From a tender age of 15, Rebeka Buchanan was already attending workshops while working in the tourism industry, and government departments.
In 1983, Buchanan, who was then attending Naenae College in New Zealand, took part in the 8th Pacifica National Conference.
The conference was where the seed for her current work as the coordinator of the local counselling group, Punanga Tauturu Inc., was planted.
“I was only 15, there was only two of us young women who were involved. I was there to translate for my grandma and also they wanted to know as a young person what my goals were and what I think about life moving to New Zealand,” said Buchanan, who is now 54.
“I remember sharing my own unique story of my upbringing in the Cook Islands, aspirations of a young person, hopes and dreams into the future. I recall that early childhood was one of the topics discussed and they wanted to know my future plans.
“Church and sport was a major part of my life, family is a big part of our lives, so the community participation was a big part for me.”
Fast forward to year 2000, Buchanan joined The Rarotongan Beach Resort and Spa where she worked for two years.
“I remember (managing director) Tata Crocombe used to say ‘there is this goal post, aim to get over the top not move it or lower it’. To me it’s about looking at the bigger picture. Those learning and skills helped me.”
Buchanan later joined the Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee (CISNOC) as administrator. Two years later, she joined the Audit Office as a receptionist, learning some legal work before deciding to open a small business to sell gadgets on the island.
Then came the job that she was destined to. Buchanan said she was thrown in the deep end, having to train herself and understand the work at the local counselling centre.
But she had the help of her sister, who was the Internal Affairs officer, and Sheldon Reima, a former Punanga Tauturu counsellor. They were her mentors.
“I had to make contacts myself, I went to Fiji for training. I was thrown in the deep end.”
Buchanan said Cook Islanders have a unique and special friendly lifestyle and attitude which people need to embrace at all times.
“It is the unique quality of giving, and helping those in need, it’s a natural gift. Even though financially we don’t have much or are not well off, we are always able to help freely with our time. That is the spirit Cook Islanders have and it’s in all of us.
“When I work with others, I am trying to remind the person that she or he has this unique quality and values of caring and sharing called love. It is meant to be used for the good, not only to help yourself, but your loved ones as well.”
Buchanan’s advice to others is to, “learn from your mistakes. Focus on the little things, focus on what’s important for you, don’t be hard on yourself and know your boundaries.
“People will always talk, sometimes people will criticise, but observe and move on.”
The Woman of the Month is organised by Au Vaine Committee and will be held at The Islander Hotel.