Luaono Siwatibau is able to follow her educational ambitions now that she has secured a Pasifika Higher Learning Scholarship for Ara Institute of Canterbury.
Returning to study as an adult-student Siwatibau has just secured one of thirty-eight spots in the highly competitive Bachelor of Medical Imaging, for which three-hundred people applied.
“Studying is a big self-esteem boost, it makes you feel good. For me, it just feels good coming back and relearning,” she says.
She glows when she talks about how Ara has supported her to reach her dreams.
“I’ve always had this course of study in the back of my mind, and then the opportunity came up. I was extremely happy when I got the scholarship. I thought, yes I don’t have to pay! It makes a big difference,” she says.
Born into a big Samoan family, Siwatibau moved to New Zealand in 1985 with her parents and six siblings. She finished high school here before going on to study a year of a Bachelor of Science at university.
Reflecting on her first tertiary experience Siwatibau says, “I was the only one of us siblings to go to university when we first came, so my parents were very supportive of me. At the time I was in my early twenties and I was much more focused on having fun than studying.”
When Siwatibau left university without a qualification, she found work as a factory hand; a role which she held for ten years, before stopping work to have her daughter, who is now twelve.
With her daughter now nearing high school, Siwatibau is ready to tackle a new challenge.
“Since my daughter started school I’ve been helping out at her school, and I think by seeing her grow and develop I decided that I have to follow my dreams too. It’s a good example for me to be able to say to my child ‘Look at me, I’m doing this’.”
Siwatibau has already seen the positive impact of her actions on her daughter. “She’s proud of me, which is really nice. She’s quite driven herself. She’s already been a member of the Special Orchestra in the Christchurch Music Festival for two years, and now she’s in the process of applying for a scholarship for the Burnside High School special music programme. So hopefully she gets that.”
Siwatibau first came to Ara last year to study a six-month Pre-Health course, through the Pasifika Trades Training Scholarship. Now her Pasifika Higher Learning Scholarship will pay the fees for the first year of three-year degree.
On Wednesday 28 March, Ara Chief Executive Tony Gray will present Siwatibau with her scholarship in a Celebration Event at Te Puna Wānaka. Ara has invited Siwatibau to speak at the event on behalf of the sixty scholarship recipients.
“Finding this scholarship was so rewarding. I have my daughter, I have my family, and I have finished all my mucking around. Now when I come to study I’m focused, I’m here.”
In 2010 Siwatibau took on the responsibility of caring for and housing a friend with a brain injury, and supported him through the full recovery process. It was during this journey that Siwatibau happened upon the career of Medical Imaging.
“When he came out of the hospital ACC couldn’t pay for him so Nightingale came to me and asked if I could take him in. I really felt for him. His partner had died in the car crash and he didn’t have any family to go to in Christchurch. I was worried about having him live with us because people with brain damage can be unpredictable. I said we’d try it for a year. He stayed for almost three.”
“We had to visit the hospital for his X-rays and I got to learn about his injuries through the lens of the health system. I thought ‘I would like to learn about this’. For me it was quite rewarding to see him getting back on his feet.”
“I think that’s maybe why I got the scholarship. I had to write about why I wanted to do this course, and I wrote about him.”
Siwatibau is aiming for top grades so that she can try for another scholarship next year.
She considers her family as her biggest support structure, which will be great to rely upon as she spends the next two years living between Timaru, Christchurch and other New Zealand locations for work placements.
“I have the full support of my family, my husband, my siblings, and my study buddy Anaseini Masara. All I have to do is pass, and move onto the next year. You can succeed in anything you do if you put your mind to it.”