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A Cook Islander representing global university Pasifika distance learners

Thursday 7 December 2023 | Written by Joanne Holden | Published in Features

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A Cook Islander representing global university Pasifika distance learners
Massey University Pasifika distance student representative Elva Opuu was born and raised on Rarotonga and Manihiki. Opuu is calling on Massey students based in the Cook Islands to get in touch to form a “Kuki Club” to gather and connect learners. 23120340

An Australia-based Cook Islander elected as a student representative for Pasifika distance learners at Massey University is working on forming a “Kuki Club” for students and alumni around the world.

Massey Pasifika distance student representative Elva Opuu is urging the university’s 43 students based in the Cook Islands to get in touch to become part of the club bringing the island nation’s students together and giving them access to $1500 or more in start-up funding.

“We have a big cohort of Massey University students in Rarotonga, something I am proud of,” said 30-year-old Opuu, who is studying towards a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Social Policy.

“We hope we can look after them in any way we can, going into 2024.”

Seven people were needed to form a club – which would be affiliated with the New Zealand-based university’s students association, Te Tira Ahu Pae.

Opuu, who is partnering with Massey student voice facilitator Kiesha Dais to establish the “Kuki Club”, said the funding given for forming the club could be used to host “Kai and Talanoa” events to gather and connect students in the Cook Islands throughout the year.

One of Opuu’s main goals as a distance Pasifika student representative was to create dedicated spaces for the learners “scattered all throughout the world”, the first item on her agenda having been to establish a Facebook and Instagram page for the group.

“I remember a couple of years ago, I searched for these spaces and couldn’t find any,” she said.

“Another [goal] was building student engagement.

“The distance space is complex. There are students who are eager to connect with other students, and there are those who are okay with just getting through their studies and not wanting to make those connections – and that’s fine. We respect that too.”

Through her role, Opuu had built connections with humanitarian organisations such as Humanitarian Affairs Asia through her work in the role – and even been accepted as a delegate to the Global Peace Summit conference next month.

“Given the dates and time of the event, I am still deciding whether or not to attend the summit in Thailand.”

Among her “proudest” moments was, during quiz nights and discussion sessions she was hosting, been thanked by students for her “efforts in creating opportunities for student engagements”.

“They tell me it’s their first time while studying at Massey University that they are finally seeing things happening for Pasifika students in the distance space.”

Opuu was elected as a student representative by a margin of one vote at the start of the year.

“I was really surprised when I saw the election results and that I had been successful,” she said.

“My job was to pro-actively seek opportunities to improve student life and address student needs, provide feedback especially on boards of the university that I was on this year, collaborate with staff from the Pacific Success team, and recently collaborating with Kiesha Dais – in particular, to create opportunities for Cook Islands students who study with Massey University going forward.”

Te Tira Ahu Pae’s Pasifika cohort consisted of president Aniva Feau; representatives from the university’s three physical campuses in Auckland, Palmerston North, and Wellington; Opuu as the distance student representative; and three event co-ordinators.

Born and raised in Rarotonga and Manihiki – Opuu has represented the Cook Islands in handball, football, and volleyball.

Opuu had been part of the country’s “handball family” since she was 13 years old, playing in the Partile Cup in Europe in 2006 and being crowned top goal scorer while competing for the Oceania under 20s Handball Challenge Trophy in Samoa in 2012.

She also played for the Cook Islands under 20s football team in 2010.

An avid volleyball player since high school, Opuu represented the Cook Islands at the Pacific Challenge in 2011 and had played for the Manukau South Volleyball Club in New Zealand at the regional and national level.

“In the past two years, I have been trying to make a comeback, being involved with the volleyball community here in Western Australia.”

Opuu has lived in Perth with her partner and three children – Kalamoana, 6, Tuiatua, 5, and Toanui, 1 – since 2016. Her two step-sons live in Rarotonga.

Opuu said she had been “bouncing around” with her study before becoming a mother, dabbling in an airline customer services programme at the Air New Zealand Institute; a health course at the Auckland University of Technology; and a social worker degree with Te Wanangao Aotearoa.

“Achieving higher education has always been something that I have been passionate about,” she said.

“It wasn’t until I became pregnant and decided to put my life on hold to be a full-time mother, I soon realised this couldn’t be it for me, so I decided to start getting back into actually finishing my degree – but I discovered I had a deep interest in the matters of social policy.

“Luckily, after a little research and looking at all my options in both Australia and New Zealand, Massey University was my only option.”

It was through the pure “self-determination” Opuu instilled in her mind to study “again, one more time” that she had been able to juggle studying with raising her children.

“My kids, while also partly the reason I have to request extensions on my assignments all the time, they are my why.”

Opuu said 2024 would be her last year of study before competing her degree, during which she hoped to “achieve as much as I can in terms of student representation”.

Next year, she would be moving into the “general cohort” as one of three general distance student representatives.

“Te Tira Ahu Pae has a tripartite structure, with three presidents: general/distance, Maori, and Pasifika. I was part of the Pasifika cohort this year, but next year I move into the general cohort – a bigger portfolio and student engagement.

“While that may be the case, I will still be highly involved with the Pasifika cohort and will be working closely with the Pasifika co-presidents, as there are a couple of projects happening for Pasifika with Te Tira Ahu Paea at Massey University next year.”

Massey students in the Cook Islands interested in starting a “Kuki Club” are encouraged to contact Elva at mamiaopuu24@gmail.com or Dais at studentvoice@massey.ac.nz