My recent facilitation experiences with the early years team has involved supporting teachers in exploring, understanding, and become confident in using the Pasifika Education Plan, 2013 – 2017 (PEP). Their aim is, of course, to increase successful learning, and strengthen participation in ECE of Pasifika families within their communities.
Real-life professional learning in Pasifika culture: PEP in practice
In August, my husband I had the privilege of travelling with my CORE colleagues, Ruta McKenzie, Justine Mason and her husband to Samoa. This experience was intended as a holiday, yet it served as the most meaningful professional learning opportunity I have ever engaged in. For two weeks we lived with Ruta’s family in their homes within their villages.
Ruta has described in a previous blog post how her experience of moving from Samoa to a different — Palangi — world impacted on her deeply. I, too, felt the impact of the differences in moving into her world and her ways of knowing, being, and doing. From the moment we stepped off the plane I saw signs and notices that I couldn’t read, smells I couldn’t recognise, processes through customs where I wasn’t sure how to respond, and so on. I was extremely thankful that Ruta was there to help clarify many of these uncertainties. I decided to use this experience to discover for myself what the Pasifika cultural values, identified in the PEP, look like in practice.
Interaction with strangers; treated like honoured guests
I watched Ruta as we walked around the markets in Apia, and saw how she moved to sit amongst the people waiting for the buses and converse with them in her own language. She purchased food, which I didn’t recognise, from the young person selling it on the street, giving some to a woman beside her, whom she didn’t know. I reflected on this action and realised that I would not have even considered doing that, as in my culture, I am unlikely to talk to a stranger at the bus stop let alone buy food to give it to her. I pondered over this as Ruta was obviously feeling that true sense of belonging as she re-engaged in her familiar language and community life.
When we arrived at Ruta’s family home, we immediately felt the high value placed on family togetherness and love. We were welcomed as guests: we were served our food first as part of the respectful practices within the culture. The family ate after us. The children and younger adults showed profound respect for their elders, and undertook household tasks so unquestionably. They supported each other in ‘dance-like’ fashion, where everyone knew their role and worked alongside each other for this to be a smooth loving, giving, and caring process, where there seemed to be no particular leader.
Special occasions reveal respectful leadership practices and traditions
During our time in Samoa, Ruta’s family were involved in a family funeral. We had the opportunity to experience the deep respectful and spiritual practices around giving and receiving of food, fine mats and money from extended Aiga in the villages. The decision-making and respectful leadership practices demonstrated throughout the three-day funeral ceremony were clearly extremely important, and needed to be performed in the correct way. The place of commitment to family and their spiritual beliefs in this process was very evident.
We felt and observed an enormous sense of respect, spirituality, inclusion, and service when our husbands were involved in the Father’s Day celebration in the Church. Our involvement in preparing for this special occasion was indeed a privilege as we created the 20 or so ula, made from sweets, for presenting to the fathers at the service the following day. Daily Lotu times and caregiving routines with each other were served in a loving, caring, responsive, and respectful manner.
How can these things benefit us here in New Zealand?
Throughout these experiences I considered how early childhood services in New Zealand can recognise and implement these values through their every-day curriculum practices, policies, and procedures.
It helped me to identify areas such as the enrollment, welcoming, and participation procedures, sleeping practices, preparation and provision of recognisable kai, use of familiar languages, identifiable features within the learning environments, and the availability of cultural artifacts, stories, and songs for children to engage with during their daily play experiences, are key factors that can impact on successful learning for Pasifika children and their families.
Ruta was our guide in exploring what was an unknown world to us. It is clear to me that our teachers are the guides for Pasifika students in New Zealand to assist them in navigating what is essentially an unknown world to them. When teachers understand the significance of the Pasifika cultural values, and how these are embedded in children’s daily experiences and family aspirations, they can better support the Pasifika families to connect with, become engaged, and participate in ECE.