The Pacific Institute congratulates ANU Master’s graduates Ana Lautaimi Soakai (Crawford School) and Tauvasa Tanuvasa Chou-Lee (College of Law) and who were among 30 Pacific students studying in Australia to receive the Prime Minister’s Pacific-Australia (PMPA) Award last Thursday (6 December 2012). Here we offer extracts from an interview with Ana about her work and what she hopes to achieve with her PMPA Award. [Read more about Tauvasa and his PMPA in an earlier post to Outrigger.] Click the photo of Ana (top left) to see her with The Hon Gareth Evans AC QC, Chancellor of the ANU (standing to her left) and Prof. Tom Kompas, Director of the Crawford School at her graduation ceremony last Friday.
Ana Lautaimi Soakai was born in 1984 and raised in the Ha’apai island group, Tonga where she attended a local primary school (GPS Pangai/Hihifo). She then moved to Tonga High School (THS), Nuku’alofa, and was Head Girl Prefect in her final year. After completing Form 7, she passed a bursary program and was awarded a scholarship from NZAID to study a Bachelor of Economics and Information Systems at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji. She completed her degree in mid-2007 and immediately began work in the Revenue Services Department (RSD) of the Kingdom of Tonga. The following year, she became a senior economist with the Project and Aid Management Division, in the Tongan Ministry of Finance. In late 2010, she received news that her application for an Australian Development Scholarship (ADS) was successful and in early 2011, she commenced a Graduate Diploma in International Development Economics (IDEC) at the ANU’s Crawford School. This year she completed her Masters in International Development Economics.
Ana’s Prime Minister’s Pacific Award (PMPA) will enable her to spend three months in Pacific Islands Trade and Invest (PITI), the ‘region’s lead export facilitation, investment and tourism promotion agency.’ PITI is a part of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Secretariat, and as such is responsible for promoting international industry and business opportunities for all of the 14 PIF member countries. Ana has met with staff from PITI and is already impressed by their professionalism. She is excited about her PMPA placement and believes her time with PITI will give her valuable new insights and a better understanding of issues related to economic development in the region. We are sure that her colleagues at Pacific Islands Trade and Invest will enjoy their time with her.
Ana has made a big impression at the ANU. Like her fellow ANU PMPA Awardee Tauvasa Tanuvasa Chou-Lee, she has made significant contributions to mentoring programmes for Pacific Islander youth in Australia run by Pasifika Australia. This year, in addition to her other activities and her Masters program, Ana was also President of the Toad Hall Resident’s Advisory Committee. She has loved her time as a student at ANU, particularly her time in residence at Toad Hall, where she has enjoyed the strong sense of community among postgraduate students from very diverse backgrounds. She has also greatly appreciated the support of her Pacific brothers at Toad Hall (from Samoa and Fiji) – most recently for the meals they cooked for her throughout her final exam period.
Ana’s sense of gratitude is infectious. In reflecting on her time at ANU, she expressed her appreciation for her fellow students and residents, but also for her extended family in Canberra and at home in Tonga, who have supported her emotionally and financially with her studies. Ana believes this inclusive and intimate approach to extended family is as fundamental to Pacific islands cultures as it is to her own wellbeing – it kept her from feeling isolated, lonely and homesick during the two years she lived in her small room in Toad Hall, away from her immediate family.
On Friday, 14 December 2012, in a graduation ceremony at the ANU’s Llewellyn Hall attended by her parents and members of her extended family (pictured left), Ana’s two degrees were conferred. For Ana, this was a moment for profound gratitude. One of seven children, her parents went to great efforts to ensure she and her siblings received a good education (she is the only university graduate in her family). Her Dad worked for 33 years as a linesman with the main electricity utility in Tonga (TPL) to pay for the children’s education. Her older brother worked as a fruit picker in the Emerald region of Queensland for 7 months earlier this year (under the Australian Government’s Pacific Seasonal Worker Scheme) to buy his own land in Tonga, but also set money aside each month to pay for Ana’s parents to come to Australia so they were able to attend her graduation. Ana’s gratitude for these and other blessings is ultimately to God. She believes “we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.”