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Tuvalu Language Week: Calls for more Tuvaluan speakers in health sector to better help community

Natasha Hill

'That's the challenge for the old's not easy to understand'

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

More speakers of the Tuvaluan language are needed to help keep communities better informed about health initiatives and programmes targeting Pacific peoples in New Zealand.

That is the encouragement from those in the health sector who attended a special event as part of Tuvalu Language Week celebrations in Auckland this week.

Community social worker Lota Sika said there needs to be more Tuvalu workers in the health space who can speak to the community in their own language, as the language barrier is one of the biggest challenges Pasifika peoples face - particularly the elderly.

She said older people at the event, for example, could not understand the health provider presentations because it was reported in English.

“They don’t really communicate or talk or respond when I ask the question to them in English. I found that’s the challenge for the old people.

“It’s not easy for them to understand the [Ministry of Social Development] presentation. It’s better for them to really understand what’s benefiting for them.”

Sika was among a number of social workers, health providers and other members of the local Tuvaluan community who attended the Disability Day and Tuvalu Arts and crafts display event held at the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu Church in Henderson, West Auckland.

Members of the Tuvaluan community at the Disability Day and Tuvalu Arts and crafts display at the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu Church in Henderson, West Auckland, this week. Photo / Natasha Hill

People of all ages were welcomed with gifts handed to visitors at the door. The walls were decorated with Tuvaluan artwork and tables were filled with food. There was also entertainment.

This year’s language week theme is: Fakatumau kae fakaakoi tau ‘gana ke mautu a iloga o ‘ta tuā. Translated, it means: Preserve and embrace your language to safeguard our heritage identities.

The focus of the week is the importance of nurturing the Tuvaluan language.

Health provider for Bowel Screening was also at the event promoting their National Bowel Screening programme.

Elena Kefa and Florence Setu promoting the importance of bowel screening. Photo / Natasha Hill

The free initiative is offered every two years to Māori and Pacific men and women aged 60 to 74 years old. However, it is only offered to people who are eligible for public-funded health care.

Pacific health promoter of the programme, Florence Setu, said the screening rates for Māori and Pasifika are significantly low and there is not enough funding and support for programmes such as bowel screening.

The pilot programme was offered to people aged 50 years old and then it was raised to 60 a few years later.

Setu said she would like to see the programme reaching more people in the community.

“The Tuvalu community is relatively small and so it is very important they are given the support, so they have the opportunity to have a voice and be heard.”

She said it is really important that Pacific languages are kept alive, especially among younger generations.

“A lot of our people have lived the Western way for so long that we either forget or have held a strong uninterest with the culture that even the language has been forgotten.”

Hero image: L-R: Terresa Andrews, Lota Sika and Janeta Vasega from Pacific health services provider Vaka Tautua. Photo / Natasha Hill

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