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Love, patience and care earns Queen’s Birthday Honour

Saturday 12 June 2021 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National

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Love, patience and care earns Queen’s Birthday Honour
Ake Te Ariki (Ake) Lewis received the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). 21060912.

Four outstanding Cook Islanders received their medals a year after they were announced in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

The recipients of the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours were presented with their medals on Monday after Covid-19 delayed the initial presentation that was supposed to be held last year.

The 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours medals were also presented to Ake Te Ariki (Ake) Lewis, who received the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), Unakea Kauvai (Order of the British Empire) for services to the community, Vaine Teremoana Upokoina Mingi (British Empire Medal) for services to the community and Tangaina Patia (British Empire Medal) for services to the community.

“It’s a great honour to receive something like this,” said Ake Te Ariki (Ake) Lewis, who received her medal from the Queen’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters, in a special ceremony on Monday.

Lewis was born in May 1942 in the village of Matavera.

In 1959, she began a career in the public service, training as a teacher at the Teachers Training College and after graduation, she spent time teaching locally and assisting at a child centre on the island of Niue.

Returning to Rarotonga, later she became involved in women organisations.

Amongst her many highlights throughout her career and community projects, her first was being a founding member of the National Council of Women (NCW) representing Nikao pre-school in the 1980s and the Cook Islands Non-Government Organisation (CIANGO).

Prior to joining these groups she lacked in confidence to speak in public and gives credit to the NCW and CIANGO mamas Lady Maui Short, Karika Margaret Ariki, Pari Tamarua, Tinomana Ruta Tuoro Ariki, Kathy Koteka, Tepaeru Kamana, Rangi Turua, Naomi Iro, Tepaeru Opo, Esther Katu, Tokerau Munro now the current Tinomana Tokerau Ariki, Tarai Gibbons, Agnes Winchester and Rebecca Akaruru, just to name a few.

“I thank those women, I learnt a lot from them, before that I was too shy to speak in front of people outside of a classroom - they gave me confidence, encouraged me.

“They taught us about protocol, how to do things properly, how to dress and behave.

“I was one of the youngest and the naughtiest, I’d get a growling … Lady Maui Short was very fussy, when we have a function she makes sure everything is done properly, it was good to learn these things.”

In the 80s and the 90s, the women’s groups were very strong and the wives of the Orometuas (church minister) were also part of these groups, Lewis said.

“It was great to be part of it, networking and learning.”

Her ultimate career highlight she says, was teaching children with disabilities in 1989.

In 1991, Lewis studied for a year in New Zealand on scholarship achieving a diploma in special needs training for children. “It was a lot of work, I wouldn’t go through that again,” she said.

In 2001, Lewis became a founding member of the Cook Islands Disability Council and Tuki Wright was elected president.

Lewis fondly recalls those “special” times. “The children with disabilities taught me a lot, the children taught me how to really love somebody…

“When they achieved a little task, you see their big smiles and they are so happy, and that really makes your day.”

To teach children with disabilities, Lewis says, “you need love, patience and to be a caring person. They are very beautiful children to work for, I was meant to be there to wake me up.”

She also acknowledges her late husband Brian who was always supportive of her work and community projects. “I would call him whenever we needed help and he would do it; he was such great support.”