Pacific youth enjoy royal affair
(Picture caption: New Zealand Prime Minister Rt Hon. Jacinda Ardern and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex enjoy the cultural performances at Auckland War Memorial Museum. Credit Mark Tantrum.)
Never in her life, did Hazel Umaga imagine ever having the opportunity to say “'Talofa lava Your Royal Highness”.
However, the 24-year-old AUT Human Resources and Accounting student from Otara in South Auckland had exactly that chance at a reception held for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, as part of the recent royal tour of the South Pacific.
Staged at Auckland War Memorial Museum, and hosted by New Zealand Prime Minister Rt Hon. Jacinda Ardern, Hazel was invited to the event by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP), along with nine other nominated Pacific youth (aged 17-25), and other youth leaders who had made significant contributions to the community
The event featured cultural performances from Saintz Up Performing Arts Academy, and Prime Minister Ardern started her speech in an array of Pacific languages and welcomed the royals to "the of the long white cloud, where a little bit of rain tends to fall from".
Hazel, who is of Samoan heritage, won the BNZ Commercial and Corporate Award at the 2018 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards, supported by MPP.
She was nominated to meet the royals as a representative of MPP, and jumped at the opportunity.
“Besides meeting and greeting the royals my highlight of the reception was seeing so many Pacific youth embrace their culture and show what they stand for,” Hazel says.
Attendees to the reception were given the chance to meet at least one of the three VIPs and as a group, MPP were fortunate to interact with the Duchess of Sussex, she adds.
“We exchanged thoughts on what we do for our communities, and what we as Pacific people are striving for in the future.
“But last but not least we made sure Meghan got a feel of what Pacific do best which is to laugh - we got in a lot of jokes for the night.”
Hazel adds it is important for Pacific youth to be well represented at these types of occasions because it is rewarding, and it provides inspiration for some.
“I know for me personally, it has motivated me to go further and do greater things.
“I think as more Pacific youth are recognised for what they contribute to society, more will follow.
“It is only fair to say that sometimes we need a little bit of a push, and often it is not until you see one making it big that the rest will try.”
At the reception, Prime Minister Ardern thanked the royals for their warmth and their focus on mental health at the reception.
Prince Harry also opened his speech with a long list of Pacific greetings, and he commended the Prime Minister for inviting the young guests who he says are "arbiters of real change".
"It is incredibly inspiring to see you forging new paths, while staying rooted in your language, culture and heritage," he says.
After the speeches, the royals were treated to an energetic Pacific dance performance, and there was also a meet and greet.
The MCs for the reception were Tagata Pasifika reporters John Pulu and Alistar Kata.