Young, Free and Pacific Conference

On Thursday, 23 May, Pacific young women from schools around Auckland gathered to attend the Young, Free and Pacific Conference hosted by Affirming Works. Ten mature and engaged Year 10 students from Westlake Girls participated in the day, accompanied by our Pasifika Dean, Lesila Tu’itupou Kutu and Pasifika Mentor, Miriam Robinson.

This is what two of the girls had to say about the experience.

Candace Tevaga: I was one of the students who was privileged to attend the Young Free and Pacific Conference of 2024. Despite our whole group being the youngest there at a senior conference, it was an incredible opportunity to experience socialising with different schools and girls, meeting well-known guest speakers, getting the option to work in different workshops and learning about our beautiful Pasifika culture. It was an experience that meant a lot to me, opening my eyes to new perspectives and inspiring me to embrace my Pacific heritage with pride. One of my highlights from the day was meeting the world champion herself, Dame Valerie Adams. I loved listening to her talk about the experiences that shaped her into the person she is today, the obstacles she faced and inspirational quotes. One of my favourite and important quotes that I remember is this one.

“People are like icebergs; what you see above the surface is only a fraction of the whole story. Much lies beneath, hidden but important for who they are”. Dame Valerie Adams.

To me, the metaphor emphasised the idea that what is visible about a person is only a small part of their entire identity, with much more lying beneath the surface, including their experiences, upbringing, and personal history.

Peyton Seu: As I reflect on my experience at Young Free and Pacific (YFP), I am filled with a sense of joy and appreciation. The memories of that time are still vivid in my mind, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of such a wonderful programme. At first, the girls and I who went were nervous about being the youngest school at YFP. We were worried that we wouldn’t fit in or that the older students would make us feel like outsiders. But as soon as we arrived, we were greeted with warm smiles and open arms. The people who ran YFP made us feel welcome and valued, and we quickly began to feel like we were part of a community.  One of the things that stood out to me the most about YFP was the variety of workshops and activities that were offered. From music and dance to art and spoken word, there was something for everyone. I was amazed by the talent and creativity of the people who ran YFP, and I was inspired by the passion and energy they brought to each session. But what really made YFP special was the sense of community and connection that developed among the participants. Despite our differences, we were all united by our shared experiences and our desire to learn and grow. We laughed together, supported each other, and celebrated each other’s successes. For me, YFP was a chance to connect with my Pacific identity in a way that I never had before. Growing up, I often felt like I didn’t quite get the idea of being a young female Pacifica student – like I was caught between two cultures, without fully belonging to either one. But at YFP, I felt like I had finally found a sense of belonging. The people who ran YFP were passionate about celebrating Pacific culture and identity, and they created a safe and inclusive space for us to explore our own identities.

As I look back on my experience at YFP, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to have been a part of it. It was a truly transformative experience, one that helped me to develop a deeper sense of self-awareness and confidence. It reminded me that my Pacific identity is something to be proud of and an important part of who I am. I will always treasure the memories of my time at YFP, and I hope to have the opportunity to return someday. In the meantime, I will carry the lessons and experiences of YFP with me, using them to inform my own path and journey.