Pukapuka Island, Cook Islands
I was born into a family of 13. My mum is from Pukapuka and my dad is from a mixture of other Pacific Islands. During my childhood, I worked like a dog. There was a taro patch in the mud and it was a ladies job to do the planting. The women would get all muddy. Pukapuka is an atoll.
I was very busy with working and school. At school I was a leader in all my classes. I loved school. In those years, we had only eight classes. When I was 12 years old, I decided on my life goals: I wanted to put God at the centre of my life, I wanted to be rich and I wanted to be a leader. To action my goals, I wanted to further my education, to study hard and to see the world.
When I got to Grade 8, I was top of my class. I was sent for more education first to Rarotonga and then to the new school on Aitutaki built for the Northern children. I went to Aitutaki with my Father, I was only 13 years old. I was clever not in terms of university but in the Bible. I spent four years there and then I went to Rarotonga for nursing school.
I applied for a job as a nurse in Rarotonga. I was a nurse for eight years. I met my husband who was one of my patients. He would come in every day, sometimes twice a day, to have his dressing changed but really to see me. He said he fell in love with me the first time he saw me. He’s an Australia and the only white man to get married on Wale (Pukapuka). We have five children.
When I was nursing, I was tired all the time because of the children. My husband wanted me to stay home with the children but I told him I wanted to work. I got another job as a shop-keeper. That got me thinking, I told my husband that we should have a shop of our own.
I love to save money. I’m strict with money. I wanted to start small with the business. We started doing printing and design. We ordered some fabrics and t-shirtsand I started learning to print them on my kitchen table. After six months of practising, I became an expert. We started with $100 and then the business grew and grew over the years. Our house became covered in fabrics and materials. So we decided to get a place in town, we’re still there.
Because of my business, I was the first Woman of the Year in the Cook Islands. I joined a lot of women’s organisations because I love working with the people. I love singing in our Church too. Doing work with the community was my passion: I’d go to four meetings a day.
In the 1980s, I was vice-president of the National Council of Women. I held that role for a long time. I am still a representative for the Girl Guides and in my church. I’ve represented the Cook Islands Women in the World Council of Churches and travelled all over the world for conferences.
When I had a stroke in 1998, I was in New Zealand. It was lucky because the medical treatment there for stroke saved my life. When I had my stroke, I was jealous of my friends walking normally. But I had told myself, if you want to walk again you have to mentally push yourself. Maybe I had the stroke to be a role model- that’s what people say to me.
Today, I am the Chairperson of the Cook Islands National Disability Council.