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Four honoured for dedication to public service and community

Tuesday 18 June 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Features, Memory Lane, Weekend

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Four honoured for dedication to public service and community
Juliana Teinakore Etches BEM, Ritua Kathleen Rose Marie Koteka OBE,Tutavake Tutai BEM and Mereana Taikoko MBE are the four recipients of the 2024 King’s Birthday Honours awards.

Cook Islands Government has announced four recipients of the 2024 King’s Birthday Honours awards, three of them women, honoured for their service to health, mental health, education, culture, and the community.

In a statement released yesterday, Prime Minister Mark Brown officially congratulated the recipients of the 2024 King’s Birthday Honours awards.

The four recipients who will receive their actual awards in person at the official ceremony next year are:

  • Ritua Kathleen Rose Marie Koteka, Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), for services to health, the public and the community.
  • Mereana Taikoko, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), for services to mental health care and awareness, and to the community.
  • Juliana Teinakore Etches, British Empire Medal (BEM), for services to the public service and community in the areas of education and culture.
  • Tutavake Tutai, British Empire Medal (BEM), for services to the community.

According to the Office of the Prime Minister, the four recipients have been formally approved by His Majesty King Charles III and “are rightfully honoured for the good works and services they have provided their country and communities”.

Prime Minister Brown said: “There is no doubting the incredible positive impact each of this year’s honourees have had on their individual communities and the wider Cook Islands over their many years of service.”

“I would like to sincerely thank and congratulate them on this most esteemed recognition of everything they have achieved.”

Ritua Kathleen Rose Marie Koteka OBE

Ritua Kathleen Rose Marie Koteka – more commonly known as Aunty Kath – was born on Rarotonga in 1936 and has devoted most of her adult life to the Cook Islands health sector, as well as being active in many sports and welfare activities at both national and grassroots levels.

Aunty Kath began her service to the Cook Islands in nursing back in 1954. She had served as a General Nurse in Fiji, Hastings and Auckland, and together with her late ex-husband Dr George Koteka, served as a husband-and-wife doctor and nurse team on the islands of Mangaia, Atiu and Pukapuka, and eventually for decades at the Rarotonga Hospital as a nurse and midwife until her retirement in 2008. She had served as the in-charge sister of the Oncology Ward and Ante-Natal, Post-Natal, Family Planning Clinic, and as senior nurse for the Cook Islands Family Welfare Association.

She began studying to become a registered nurse in 1953 at the Cook Islands School of Nursing. She continued her education at the Hastings School of Nursing & Hospital in 1965 and further achieved certificates and diplomas in the following:

  • Medical Paediatrician Cardiology and Community Nursing - Auckland Hospital, 1973/74.
  • Midwifery - Suva, Fiji, 1982.
  • Family Planning Services, Delivery Management and Health Development - Centre for Development and Pap Activities (CEDPA), Washington DC, 1985.
  • Child Nutrition - Trans Pacific Institute of Technology, Hawaii, 1986.
  • Reproductive Health and Family Planning Technologies - Tonga Family Planning Reproductive Health Centre, 1991.
  • Vasectomy - National Research Institute for Family Planning, Beijing, China 1994.

Aunty Kath was a pioneer in the establishment of both the Cook Islands Child and Family Welfare and National Council of Women organisations. She served as a committee member of the Punanga Tauturu Inc, Cook Islands National Disability, and the Cook Islands National Council of Women.

She was also very active in the sport of netball for her beloved Takuvaine Netball Club and continues to provide her support to the Takuvaine and Cook Islands Golden Oldies Netball Association. The Takuvaine community has been Aunty Kath’s “heartbeat” and she contributes to all activities involving the development of the community in social, church and sports settings.

Mereana Taikoko MBE

Born in 1949, Mereana Taikoko hails from the village of Vaipae in Aitutaki. She is a community mental and public health specialist, utilising more than 30 years of experience in executing successful mental health awareness programmes, developing respite and caregiving safe spaces, and advocating for respect and attention to mental health and ageing.

Taikoko leads a dedicated team that operates respite and creative units, aligned with the latest trends and best practices in mental health and elderly care service delivery. In 1977 she received her Certificate of Psychiatric Nursing and further achieved a Certificate in Comprehensive, General and Obstetric Nursing in 1984 from the Nursing Council of New Zealand. An Advanced Diploma in Nursing was achieved from the Auckland Technical Institute in 1986 and a Certificate of Midwifery the following year from the Nursing Council of New Zealand.

She then returned to the Cook Islands in 1989 to work for the Ministry of Health, and in 1996 she was contacted by the Richmond Fellowship of New Zealand to set up a Community Mental Health Service for the country, and co-founded the Are Pa Taunga Mental Health and Wellbeing NGO. In 2004 she also co-founded Te Kainga Mental Health and Family Services and continues to hold the role of executive director/service manager.

Taikoko served as Community Mental Health Nurse from 1998 to 2000, from 2008 to 2010 at the Ministry of Health, and as chairperson of Te Kainga O Pa Taunga Mental Health Trust.

On behalf of Te Kainga O Pa Taunga, in November 2009 she received an award for excellence in the development of community mental health services at the 2nd World Congress of Asian Psychiatry held by the Asian Federation of Psychiatric Associations.

Juliana Teinakore Etches BEM

Born in 1945 in the village of Kimiangatau on the island of Mauke, Juliana Teinakore Etches is from the Ngati Koro tribe of the village of Matavera, Rarotonga. She is married to Peter Etches and they have seven children, 14 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

She attained her New Zealand-endorsed school certificate in 1964 from Wairarapa College in Masterton. She began her career as a student teacher at the Wellington Teachers Training College from 1965 to 1966 and as a Probation Assistant (PA) in 1967 at Newtown School, Wellington. She received her NZ Trained Teacher’s Certificate upon the completion of her PA year.

In 1968 she returned to the Cook Islands and was appointed as a lecturer at the Cook Islands Teachers College, and later that same year was appointed as a classroom teacher at Nikao Side School. From 1977 to 1997 she was appointed as a supervisor of Junior Classes – this was the first time the position had been taken over by a Cook Islander, as at the time expatriates from New Zealand were usually recruited. She became deputy principal of Avatea School in 1997 and later principal until her retirement in 2008.

Aside from her occupation and education history, Etches has been very fond of sports and excelled in athletics from grade four. From 1980 to 1989 she was president of the Matavera Tennis Club and in 1983 the national secretary for the Cook Islands Tennis Association.

From 1989 to 1992 she was secretary for the Cook Islands Ecumenical Women’s Group and president of the Matavera Catholic Women's League.

She was leader of Avatea School Culture for many years and a judge for the Maire Nui Celebrations and Te Mire Atu in 2011 and 2013.

Tutavake Tutai BEM

Tutavake Tutai – more commonly known as Papa Sarge – was born in 1941 on the island of Rarotonga. He is the son of former police officer Tutai Teura Sr and Ngametukore Cummings, and is married to Vaine Tangata Putere, who is of Atiuan, Tahitian and Mangaian descent.

Although they were unable to have children of their own, this did not deter them from raising a family comprising of one legally adopted daughter and five feeding children – three girls and two boys – as their own.

Papa Sarge attended Avarua Primary School from 1947 to 1958 and in 1960 he began his employment with the Ministry of Works in the Transport pool. He was responsible for operating the fuel bowser for government vehicles and machinery until the devolution process in 1996. In 2000, he gained employment as a security watchman at the Punanga Nui Market and Ministry of Internal Affairs until he retired.

Papa Sarge was an energetic sportsman in his younger years. He represented the country in athletics, competing in the 100 metres and 200m sprints at the 1963 South Pacific Games held in Fiji. He was also an active member of the Avatiu Sports Club in all codes, earning him life membership at the club and being named patron of the Avatiu Sports Association Incorporation.

Now in retirement, Papa Sarge spends most of his days in his plantation. He understands the importance of learning to plant to survive and is always generous with his harvest, donating much of his surplus to the village.

He believes that teaching his grandchildren – especially his grandson Teati – the goodness of planting your own food is teaching them to survive.

  • Jaewynn McKay/OPM