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Leaupepe Rachel Karalus - Nurture and grow Pacific talent

Success Stories 28 May 2020

Rachel Karalus is a proud Samoan who currently leads K'aute Pasifika Trust, a charitable trust based in Hamilton providing health, education and social services to Pasifika communities and all other ethnicities. Rachel was born in Samoa and moved to Hamilton with her family when she was young. To celebrate Samoan Language Week, Rachel shared with PCF her family's links to Samoa, the importance of education in her family and nurturing future Pacific leaders through the NZ Scholarships Internship programme.



Talofa lava Rachel, thank you for your time. First of all, with COVID-19 changing the way that we work and move about, how have you coped during the lockdown?

Talofa lava! I was in a privileged position of being able to get out and about supporting our families with care packages and delivering medication to families without transport. It was wonderful to be able to do something practical to support our community during what is a very challenging time for many. Having said that, it was also wonderful to have extra time for family and it certainly reinforced the things which we already know are the most important things in life yet sometimes forget to prioritise under the guise of ‘busy-ness’.

It was reported that during the lockdown, K’aute Pasifika delivered over 1300 care packages across the Waikato region. Despite Pacific peoples in NZ having the lowest numbers of COVID-19 cases, why do you think the pandemic made them more vulnerable?

Many of the families we work with are already vulnerable - living from week to week or in some cases living with the reality that their outgoings consistently exceed their incomes. I am not talking about luxuries but outgoings relating to meeting the basic needs of a household – shelter, food, warmth (heating and clothing), transport – not to mention the costs of health care and/or education. So when unexpected changes in income occur there is no recourse to savings. There is no safety net. Don’t get me wrong – the families we work with do not consider themselves deprived or vulnerable. Mostly they present as faithful, hopeful, resourceful and grateful.

As we celebrate Samoan Language Week this week, can you tell us a bit about your background?

I was born at Mootootua Hospital in Apia, Western Samoa. My family has links on Upolu to Fasito’outa, Luatuanu’u, Aleipata, Tulaele and on Savaii to Salelologa, Safotu and Falealupe. The Leaupepe title is from Fasito’outa on Upolu.

My grandfather was from Savaii and saved all his money to buy freehold land on Upolu near Apia to ensure his children got a good education. To him education was everything. My mother got a scholarship to New Zealand to study nursing in Hawkes Bay – she describes the loneliness and cold and homesickness as being crippling but she made it through. It’s no surprise that my mother has instilled the same message regarding education in all 9 of her children.

As a Samoan female that leads an organisation in NZ, are there any other Samoan leaders making their mark in other sectors or in other countries that you look up to?

There are many wonderful Samoan and other pacific leaders in New Zealand and other countries making a significant contribution to the well-being of their communities through their different circles of influence. I am especially taken by those that are driven more by service and substance than by show and recognition. Also those that authentically serve the Pacific community, rather than using their ‘pacific-ness’ as a platform for achieving some other status or agenda.

Has K’aute Pasifika ever extended its services or support towards the Pacific region? If so where and what type of support did you lend towards the region?

As part of a broader group, we supported and contributed to tsumani response in 2009. One of the director’s of the law firm I was working for at the time and his wife’s family business paid for 5 shipping containers of food and goods, other household items and building supplies to be shipped to Samoa. My parents, my husband and I and my bosses’ wife then distributed the goods to the worst affected areas across the island. The K’aute community provided a large amount of clothing and other goods as part of this initiative. My former boss passed away recently and this memory reminded me of his immense generosity and also that of his wife.

At the end of last year, we were generously provided with $23,000 from local funders and businesses’: significant contributions from Len Reynolds Trust and First Credit Union and also meaningful contributions from Bettle and Associates and PCM Consulting Limited to contribute to the measles outbreak in Samoa. We were able to transfer the funding to a sister trust in Samoa who in turn distributed the funding to the families affected by the outbreak and also supplies for the hospital to meet the demand. My parents and I are trustees of this sister trust and my parents were in Samoa at the time. So they and the other local trustees took responsibility for the distribution of funding. Some awesome stories of connecting families to fresh water supply and electricity – things that are essential to the maintenance of good health and well-being. The incredible thing about these donations is they were unsolicited which sends a wonderful message about the humanity and compassion our region has for broader Oceania.

We were fortunate to have K’aute Pasifika as one of our host agencies last year for the NZ Scholarships Internship programme (formerly known as the summer internships), what benefits have you gained from hosting an intern?

The intern we had with us had so much capability. This capability coupled with an outstanding attitude and work ethic made a big impact in our space. We have certainly missed Esther but I also know her capabilities and attributes are very much needed at home in the islands. I take comfort from that fact as well as the fact that she knows that she has an aiga/whanau here in Waikato, New Zealand too.

How can we support more Pacific people to take up executive positions in the public or private sector?

I am not a fan of the ‘representation for the sake of representation’ model. I prefer that positions/appointments are based on merit as well as broader considerations that expand the scope of thought and insight around a table. In saying that, I believe that the capability for more Pacific people in leadership/executive positions exists but that there are still systemic issues and bias that continue to act as a barrier to there being more Pacific people in leadership/executive positions. It is not enough for an organisation to employ a whole lot of Maori and Pacific people to improve their diversity image and then keep them shackled to the lower floors. I think the responsibility is on us as Pacific peoples to nurture and grow our talent but there is a collective responsibility to look at ways of ensuring that leadership and executive teams are reflective of, and therefore more responsive to, our community.