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New trust aims to keep Cook Islanders home and skilled

Monday 19 February 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Education, Local, National


New trust aims to keep Cook Islanders home and skilled
Te ‘Tamariki Kuki Airani Trust’ (TAKA Educational Trust) board of trustees: Halatoa Fua (left), Chiavanni Le’Mon, Mario Caffery and Anthony Will. SUPPLIED/24021535

In a heartwarming story of compassion and dedication, a pilot and his young family opened their home and hearts to a young child, raising her as their own.

At the age of 10, Hilary Tiro left her home island of Pukapuka and moved to Rarotonga to live with her “uncle” and now “dad” Mario Caffery, a businessman and Air Rarotonga pilot, his wife Avril and their children.

Caffery’s touching and uplifting journey of raising Hilary, giving her the opportunity to better education, inspired him to establish a trust to further the education of students in the Cook Islands who are financially or socially disadvantaged.

Te “Tamariki Kuki Airani Trust” (TAKA Educational Trust), overseen by its board of trustees: Halatoa Fua, Chiavanni Le’Mon, Mario Caffery and Anthony Will, was launched last week.

The purpose of the TAKA Trust is to further the education of resident students (no age limit) anywhere in the Cook Islands who are financially and/or socially disadvantaged.

TAKA has reached out to the community for any individuals or organisations needing financial assistance in school fees, tutoring fees, course fees (primary/secondary school, USP, CITTI), bus transport (greater than 3 kilometre), learning materials, uniforms, internet (online courses), and nutrition.

The response from the community has been quite overwhelming as well as the responses and positive feedback from people, says Caffery.

“The sad part about it is we don’t have full funding, but nothing’s impossible.”

The principle of the Trust is “Kia matutu uatu rai te au tama u’a o te anau tamariki o te Kuki Airani – To empower and strengthen the children of the Cook Islands” and to maintain the nation’s cultural values.

TAKA focuses on assisting Cook Islanders with furthering or completing academic education, acquiring trades, or developing skills that benefit both individuals and their local communities. Fostering efforts to encourage Cook Islanders to stay home, develop their skills and create a brighter future for themselves and their respective island.

Caffery’s inspiration for the project all started with Hilary.

Her father, the late Billy Tiro from Pukapuka, was a dear friend, a sincere and welcoming host to the Air Raro pilots who landed on the Northern Group Island.

Tiro passed away in December 2013, when Hilary was about five years old.

“Billy was always good to us (pilots), he would go out fishing and host us …  he was a good man,” says Caffery.

In 2019, during one of Caffery's trips to Pukapuka, he returned with Hilary, who had wanted to come to Rarotonga to attend school.

He held several positive conversations with fellow pilots and friends about education for children in the Pa Enua.

Caffery enrolled Hilary, who was 10 years old at the time, at Nukutere College, in Grade 6. She is currently attending Tereora College, in Year 11.

Soon after Hilary’s enrolment at Nukutere, Caffery had an epiphany.

“I thought, let’s keep this going, let’s do something to help more of our kids…”

Then Covid hit, and his project directed at assisting children with education and trade skills eventually took a back seat.

Another factor that drove Caffery to keep at the project was seeing people leave their respective islands in.

“I’ve had the opportunities to travel around the Pa Enua, I’ve seen all these things and it’s sad to see a lot of people leave.

“Well, they have to sometimes, but if we could give them opportunities to stay here to further their education and upskill them so their pay could increase, getting their builders qualified, so they can live more comfortably…”

Caffery’s observation of people being flown from Rarotonga to the Northern Islands to fix boats motivated him to help someone there become a qualified welder or tradesperson. This would enable them to start their own business on their home island and address local needs directly.

“My drive is to keep our people here. And if they can live a comfortable life and be happy, they will stay.”

The TAKA Trust currently has a small pool of people and is awaiting confirmation of donor approval from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management.

“Once we have it, we will definitely appreciate support from the community,” says Caffery.

“Our plan is to make this grow and to attract those who want to continue living here.”

Caffery says TAKA Trust wants to keep the funds in the Cook Islands, and is not looking to support Cook Islands students who are going overseas to continue their studies, since there are resources that can be accessed for that purpose - there are bigger funds out there that can help them.

“We want to show government that we are supporting the people here, that the money will stay in country, and if we can support, hopefully government will support us in continuing this programme.”

TAKA is targeted more for families or people in the community who are driven and those who are struggling to eat nutritious meals and need a helping hand.

“It breaks my heart to see some of the struggle’s kids go through.”

Caffery says TAKA would love to help everyone, and it’s going to be really hard decisions to decide who needs it the most first – “it all falls down to who is the neediest and who is the most driven to further their own skills”.

TAKA is targeted for those who may be financially or socially disadvantaged and wanting to further their education, trade or skills and remain home to enhance everyone’s wellbeing.

For more information about applying for TAKA funds, email or call/txt Mario Caffery on +682 50781.

Applications close on February 29, 2024.