A life dedicated to future proofing the next generation
(Picture caption: Students work with sphero-bots at a recent STEM Day event, run by Project Wy and partners, MPP, Air New Zealand’s Manu Network, Auckland University and Unitec.)
All of Essendon Tuitupou’s roles in life have been driven by the same desire – to uplift Pasifika people in the community, and to include them in future developments.
Born in Tonga, and raised in New Zealand, Essendon wears many hats, that of a Social Entrepreneur, Pastor, Project Manager and husband and father of five.
The socially concerned Essendon ended up in his various roles, due to his passionate commitment to working with his community and wanting to make a difference, he says.
“In 2007, I was asked to develop a health programme for my church (Faith City Church),” Essendon says.
“The 10-week programme was so successful it soon grew to include friends and family from the community so that at its peak, we had bootcamp sessions of 350 plus people.”
From this initial programme Temple Ministries was born that same year, starting out as a community health and fitness initiative.
Since its inception over a decade ago, more than 6,000 people have taken part in the programme, with several thousand completing their first ever marathons or other sporting events.
Various charitable events have been created and money raised for worthy causes including the Cancer Society, Kidz First Children’s Hospital, and Auckland Spinal Unit in Otara.
“This year we have and will take participants to do the Tongariro Crossing (April and October) as well as the Auckland Tough Guy mud-run in August,” Essendon adds.
On the back of the successful Temple Ministries initiative, Essendon and his team started Project Wy - a Leadership and Mentoring programme involving over 110 primary school students and their families.
Project Wy was established in 2015, with just one school and six families participating in the programme.
Fast forward three years, and it has expanded to include 11 schools and over 100 families, and it is anticipated it will grow further in the next few years, Essendon says.
“Initially, we were invited by one school to develop a mentoring programme for their more ‘troublesome’ students.
“However we instead asked to work with ‘young leaders’ and their families as we believe by further developing and fast-tracking their leadership development and strengthening family bonds, their contribution to the community in the long-term will be significant.
“In many ways we need to prepare and equip our community through future proofing the next generation but also informing and encouraging our current generations about how this future looks, and having a place in it,” Essendon says.
Encouraging children to get involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects is a priority area for Project Wy, and it has recently become a recipient of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) Toloa Community Fund.
The Toloa Community Fund is allocated to Pacific community groups promoting and delivering STEM activities.
Project Wy partnered with MPP, along with Air New Zealand’s Manu Network, Auckland University and Unitec to run its STEM Day in early June – an event involving both parents and children.
“Having parental participation as a key requirement of Project Wy allows us to develop a STEM programme that can cater to Pasifika families as opposed to a programme targeting just students,” Essendon explains.
“Our discussions with MPP allowed us to align our STEM Day not just with MPP’s Toloa Fund goals but also with MPP’s event as well,” he adds.
Over 150 people attended the event in Auckland, which was split into two parts - one was an interactive experience for the students working with sphero-bots and mobile devices to manoeuvre mazes; the second was an informational session for parents meeting with guest speakers.
Essendon says the aim for the day was to provide the students with hands-on experience of technology, to have an interactive day that would encourage them to pursue further thinking around STEM.
“For the parents, we wanted them to understand the value of STEM not just for their kids but also for them as parents, encouraging them to keep pursuing their own educational goals and to also not be afraid of technology but to learn more about it alongside their kids.”
Essendon believes it achieved these goals, while also developing important partnerships with organisations which will be beneficial in the future.
Selflessly, Essendon continues to give back to Auckland’s Pacific community, with even more initiatives and projects in the pipeline.
Project Wy programme families are preparing for a number of upcoming events including the Educational School Holiday Bootcamp, with Auckland University and Auckland University of Technology, the Auckland Tough Guy Mud-Run in August and other community projects, he says.
“In the next two years we are looking to grow Project Wy to involve 20 schools and 250 families.
“We also want to extend our Leadership Factory initiative - a programme for practical leadership development we run with young South Aucklanders who feel stuck in their careers and are looking for ideas - throughout Auckland.
“We hope to have a number of community projects developed and operated by the various participants and graduates of the Leadership Factory.”
To find out more about MPP’s Toloa Community Fund, visit MPP.