St Marys College Year 13 students Annabelle Ryan, Fangafua Po’oi, Taualofa Totua and Angel Stowers run cultural workshops through social enterprise Meraki. It’s a solution to the cultural disconnect experienced by many second and third generation Pacific students in New Zealand. The Pacific Business Trust are happy to nurture the new social enterprise as they work towards expanding.
The cultural disconnect experienced by many second and third generation Pacific Island Students in New Zealand was an issue that 17 year old Annabelle Ryan experienced internally. She soon began seeing it in her community.
Despite being half Samoan on her father’s side, Annabelle says she felt disconnected from her Pacific roots.
“I’m not aware of the language and practices,” says Annabelle, who recently became more in touch with her culture through the College’s Samoan group.
Annabelle is the CEO and Financial Director of Meraki, a social enterprise set up between fellow Year 13 St Marys College students Fangafua Po’oi, Taualofa Totua and Angel Stowers.
Angel Stowers, Production Manager and a 17-year-old South Auckland-born-and-raised part Samoan, says she can understand the language, but sheepishly admits she can’t speak it and doesn’t know her parents’ villages.
Communications Director and Head Girl Taualofa Totua (18) says living with her grandmother, who hails from the villages of Afega and Malie in Samoa, and her Tongan grandfather has meant she, her mother and sister were rich in the cultural knowledge of her grandmother.
“Even though I’ve had that connection to my culture growing up, in terms of my schooling I’ve always attended predominantly palagi (European) schools,” says Taualofa.
While she’s experienced a high standard of education in these schools, the lack of Pacific material within the curriculum can be disheartening.
It’s something the girls want Meraki to address.
“Meraki is a solution for youth unlike me, who are growing up and aren’t as in touch with their cultural identity,” says Taualofa.
Marketing and Sales Director Fangafua Po’oi grew up with her Tongan culture, and says that growing up the Tongan way and knowing the customs makes her lucky.
“I’ve joined this vision the girls have with Meraki and it’s ignited a passion within me that I never knew existed growing up, giving me pride in my cultural identity.”
The girls cite their cultural identity with their will to succeed in education and the business world as motivation. Three of the four girls are wanting to study business at university.
Meraki helps Pacific primary and intermediate school-aged youth connect with their cultures through workshops, run by Pasifika Year 12 and 13 student volunteers from St Marys and St Peters Colleges.
Workshop volunteers share their Pasifika knowledge through visual arts, dance and drama in the hopes that participants incorporate the teachings into their own lives and want to learn more about their cultures.
The importance is for students to participate and become interested in learning about and building their cultural identity.
Meraki came together as part of the Young Enterprise Scheme in Business Studies. They’re in the business of ensuring Pacific knowledge and values are accessible to all, while empowering future leaders by sharing their Pasifika culture.
Meraki is a Greek word that means ‘putting an essence of yourself into your work’. It was chosen not only for its meaning, but to establish that the social enterprise is for the promotion of all Pacific cultures.
“We didn’t want to pick a name from one of the cultures and limit what we’re focusing on. We’re focusing on all Pacific cultures,” says Annabelle.
Meraki is grateful for the help and mentorship afforded to them by David Wilson and the Pacific Business Trust, who mentors the group.
“He provides another perspective with things we hadn’t even thought of,” says Taualofa.
“David’s always questioning us, pushing us to think bigger and to look at it from another perspective, which is helpful for any business to grow.”
Meraki managed to secure $200 of seed-funding through PBT and had the opportunity to meet other Pacific Social Enterprises like KidsCoin (which PBT also work with), which they describe as inspiring and encouraging.
The girls have bright futures ahead of them and are actively seeking out opportunities and ways in which to further expand the enterprise.
One of those is the Ideastarter competition, which Annabelle entered Meraki into, without telling the others.
Meraki overcame 200 applicants to make the top 10 and eventually take out the 15-19 year old category to win a prize package worth $10,000.
Taualofa shakes her head in disbelief as she says Annabelle “didn’t tell us and didn’t tell our business studies teacher.”
“We hadn’t even heard of Ideastarter,” Fangafua interjects.
They laugh, but add how much the win boosted their confidence, not just in Meraki, but themselves.
“We were so stoked because people actually think there’s potential for Meraki and what we have,” says Taualofa.
“Turning up to the competition, we were the only Pasifika group there. It was a really rewarding experience.”
It’s an experience they’re now using to build and grow Meraki, all while attending school, fitting in part-time jobs and participating in other extracurricular activities, including cultural groups and church commitments.
“It helps that it’s a passion for us,” says Angel.
“Just knowing that we can make at least a small change to start within our generation keeps us going.”