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Auckland Cook Islands community’s ‘beating heart’ as good as gold

Monday 26 September 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features

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Auckland Cook Islands community’s ‘beating heart’ as good as gold
Selina Roimata Vainerere-Patia is the recipient of ASB (Auckland Savings Bank) ‘Good as Gold’ award in New Zealand. SUPPLIED/22092317

Cook Islander Selina Roimata Vainerere-Patia is the ‘beating heart’ of the Cook Islands community in Auckland, and is admired by many for her generous and kind hearted soul, always giving up her time for others. Last week she received the ASB (Auckland Savings Bank) ‘Good as Gold’ award in New Zealand. TVNZ’s Seven Sharp rocked up unannounced to a community meeting surprising Vainerere-Patia with the news.

Selina Roimata Vainerere-Patia was nominated by her manager Fleur Rabanal for her selfless hard work in the Cook Islands community in New Zealand.

Vainerere-Patia is vibrant, busy with loads of energy and has a passion to share and advocate for language and culture.

“Language, culture and music is my happy place,” she says.

Vainerere-Patia was “shocked” when she received the good news.

Then reality set in and the feeling of being “utterly grateful for the village” that put the whole surprise event together flooded over her.

“To know that what you thought was the norm in the work that you do for your community is really appreciated by those around you is very humbling,” she said.

“I’m grateful to have an amazing manager who allows me to weave my work into our Cook Islands community here in Glen Innes. I’m grateful for my work family, my friends and my family who put up with all the things I do and need from them when I ask for help or support in helping others. 

“I’m blessed to be surrounded by amazing people who support all that I do. I cannot do this without support from the village that I love and care deeply for.”

Cook Islands born and raised to parents Lily and Tangata Vainerere (Clerk of Parliament), Vainerere-Patia spent the first 10 years of her life living on the islands of Rarotonga and Atiu. 

Her passion in caring for Mamas and Papas stems from her childhood growing up with her mother’s feeding parents (Papa Tata Uapere and Mama Tekura Potoru) and her father’s grandparents (Papa Vainerere Tangatapoto and Mama Tuerei Kokaua). Sadly, they all passed away before she turned 13. 

Her family travelled around the Pacific due to her father’s studies and work commitments and so she didn’t get to spend much time with her grandparents.

“Everywhere we went we’d ‘adopt’ the mamas and papas of the Pacific as our grandparents.”

She has always enjoyed hanging out with the “oldies” since they have lots of stories to tell. “They are mischievous, they love to sing and dance and are sometimes a bit naughty too… we like to joke around and tease each other a bit.

“There’s a whole bunch of them who know my parents and now I get to spend time with them too.”

She knows Mama Mii and Papa Tere Tarapu, who are former teachers of Avatea Primary School and Tereora College, Mama Manea who loves to sing love songs, Mama Moepai who is always beautifully dressed and Papa Teariki Numanga who always has a big smile on his face when he sees her.

“In my mind and heart this is one way I can give back because I didn’t get a chance to do that for my own. I often wish they were still alive so I can do things for them, but being around our mamas and papas who appreciate the small and big things I do has been rewarding.”

The mamas and papas of Tamaki (Panmure, Pt England and Glen Innes) are a special group of people, says Vainerere-Patia.

“They take care of me and love it when I visit them, I like to be cheeky to them and make them laugh and they keep me grounded and humbled.”

She also spends time with the mamas at the Pacifica Arts Centre that’s run by Cook Islander Jarcinda Ama-Stowers. 

These women from around the Pacific share their knowledge and skills in weaving, story-telling, and language with tamariki (children) in the schools. She helps out with their Pacifica Experience programme which is delivered in Auckland schools.

She also gets her friends involved when she can. Once she dragged a bunch of her friends to a nursing home to sing songs for the mamas and papas and hand out chocolates. “It was pretty awesome seeing the smiles on their faces,” she says.

Vainerere-Patia has many talents. She also performed as backing vocalist and instrument support for Annie Crummer and the Dubai Expo in 2020.Having worked with Crummer on several projects in the past she accepted the opportunity with “humbleness and grace”.

She is also a Justice of the Peace (JP), and to become one is a long process, she explains.

First was the interview with local MP Maungakiekie Denise Lee, to more interviews, courses and final exams which need a 97 per cent pass rate to progress to the final stage of being sworn in as a Justice of the Peace – taking over a year for the whole process.

As a JP, Vainerere-Patia volunteers some hours at service desks where the public have access otherwise, she squeezes in appointments in between her “day job” schedule. 

The role involves taking affidavits, taking statutory declarations, witnessing signatures and certifying copies of documents and gets really busy as everyone from students to sponsors to government departments need the service.

Vainerere-Patia is currently employed at the Tamaki Regeneration – a Crown and Council owned entity. She has been with the Tamaki Regeneration for almost seven years. 

At the start she was a Tenancy Manager for public housing, then moved into a Service Improvement Advisor role before starting her current role as a Community Advisor for the Affordable Housing programme. 

She delivers information sessions about the products they have to help families get onto the home ownership market. 

“With the rise in costs and prices of houses in Auckland it’s become very difficult for families to buy a house in the open market. Our programme of shared homeownership gives families a stepping stone to building equity and eventually becoming full home owners.”

Going out into the community sharing stories including her own about how they can become home owners is part of her job. It also involves working with families to become mortgage ready – meaning following them on the journey of an eight-week financial capability workshop delivered by another Cook Islander Geoff Fariu. 

This course helps the families learn about budgeting, managing money, how to apply for a mortgage, living with a mortgage and so on, she says.

“I’m passionate about this programme and increasing home ownership for Maori and Pasifika. In our area only 4 per cent of Maori/Pasifika own their own home.”

Having worked in social services for 10 years now, she has seen the different sides of people’s lives. She has walked with these families from the initial meetings up to the moment where she hands over the keys to a brand-new home.

“It’s an emotional journey full of ups and downs but rewarding when we get to the end and they move into their new home.”

Vainerere-Patia moved to New Zealand in 2007, after living in Brisbane for seven years. At the time her parents were heading back to Rarotonga from Noumea, New Caledonia having lived there for about 10 years.

Living in Brisbane meant she didn’t get to see them and her kids much so she moved to Auckland to setup a base there for her family. 

Vainerere-Patia would like to say “meitaki ranuinui” to her parents “for showing me the art of giving wholeheartedly and without expectation”, to her manager Fleur Rabanal for nominating her for the award, to ASB and the “awesome team” at Seven Sharp for selecting her as the recipient.

She also acknowledged her children and friends “who put up with all my antics especially volunteering them to help me out with events or helping others, to the mamas and papas of Tamaki who always welcome me with open arms, to my families who are always supporting all that I do and to all the prayers that my families and friends say every day for me, meitaki ranuinui”.