The award is in recognition of Noa’s dedication to flood recovery work following the catastrophic weather of Auckland Anniversary weekend.

On 27 January, Noa’s day began leisurely as she’d just started a holiday. By evening, however, she was back at work facing a mammoth task: to address the flood damage wrought to 684 state homes in Counties Manukau.

Eight months on, Noa has still not taken her holiday. As Senior Project Manager for the Auckland Flood Recovery Programme, she and her team have worked long days ever since that fateful weekend. Today, they remain utterly focused on supporting customers who are navigating loss and displacement, and reinstating flood-damaged homes.

It’s an attitude that Noa says is in her Sāmoan blood. “Growing up as a Pacific Islander, service is ingrained in you; it’s the first thing you learn in your home. I learned that service doesn’t discriminate, and that service is the most important thing.”

Noa also has insight into how life is for many Kāinga Ora customers. “My parents were state housing customers. They appreciated having a state house but with English as their second language, they struggled to understand what was required at times. I would translate for them.

“I also helped them with admin like banking and insurance. It wasn’t easy for them and that has stayed with me; I am always careful to ensure that the customer understands what is happening.”

While Noa’s work ethic comes naturally to her, it has now been acknowledged as a gold standard in public service.

Noa and her parents, Vaeila and Siolo, flew to Wellington for the Spirit of Service awards where Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and many public service leaders watched her win.

“When my name was announced, I sat there for a good 30 seconds because I couldn’t believe it. I was thinking, ‘How am I going to get up to the stage? There were so many people, it was overwhelming.”

Flooding at Freeland Reserve in January

Of course, Noa did make it to the stage where she delivered an eloquent speech attributing her success to the support of her aiga, her colleagues and her church.

“Although the award has my name on it, I see it as an award for all the amazing people contributing to this programme. Whether it was advice or criticism, it all helped.

“In terms of my personal journey with Kāinga Ora, I’ve been very blessed to have leaders who I have aspired to emulate, who have supported me and my journey. And I’m also fortunate to be part of an amazing team, many of whom have the same aspirations as me.”

While the work has been intense, Noa says it has served as an important reminder to be kind, “whether to myself in setting a task list that I can’t finish or to my maintenance partner in there doing the mahi”.

She concedes that the work is humbling. “A couple of days after the flood, when it was safe, I joined the crew visiting our customers and I was devastated by the scale of destruction and grief. I can only imagine how it must have been for the whānau involved. We met family after family who, in the space of one night, had gone from having everything to nothing.

“I remember meeting a family back at their home for the first time a few weeks after they’d escaped the flood.. They were faced with the fact that everything was wrecked. Water was squelching out of the carpet and mould was starting to grow. But all the customer wanted was his church blazers and some tins of corned beef. He’d thrown the tins into the bathtub to stop them floating away and they were still there, safe and sound. No matter what happened, he was determined to provide food for his kids and to keep going to church.”

A number of customers are now back in their fully repaired homes while others are in other Kāinga Ora properties, staying with family or in temporary accommodation while repairs are carried out.

“Joining the public service was the best choice I ever made. I’ve tried to never lose sight of why I joined or why I’m here and I think that so long as you have your ‘why’, and you’re committed to fulfilling that daily, it’s worth it. My advice to anyone considering a career in public service is to do it.”

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Page updated: 20 September 2023