Andrew Uasi is a 24 year old New Zealander of Tongan descent. He is the second in his family to pursue tertiary education and he’s keen to see more Pasifika youth take up tertiary studies.
“It’s not a case of whether you think you’re smart enough but whether you have the desire,” says the graduate of EIT’s Bachelor of Applied Social Science degree. “It’s purely about desire and whether you’re willing to lay everything down to achieve.
“I didn’t do well in high school. It’s kind of hard for me to believe that I’ve got through my degree.”
For Andrew, his EIT studies started in mid-2013. He completed a Certificate in Education and Social Sciences. He then embarked on a Bachelor of Applied Social Science in 2015.
Initially his plan was to work with Pasifika youth but over the years after being introduced to the different fields of social work, he developed broader interest. After his final placement with Whatever It Takes (WIT) in Napier, he’s veering towards mental health work with at risk youth.
“Working in mental health was a brand new experience for me, having to research and understand many different types of mental illnesses and their diagnoses. I learned a lot and enjoyed working in this field. It gave me ideas for the future work I’d like to be doing, supporting youth.”
That’s down the road though. His immediate plan is to apply to Oranga Tamariki in 2019 to join its care and protection service.
“I have always had the impression that Oranga Tamariki is the ideal place to gain great social work experience and why not get the experience while I am still young.’’
The other placement during his degree studies was with Youth2Men where he credits his mentors for “opening my eyes to a lot of things”. Here Andrew got out and about with the youth, “getting hands-on experience”.
As a first generation Pasifika, Andrew believes he and others born here to parents from the Pacific Islands are seeing two worlds. He says the impact of cultural customs, and the expectations of parents and church can make it difficult for tertiary studying.
“Our parents encourage us to study but they don’t have much knowledge about what’s involved. Some may understand that study has to be our priority and some don’t. That clashes with their expectations of us with family and church.”
This juggle can be a difficult one at times. As the first-born son, Andrew had to step into the father figure role when his father was diagnosed with dementia while he was at EIT. With younger siblings still at school, he worked to support his family in orchards during the day at nights netting at the beach.
“It’s going to be different in the future, when my generation have kids. We will understand the kind of support and assistance that they would need when they enter tertiary education.”
Andrew believes it is important for Pasifika students to express themselves honestly in times of need and utilise every help that is available. “There is great support for Pasifika tertiary students at EIT.”