Redefining service in a spirit of kindness and empowerment

Story and slideshow by HANNAH CHRISTENSEN

Pacific Islanders (PI) believe that what is best for the village is best for the individual. This value system instills a spirit of empathy, generosity and kindness. This is particularly evident in the types of service we see from local members of the PI community. These individuals redefine service through the work that they do as a way of life.

Puna Fatanitavake is a former teacher at Mana Academy Charter School, where she enjoyed teaching second graders. Previously she taught at Liahona High School in Tonga. Fatanitavake moved to Utah in 2015 with two young children and a third on the way to be closer to her mother and pursue more education.

Because of her service to her students, religion and family, Fatanitavake feels that her life is blessed. “Serving helps me be the strong woman I am right now. The love I had for these kids and the good I could do for them, I didn’t expect anything in return because I knew that God would bless me,” she said.

Fatanitavake also explained how every decision she has ever made was for others — the people in her Tongan village, her children, her mother, her former students and current community. She participates in local service through her religion which allows her to serve while also educating and empowering children on how they can be successful and follow their dreams like she is currently doing by attending LDS Business College.

Ulysses Tongaonevai has also dedicated his career to serving youth in his community. Tongaonevai is a conduct hearing officer for The Office of the Dean of Students at the University of Utah where he also instructs courses for PI students as an adjunct professor. Before working at the university, Tongaonevai worked for local government with youth from at-risk homes.

“I’m here to advocate for these individuals or groups,” he explained. “I’ve done things in the community from cultural awareness, higher ed awareness, I’ve created programs to help young people graduate high school and connect with resources.”

Tongaonevai grew up in the inland empire of Southern California in a single-parent household and did not always know where to turn for help. “Because of where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced, I feel like I need to give back because I’ve been given much,” he said.

One of these programs that Tongaonevai created with his wife, Kalo, is called Teine Malohi, a competitive fast pitch softball program for PI girls. They chose this name because “Teine” is Samoan for “girl” and “Malohi” is Tongan for “strong.”

This girl power program was founded in 2016 and has been sponsored by Royal Outreach, West High School Softball, Uplift Foundation Inc. and the University of Utah Neighborhood Partners. They practice and hold events for the teams at The Sorenson Unity Center in Salt Lake City.

Teine Malohi softball has participants from all over the Salt Lake Valley, including: West Valley, Glendale, Poplar Grove, Rose Park, Herriman, West Jordan, South Jordan, Murray, Taylorsville, Salt Lake City, Bountiful, North Salt Lake and Centerville. There are 53 girls total who participate in three separate age-grouped teams ranging from age 8-14.

Teine Malohi provides an opportunity to be physically active while interacting with the community. It also focuses on affordability (scholarships and equipment), player development, academics, culture, empowerment, student-athlete experiences and college prep.

“We also include a community aspect, not only just within the Pacific islander community, but we encourage the players to do some type of voluntary service in the neighborhoods that they live in, and for them to also connect to their legislative representatives,” Tongaonevai said.

With the goal of empowering young women, the Tongaonevais have been able to create this thriving program that teaches young women from all over the Salt Lake Valley how they can serve their communities. “When I first went to school, I didn’t have the understanding of those resources or how to look for them, I didn’t know they existed,” Tongaonevai recalled. As a result, he has spent his entire adulthood advocating for youth and connecting them to resources.

The PI view is that we are all connected and so it’s important that everyone helps each other to find happiness and success. Community activist Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou co-founded an organization called Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR). “All of our goals encompass helping, educating and empowering,” Feltch-Malohifo’ou said. PIK2AR focuses on economics, cultural preservation and domestic violence.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou seeks to provide services for people of PI background because of her childhood, where she felt disconnected from her roots. By providing knowledge, connection and empowerment to the community, Feltch-Malohifo’ou is able to help orchestrate support groups, a business alliance and cultural community events.

Fatanitavake, Tongaonevai and Feltch-Malohifo’ou each described service as part of everyday life. They don’t separate service into a task to accomplish, or some way to balance the scales. Service is organic, it is a way of life.

These Utahn Pacific Islander leaders each seek not only to serve, but to empower others. Empowering others teaches them to take control of their lives, enabling them to be their best selves. This is the Pacific Island way, believing that we are all in this journey together and the success of one, is the success of all.

 

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Nā HALE: A home for Pacific Islander well-being

Story and slideshow by MARISSA SITTLER

In Hawaiian, nā hale means “the houses,” a word that embodies the sense of traditional Hawaiian community. This word is the driving force behind the newly formed umbrella organization for Pacific Islander wellness and resources. HALE is an acronym for Health, Advocacy, Leadership and Education.

Some of the strongest leaders of Utah’s Pacific Islander community came together to hatch the idea of Nā HALE. The idea was devised by members of the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition, the University of Utah Pacific Islander Studies Initiative, Margarita Satini from Utah Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Coalition and Charlene Lui from Hui Hawai’i O Utah Hawaiian Civic Club.

The first formal meeting took place in January 2016. During that meeting, an exploratory committee was formed “to research different collaboration models, bylaws and articles of incorporation, and membership structures of existing organizations in other states,” said Jake Fitisemanu Jr. in an email interview. He is the acting chair of the steering committee that is tasked with preparing Nā HALE to become a more formal entity. He is also the council member for District 4 in West Valley City, Utah. 

In April 2016, the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition unanimously supported the proposal to create a statewide umbrella group. It was one month later that the name Nā HALE was chosen.

Pacific Islanders have a strong sense of family and community, so it is only natural that many of the already formed Pacific Islander resource groups are some of the main collaborators for this project. In addition to the founding organizations, Fitisemanu said local groups including Queen Center, National Tongan American Society, Beyond Culture, Utah Pacific Islander Behavioral Health Association, Samoana Integrated Language Initiative, Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition, Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resource and PEAU Artists Collective are all main members of Nā HALE.

Charlene Lui, director of educational equity for Granite School Districts, is native Hawaiian and has lived in Utah since the 1970s. She and her husband, who is Tongan, have been very involved in the Pacific Islander community in Utah through various groups, such as Hui Hawaiʻi O Utah and the National Tongan American Society.

Lui said in a phone interview that collectively, they have always wanted to strengthen the Pacific Islander community by organizing a group somehow. She sees Nā HALE as “trying to bring everybody together under one umbrella and to strengthen and maximize what every group group does, to collectively share our resources.”

Dr. Kalani Raphael, who is a kidney, electrolytes and high blood pressure specialist at the University of Utah School of Medicine and one of the key members of Nā HALE’s formation, said in a phone interview that the importance of Nā HALE “boils down to recognizing that there’s a lot of disparities in health, economics and incarceration in the Pacific Islander community.” He adds, “We can and should be doing better.”

Fitisemanu sees Nā HALE as a way to strengthen each individual organization’s capacity and reach. “This kind of network can facilitate resource pooling as well as information sharing; for example, a program that has been successful in the Samoan community might be more readily adopted as a best practice among the Tongan community. It also creates opportunity for more impactful civic engagement, when communities can band together and promote policies that are in the best interest of underrepresented communities,” he said.

While Nā HALE is a solidified concept, it is still just that — a concept. The individuals who are working on this project also have full-time careers, which can make it difficult to dedicate extra time to Nā HALE’s formal creation. Despite this, the umbrella organization already has a strong presence in the Pacific Islander community. It was featured as a community-based initiative during the American Public Health Association conference in October 2016 in Denver and was introduced to national partners across the United States and the Pacific territories in May 2017 during a webinar hosted by the Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander National Network in Los Angeles.

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What happens when brave women make waves in their communities

Story and photos by HANNAH CHRISTENSEN

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Matapuna Levenson and reporter Hannah Christensen at the SLC Family Justice Center, YWCA.

Pacific Island (PI) women who experience domestic violence often feel powerless, helpless and alone because the American idea of rugged individualism contradicts the ideals of PI collectivism.

Matapuna Levenson, Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center at the YWCA lead guide and advocate, said, “When intimate partner violence occurs, somebody is making you believe that you are not powerful. We need to go back to remembering and believing in ourselves both as individuals and as a people, that we are powerful. We’re resilient, we’re here, we’re alive.” Those of PI descent embody this power and strength through honoring and remembering where they have come from.

Levenson spoke to how this deep connection with their ancestral and cultural roots is sacred to the PI community. They have passed down many traditions, beliefs and ways of living that provide a stark contrast from the colonized white world of America.

Leata Puailoa Hunt is an advocate against domestic abuse. She is a native of Samoa who now lives in Draper, Utah. “In our true culture, high chiefs honor their wives and treat them like queens and then all the daughters in a home are treated like princesses. We keep them in a sacred status,” she said.

Historically, women of the Pacific Islands were in positions of power and held in high regard. Today they are raised to be strong matriarchs. “The good thing about our culture,” Hunt explained, “is we’re trained as girls growing up to be mothers already, we can cook, we can clean, we can solve problems, we can do this. We are independent and we can carry a family, but also at the same time I love that we train our men to respect our women.”

While many PI communities continue to treat women with reverence, something switched when patriarchal systems were introduced to the islands. Levenson, with the YWCA, said, “I’m going to blame patriarchy, because it’s not just white capitalists. Whenever there is an opportunity to have power and control over individual groups or communities, they’re going to do it. And it’s typically men, that’s just history. We have to combat and oppose this historical power.”

Levenson explained how indigenous PI communities did not have these complex power dynamics. A well-known Samoan proverb, “Ó le fogāv’a e tasi,” translates to, “The canoe has one deck.” This is the PI mentality at its best. Everyone is on the same boat, striving toward the same goal, together as equals. It wasn’t until power dynamics were introduced that the canoe became difficult to navigate.

Both Levenson and Hunt spoke about how the hierarchy of power was introduced to PI culture and the result was individualistic thinking. The clash of the collectivist community ideals and the egocentric mentality results in a lot of confusion, cognitive dissonance and anger. This is one underlying reason that domestic violence is happening within PI communities. The contradiction here is that because of the deep-seated beliefs, everyone works together for the greater good of all, and rather than challenge the systemic problem, it is best to ignore or not speak out when there is violence in the home.

Not feeling able to speak out about abuse also stems from the strong PI beliefs in families and family unification, because it is important to protect the family name. Hunt said “a family will hide secrets, like abuse or domestic violence, you know, things that are going on that shouldn’t be going on, that’s actually another key factor because of the family name. They hide it or sweep it under the rug and go forth as a perfect family that has a title.” Hiding these secrets within families is sometimes the only way a family can keep their titles and status in the community.

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A Samoan newspaper featured Leata Puailoa Hunt in the 2015 Miss Oceana Pageant in Sydney, Australia.

Hunt recalled how there was much less tolerance for abuse in Samoa than there was in American Samoa. “If someone is abusive or commits adultery, they will be fined by the village and if it was really extreme, they would be banished from the village,” she said.

Hunt is an advocate for those who have been abused because she lived through her sister’s domestic violence abuse. “There’s no excuse for it no matter what. I know from my personal upbringing, it is not part of our culture, it is not taught on our homeland.” Hunt advocated for domestic abuse survivors as a contestant in the 2015 Miss Oceana Pageant in Sydney, Australia.

There are many resources in Utah for victims and survivors of domestic violence within the PI community. Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR) is one of them. Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, co-founder of PIK2AR, started the organization with her husband, Simi Poteki Malohifo’ou. He and other men wanted to get involved with the domestic violence issue in the community. Feltch-Malohifo’ou said of the men who started this group, “They came together because they recognized that there is a problem.” She has been an advocate for women because she herself is a survivor of domestic violence.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou coordinates many programs to provide support for PI women. These programs provide a safe space for them to share their experiences. The YWCA also focuses on empowering women and connecting them with resources. Levenson, who grew up in a domestically abusive home, shared, “I asked a survivor once, ‘What do you need to feel more comfortable in sharing your story?’ And she said very quickly and naturally, ‘I just need to hear other people share theirs.’ And that’s it exactly.”

Additional resources can be found on the Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center’s website, the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition website and the Utah 2-1-1 website. Women also can dial 2-1-1 for help and connection to resources.

 

 

The Utah Cultural Alliance: Past, present and future

Story by JORDAN SENTENO

It all began in 1981 as Utah Citizens for the Arts. According to a history of the organization, it led the development of the public art programs in Utah. It also held events to help educate the community and elected officials.

Then, in 1993, it assumed a new identity and became the Utah Cultural Alliance (UCA). Its job is to work with the art and culture organizations as well as the legislators and county governments to solidify funding throughout the state of Utah and its community.

“Everyone and anyone can work with the arts and make a contribution to the community,” said Kate Ithurralde in an email interview. Ithurralde serves on the UCA board as treasurer.

According to UCA’s website, the organization serves as “the voice of the arts, humanities and cultural sector of Utah.” Its mission is to “empower and strengthen this community through advocacy, professional development and awareness.”

Crystal Young-Otterstrom, executive director of UCA, said, “It’s a great way to help the Utah community and for others to get involved and make a difference in the community as well.”

According to the website, UCA has transformed into a membership-driven organization comprised of many museums, corporations, and groups such as the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the Stewart Foundation and the Salt Lake City Arts Council.

UCA has joined to help support the Utah community through cooperation, communication and advocacy in an attempt to help increase the value of the arts program in the state.

“I choose to be involved because the arts and humanities have a rich history in our state and I think we can do a better job supporting the sector,” said UCA Board Chair Jason Myers in an email interview. “By doing that I believe we will have more vibrant and rich communities — culturally and economically,” said Myers, who manages internal communications at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

Young-Otterstrom said one way that community members can become involved is by becoming an advocate. “The most important part of advocacy is anyone can choose to be involved, can talk to an elected official. It’s really not a hard thing to get in touch with one of them and get involved,” she said in a phone interview.

UCA seeks community involvement to help impact the culture in Utah. The organization is committed to working with people to increase their individual and organizational knowledge of policy issues. UCA also involves the community by hosting events like Arts Day on the Hill in February, which UCA notes is an opportunity for residents to connect with their legislators and discuss why the arts are important.

UCA has a new five-year strategic plan for 2016-2020 that outlines its desire to become the forefront organization of Utah’s cultural issues. A subcommittee of the board factored in the mission, vision and value statements when creating the plan.

The subcommittee identified several guiding principles to help UCA accomplish its goal. For example, the small group recommended creating a separate advocacy branch that will enable UCA to endorse candidates and pursue fundraising to directly support advocacy efforts in Utah.

Another guiding principle is awareness. The organization aims to expand marketing and public relations in order to increase appreciation of the arts. It also plans to develop a Utah Culture Wiki, a comprehensive site about the arts and humanities.

According to UCA’s website, “the Utah Cultural Alliance [looks] to become the top voice of the arts, humanities and cultural sector of Utah.”