The Kāinga Ora customer arrived in Christchurch from Sāmoa with her family when she was three months old and spent her childhood wanting to speak the language of the country she had left behind.

“It was really tough. We were told that we didn’t need our language. That left me traumatised and I ended up losing my language,” Tiresa explains.

A few decades later and Tiresa – now a fluent Sāmoan speaker who can also understand some Tongan, Arabic and speak Afrikaans – has not only reclaimed her language, but uses it every day in her work advocating for people and families in need of housing,  many of whom are Pasifika.

For two hours each day, Tiresa works at the Rowley Community Centre, a community centre in Ōtautahi. Word of Tiresa’s knowledge of Sāmoan and other languages has spread, and she now gets referrals from across the city.

“Now I’m in a role where I use my language 70 percent of the time. I liaise with the Ministry of Social Development and the Kāinga Ora housing support team on behalf of the people I work with,” she says.

Tiresa, who was born with cerebral palsy, has spent 15 years volunteering in her local community in Christchurch where she has lived since 1989. She’s done a huge amount of voluntary work, including being one of the founding members of the ‘Rowley Mamas’ – a group of Mums set up to support struggling families –  and serving as a member of FAGASA Christchurch, an organisation dedicated to nurturing the Sāmoan language, for 10 years.

She’s currently a member of the Christchurch South Community Patrol and one of the project leads behind the Pasifika Mātua Olympics event being held in September.

Tiresa volunteered alongside her different paid jobs, before her health started to deteriorate. That’s when her current role came along.

“I love this community and I’ve lived most of my life in a Kāinga Ora home. I had to leave previous jobs because of my health, but after a while I was missing the community work and I wanted to be more involved – so I started coming in here [Rowley Community Centre] and sitting in the lounge talking to others offering support. Then I was asked if I wanted to work here. That was four years ago,” Tiresa says.

Tiresa has recently moved into an accessible Kāinga Ora home with her Mum and son, and it has meant the world to the family. “With my cerebral palsy, I’m losing my mobility and I get around on a mobility scooter outside. When we found out we were moving into an accessible home, my Mum just broke down as she’s wanted this for me,” she says.

The home includes features designed to make life easier for Tiresa, such as wider doors, lower light switches and an outdoor plug so she can charge her mobility scooter outside.

Tiresa says she enjoys helping others because she knows what it’s like to struggle, but also to have someone in your corner.

“I’ve used this experience when I’m working with other people. Living with cerebral palsy, my Mum has been my strongest advocate all my life. She’s a Queen and she’s kept us above water. I am where I am because of her." 

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Page updated: 10 August 2023