question his original plan for medical school as he says: “I was like, oh! Maybe I’m not cut out for that, just yet.”

However, that did not deter Muaiava’s desire to help others or fulfill his grandparent's dream.

Their encouragement helped him to choose nursing as his chosen career path.

His grandmother Ah-Cheung says Muaiava would look after her whenever she was sick taking her temperature and things.

"We are so proud of him," she says, and used to be a nurse herself.

Muaiava persevered through difficult times during his three years of study.

Studying through the pandemic impacted his classroom learning as he could not participate in practical placements at the hospitals because of COVID restrictions.

“It was tough starting out, we couldn’t go into the hospitals, it was just theory. Once I was in placement [hospital] I genuinely loved the real-world learning and I learned to love nursing.”

His first year living on campus was another challenge as his living space felt foreign despite being only 20 kilometers away from his Manukau home.

He adjusted to a predominantly Pakeha environment where there were few Pacific faces.

“I think I stayed in my room for four hours straight that first night before I rang my aunty.

“I guess I just learned how to talk to other people, who aren’t like me.”

Muaiava says many times over the last three years he questioned whether he would ever complete his studies.

Despite these challenges, he remembers a moment during a challenging day and a patient reaffirming his career choice.

“There was one challenging day, and I remember just taking a moment, thinking how tough the day was and then this patient told me, ‘You’re going to make a great nurse’ and I thought well alright then!”

Muaiava plans to undertake postgraduate studies in the future.

Hero image: Nursing graduate Muaiava Tuala and his grandparents John Muaiava and Maria Sylvia Ah-Cheung. Photo/ University of Auckland

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