Syme-Buchanan was among some of the most prestigious up-and-coming Pacific talent in a variety of categories, such as arts, sport and business.
“Being amongst highly ambitious Pacific youth doing amazing services for the Pacific community in Nuti Reni (New Zealand) was an absolute privilege,” Syme-Buchanan said.
“When I was told around 360 other Pacific youth applied for the same award, it made me realise how special being a finalist is.”
Although she did not win, she was the only Cook Islands youth up for an award, and she hopes that it will encourage other Cook Islanders, here or abroad, to be bold and strive for their dreams.
She urges Cook Islands youth to realise that they have a voice, and that it needs to be utilised, quoting New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern by saying, “no-one knows what it’s like to be you, except you.”
“This we must realise and mustn’t ever forget - as no politician, minister, teacher, or parent knows what is important to us or what it is like to be the youth of today except us,” Syme-Buchanan said.
“Don’t be afraid to speak out about what your passionate about, stand up for what you believe is important.”
Although it was a time for celebration, she said that she also learned, by seeing other’s projects, how important community involvement and service is.
“Not for acknowledgement, but for the genuine passion of giving back for the betterment of others.
“I'm really looking forward to getting more involved with the community, and somehow I want to be able to use my skills and talents to give back to my people.”
Her project, “Secluded Splendour”, which focused on the depopulation of Mangaia and debuted at the National Museum in January, will be showed at the Mangere Arts Centre in 2019.
From there, she will move onto phase two of her project, which will involve travelling to Penrhyn to see the effects of depopulation on the northern group islands.
“I want to get more involved with our community and youth to find solutions of depopulation,” she said.
“I cannot do this on my own, and we, the Cook Island people, certainly cannot wait around for the government to come up with a solution. We have must create it ourselves.”
Syme-Buchanan extended a big meitaki to the sponsors who made her project possible.
She thanked Ewan Smith from Air Rarotonga, Babe Pokino, The Ministry of Culture and their staff, Rod Dixon, CITC, Prime Foods, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Air New Zealand, and Ellena Tavioni-Pittman.
Fe’ena’s mother, freelance journalist Florence, also reflected on her daughter’s achievement.
“John Belmont-Lelaulu (the winner in Fe’ena’s category) was very deserving of the award, he's done some amazing things and has demonstrated he's a caring, decent human being,” Florence said.
“Fe'ena has done her family and country proud and we believe this is just the start of her pathway to more successes.
“We're very grateful to the many people who supported and helped our daughter get to this point.”