Raising achievement of Pacific people
A woman who has improved education for Pacific children has been awarded the highest honour of any Manawatu resident in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours list.
Eight people from wider Manawatu have been honoured, ranging from a retired school principal to a Hunterville man with a long association with the racing industry.
Dr Lesieli Tongati'o was made an honorary member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to education and the Pacific community.
The Tongan woman is the only person to be made an honorary member of the order in this round of honours.
She initiated the formation of the Ministry of Education's Pasifika Advisory Group and served as its chief adviser. She also led the development of five Pasifika Education Plans, which covers how to further the educational achievement of Pacific children living in New Zealand.
Tongati'o is also a member of the New Zealand Council of Tongan Women and has served as its secretary, vice president and president.
Originally from Tonga, she first came to New Zealand to study education at Massey University.
The former Queen Elizabeth College teacher, who now works as a contractor, told the Manawatu Standard she has always had a passion for education.
But instead of using that passion to teach students, she used it to help improve Pasifika education in New Zealand.
While the educational achievements of Pacific people in New Zealand were improving, according to a recent report by the Salvation Army, Tongati'o said there was still a way to go.
"Just because things are working, it doesn't mean you can pull off.
"You need things to strengthen and become everyday practices.
"Passing at school should be normal for everybody."
Certain areas which were being improved included being able to teach children in New Zealand classrooms while letting them keep their Pasifika identities.
"While I wanted my kids to succeed in education, I also wanted them to know who they are - and they are Tongan."
Despite much of her work requiring her to be in Wellington, she said living in Palmerston North was important. The Tongan community was tight-knit and the city was a great place to raise her three daughters, and for them to bring up her two grandchildren, she said.