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Royal visit injects momentum for Pasifika youth and mental health

02 November 2018

Posted in: Pacific Radio News,

The royal visit to New Zealand this week by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex highlighted the unique values of Pasifika people and what they contribute to society.

SaintzUp Performing Arts dancers put on a show for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Photo/ Mark Tantrum.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's focus on youth leadership and mental health were particular issues close to home for the Pasifika community.

Pasifika and Māori young people are highly represented in the country's grim suicide statistics. 

A Tongan mother of two studying in Dunedin, Melissa Lama, met with the royal couple to discuss issues around mental health at an engagement in Wellington.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle met Melissa Lama in Wellington. Photo/ Twitter.

The royal couple also met Pasifika champions in mental health and well-being at an engagement with young people in Auckland.

Chief executive of Le Va, Monique Faleafa, led a group of young leaders during the organisation's meet and greet with Prince Harry and Meghan at Auckland War Memorial Hall.

She said the royal engagements acknowledging these issues is a big win for mental health campaigns all over the world.

"What they're doing for mental health is fantastic. They're making sure that mental health is on the global agenda politically, that countries unite... to prioritise mental health as a major health issue for the 21st century."

"They're really helping with the destigmatisation of mental health. They're saying, 'It's okay to talk about mental health'."

"They're role models in their own rights. They talk about their own mental health issues and how important it is for all walks of life, for all classes in society to look after their well-being, not just for themselves but for the future generations."

Youth, politics and mental health advocate Josiah Tualamali'i echoed Faleafa's praises for the royal couple and said it's touching to see them take time to listen to ordinary people.

"They've taken time to give people a moment of feeling important. I know that's something that all of our leaders can do."

"Time and time again we've seen Harry and Meghan push back to honour someone's mental health."

The Auckland royal engagements were the most significant for Pacific peoples.

The Duke and Duchess visited Pillars, a South Auckland charity that supports and mentors children whose parents are in prison. 

The royal couple with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Pillars in Manukau. Photo/ Pool.

More than 23,000 children are affected by having a parent in prison and without the right support, are nine times likely to end up in prison as adults.

Pillars ambassador Dave Letele or Brown Buttabean, whose father was incarcerated when he was just five years old, said he knows too well the trauma and the shame prisoners' kids left behind endure.

"The families of prisoners, they're serving the time as well as the people that are actually in prison."

"It's really hard on the families, it's hard on the kids, there's a shame that they feel and it's really hard not having one of your parents to live off of their support. It's really important that these kids have hope and that they're not stuck in this cycle that happens all too often."

Pillars received a donation of $5,000 early this year from the New Zealand Government, requested by the royal couple in lieu of wedding gifts.

The royal couple ended their tour in Auckland at the Prime Minister's reception event at the museum, where Prince Harry greeted guests in different Pacific languages. 

He said they enjoyed being in Auckland, "one of the world's most diverse cities". 

"We've heard Auckland described as a multicultural melting pot by the sea. It's mix of people, cultures and languages is what gives this city its unique identity."

"It is incredibly inspiring to see you forging new paths, while staying rooted in your language, culture and heritage."

They were then entertained with a cultural performance by SaintzUp Performing Arts and TONE 6. 

TONE 6 performing for the royal couple in Auckland. Photo/ Mark Tantrum.

Many young Pasifika leaders with significant contributions to the community had the opportunity to chat with the Duke and Duchess.

For Susana Vunipola, a volunteer at TOKO Collaboration, it was a humbling experience.

"We're all talking about mental health and we're so used to sweeping it under the rug but being able to express that to Meghan Markle that we're doing something for our people, it's so humbling."

Tags: Royal Visit NZ,