Samuela was born and raised in Rarotonga in the early 1970s and is child of two families – her feeding family, who raised her in Pue, and her biological family.
“So when asked, I usually say I have two sets of both siblings and parents. I love them all. I was raised by my grandmother and educated at Avarua School, Tereora College, and Avondale College in New Zealand.”
Samuela returned to Rarotonga when she was 18 and went to work part time and then full time as a waitress/bartender at Trader Jacks.
“My uncle, Marae Turaki, ‘rescued’ me from this ‘no future job’, and organised for me to work at the Electric Power Supply (EPS) as a training officer. Whilst there I did some correspondence courses at USP, and then received a scholarship to attend USP under the Diploma programme.
“I completed this in 1995, and returned to work at EPS. It was restructured into Te Aponga Uira. I was appointed human resources manager, and managed the local side of the restructuring process. In 1997 I moved to the then Cook Islands Development Bank (CIDB), as manager, human resource development and administration.”
The bank was also going through restructuring at the time and its managing director, Unakea Kauvai, had much influence on her professional development, said Samuela
“Vaine Arioka, the current managing director of the Bank of Cook Islands, was a returning graduate and was finance manager when I joined the CIDB. While at the CIDB I recognised that a diploma was not that valuable, given the large number of graduates who were returning home with Bachelors degrees. I applied for another scholarship to study for a degree at USP in Fiji.
“With cross-crediting, I only needed to be away for two years, rather than the usual three years to obtain the degree.
“I wanted to do law but eventually changed my major to Management and Public Administration and Applied Psychology. I didn’t have a secure job on my return to Rarotonga, ‐ technically I had applied from the private sector and not the public service.
“I had worked as Human Resources Officer for the Ministry of Health during the Christmas holidays, and was offered a fulltime position on graduating from USP.
“I was with Health for a year, and then moved to Punanga Tauturu Inc. as a legal rights training officer from 2004 to 2015. I absolutely loved the work. Gender equality is my passion.
Samuela said to be able to teach, and change societal norms and values, was challenging and satisfying, albeit frustrating and upsetting a lot of the time.
“The target of Punanga Tauturu Inc at the time was to change the legal landscape so all women who were survivors of domestic and other types of violence against women would all get the same access to justice, rather than those who could afford it, or those who had a good family/community support system.
“During this time I enrolled in USP’s Postgraduate Certificate programme in International Law and Diplomacy. This was mainly because I was travelling to the United Nations in New York and other international meetings, and conducting advocacy or representing the Pacific region at these forums. Most recently I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Commerce (Public Administration and Management).”
Samuela said she had never really left the Cook Islands, apart from when studying.
“I wanted to migrate to Australia when there was mass migration during the reform period, but I had a housing loan with CIDB and had to stay and pay that debt off.
“Twenty years later I am still here! I am a feminist, culturally proud, and aware of my language and culture. I can give credit to USP for awakening my pride in my cultural heritage.”