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Mana Pasifika: Helping community members reach Beyond the Reef

Mana Pasifika: Helping community members reach Beyond the Reef

Photo Credit: Timothy Harm & Ana Vete Keil
Story by Mary Harm

Pacific Islander populations in Australia are growing rapidly, especially in South East Queensland.

Although many within these communities thrive, there is a large portion of the Pacific community who have not transitioned so well.

Mana Pasifika is a Pasifika-run not-for-profit organisation that supports Pasifika peoples across Australia.

Currently, their main focus is filing the gap in Australia-based research and evidence, and informing public policy around Pasifika peoples, while also running programs and projects on the ground to help build identity, community and capacity in Pacific communities.

“Many initiatives conducted by governments, councils and other organisations to address why this is so, are not working for Pacific communities,” Mana Pasifika Chairman Andrew Fa’avale said.

This is the gap Mana Pasifika fills by providing culturally-nuanced ways of working with Pasifika people.

The Beyond the Reef: Arts and Wellbeing Project is Mana Pasifika’s most recent initiative, which brought together community artists, public health professionals, academics and Pasifika youth over a six-month period, to collaborate and address mental health and social inclusion issues within the Pacific community in Logan, Queensland.

Photo credit: Timothy Harm & Ana Vete Keil

When asked what statistics inform the Beyond the Reef Project, Mr Fa’avale said data on Pasifika people is weak in Australia, with many of their ethnicities hidden behind a New Zealand citizenship.

“Pasifika peoples are disproportionately represented in certain anti-social stats such as suicide and youth justice,” he said.

The need for this program is to highlight that the data and anecdotes relating to health and wellbeing won't improve if initiatives aren't culturally-nuanced and tailored, and strengths-based.

Beyond the Reef was adopted as a project name from the Disney movie Moana, that tells the story of a courageous young woman who voyages beyond the reef to save her island and her people.

The project title hopes to inspire youth to reach for beyond what is in front of them, like Moana did.

Photo credit: Timothy Harm & Ana Vete Keil

One of Beyond the Reef’s contracted artists, Melodee Leilua, featured on the Moana movie soundtrack.

After travelling to over 30 countries with internationally acclaimed Pacific world music group Te Vaka for seven years, Ms Leilua feels a great responsibility to give back to her community.

“Singing is one of my passions and my career has greatly enriched my life with outrageous experiences and worldly culture,” she explained.

It is my hope that more Pasifika youth can achieve their dreams, because if our ancestors can conquer the vast ocean with nothing but the humble waka (traditional canoe) then imagine what we can do!

Pacific music, dance and other traditional art forms have always been a way for Pacific people to heal and tell their stories.

Traditional art forms such as Tapa making were embedded into the Beyond the Reef Project, allowing Pasifika youth to learn about the values, meaning and purpose of the Tapa, while experiencing the drawn-out process of making it from design to print.

Australian-born Fijian Dale Tuqiri is a participant of the Beyond the Reef Project and she said her involvement with the project was motivated by her experience as a young person receiving education in both rural North Queensland and Brisbane.

“I used to draw island patterns in my books when I was bored in class or as a stress reliever but that was it, so I was shocked to realise that these patterns were of the Masis (Traditional Fijian patterns) hanging up on the wall at home,” she said.

“Making the Ngatu (Tapa) gave me a greater understanding on what the patterns I was drawing mean to my Fijian culture.”

To learn more about how Mana Pasifika check out the website HERE or email info@mana.org.au