“It is a sea that all of you will plunge and in that ocean you will find your place.”
He looked over the crowd of people, and those in traditional black robes and wigs ready to take their solemn oath and be sworn in as Barristers and Solicitors of the Crown in New Zealand.
What was special about this occasion were the two Cook Islanders present. One who would take the role as mentor, and witness, standing to recite a time-tested phrase, where she nominated a newly appointed Barrister and Solicitor, across that hall – though this time it would be a daughter as the witness and the newly appointed lawyer, her mother.
Never before in the history of the Cook Islands had a Cook Islands daughter had the honor of being that witness for her Cook Islands mother as they both joined the fraternity of lawyers and the legal profession in New Zealand and soon to be Cook Islands.
Tia Bergin, or Kathy as I knew her, was a good friend and family to us as we grew up in the urban sprawl that was Ponsonby. She has done what many of us have done, finding our way back home, contributing where we can to make our country better, more equitable, and bringing with us the skills and tools we had acquired while away.
Tia, and her daughter Lauryn, also exemplified the cost many of us must pay, to travel back and forth as our tupuna did, to grab more supplies or more tools for the task ahead, and to bring those home to where they were needed most.
Our graduates do it, and others continue on the course ahead gathering what they can with the hope for that wind that will carry them back to Rarotonga and the Cook Islands so they can give what they have gathered while away.
This sacrifice, away from home and away from those they love, is one the Bergins know all too well. And as we sat there we witnessed the fruit of their sacrifice and the cost paid to become lawyers, both mother and daughter, and a cost that Tia and her family know all too well.
Our people have never been afraid of what lies over the horizon and that quest for more, be it red kura feathers for a traditional headpiece, a wife from a neighboring Island or the need for crops and food, and we have sailed our double-hulled vaka across sometimes treacherous storms to reach our destination and the tools and supplies we desperately need.
And why? Because deeply seated in our drive across these oceans was the need of our people and to provide for them as best we could.
How can we assist these voyagers, what more can we do as a country to equip and upskill our people and do it in such a way that there are jobs and opportunities, remuneration and housing for them when they return?
How can we create definite pathways for them as well as reward those who chose not to leave and instead study here in the Cook Islands instead, as many would like to do, but at the moment it is too expensive or there just aren’t enough scholarships for those to study at home.
End of the day, whether that journey be across the waters or simply around the Island we should be investing as much as we can into our future and our present by investing in our people. And yes, that includes the teachers that teach them, principals that guide the teachers and education that could always do with more.
Countries that heavily invest in their people like Singapore and Finland reap the reward as their people flourish, be it health, education or social services and jobs. They know they must sow today to reap for a prosperous future tomorrow.
I wonder sometimes are our people our greatest resource, and if so let us invest in them and their present, because if we are to ensure that no one in the Vaka gets left behind, then no matter who they are they must be deeply seated in the Vaka and not in the deep waters of despair.
Our people deserve better, I am convinced of it and that we must work harder to ensure like the Bergin family, they have every resource and opportunity they need to be the best they can be. E vaka eke noa, we are deep in this Vaka together.