Rakahanga Island, Cook Islands
I come from a family of one-just my parents and me. I attended school and my education in the home was important too. When I was 11 years old, our 11 plus exam papers were sent from the island to Rakahanga for marking. I was the only one of 18 pupils awarded a scholarship to continue my education in Rarotonga. But the chance was not given to me because of custom. I was the only child, my parents couldn’t let me go.
When I was 12 years old, I set my goal and my goal in life was to serve my people. Years passed, and my strong desire to serve my people of Rakahanga allowed me to move forward. I used my spare time to help with women’s groups, community activities and church activities. At the age of 18 years, I was chosen by my people of Rakahanga as the ‘Women of the Year.’ The first time this was awarded to a woman. I was chosen because of my church and community activities. I got married to Tuteru in 1995. He was the Island Secretary back then. Now he’s a manager of the Cook Islands’ Bank and an Island Counsellor.
My interest was still strong to serve my people. I went to Fiji to study women’s community development. I went there to advance my career. Back on the island, I worked as the local government Women’s Development Officer. I help write funding proposals. When I first came back from Fiji I helped set up projects with fabric arts, weaving, home gardening and sewing. Later on, I helped the women on my island with materials for our coconut oil production. I helped the men get funding for a chipper machine for composting wood chips for taro production. They call me a ‘Jack of all trades’: that’s my nickname.
On Rakahanga in the past, ladies weren’t even allowed to talk in meetings. There’s a by-law that means on our island women can’t be elected. We are trying to change that. We need to work together as women to put together a proposal to the Island Council to allow women to stand as candidates. We have to change minds too about women being elected. Many years ago, the only woman Counsellor we’ve ever had on Rakahanga died of ill health a few months after being elected. We have to convince people that the custom will allow women to be elected and to flourish.