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13 April 2021 | in CUSF News

Pasifika community finds solidarity through sport

For almost every student, diving into university can be both challenging and daunting. From scheduling lectures to building relationships with professors and peers, the jump from high school to tertiary education can at times seem like an insurmountable hurdle.


For a group of students in the eastern Australian city of Brisbane, who track their heritage to the Pacific Islands of Oceania, these hurdles are faced head on with solidarity through student clubs and associations.


One such student, Liddy Tutuvanu from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), says that if it was not for the QUT Pasifika Association (QUTPA), of which she now serves as the Onenesia Mentoring Director, it is unlikely that she would still be pursuing higher education.


“It was my second year, I was studying IT and Film,” Tutuvanu said, “I didn’t have the support and I felt really out of place. I was struggling in finding my people.”


After a conversation with her father over coffee, Tutuvanu had made the decision that she would no longer continue her tertiary education at the university.


“I went downstairs after the coffee and went to study. Then two girls literally walked up to me from the QUTPA and introduced me to the association the day I was going to drop out,” Tutuvanu said.


From that chance meeting Tutuvanu, who was born in the Samoan village of Faatoia, went from strength to strength within the Association and the university itself.


“Connecting with other islanders and just finding a hub, having that solidarity and being able to rely on each other was really good,” Tutuvanu said.


One such way the QUTPA builds community is through an annual Pasifika Varsity Games where similar student groups connect for two days of sporting competition. The event brings together student groups from the neighbouring University of Queensland (UQ) and Griffith University (GU).


FISU Oceania Secretary-General Donna Spethman says student run sporting events, like the Pasifika Varsity Games, are crucial in developing a sense of communal identity.


“It keeps the students in the community. It has that community feel and retains their culture and their heritage,” Spethman said, “They can play together with friends, which is what you’re looking for.”


Although the global pandemic forced the cancelation of the 2020 Games, this year’s edition held last week saw a strong resurgence to play.


“I think students are just keen to engage. They came to participate and just get out there. They are sick of being at home and having to do everything from there. They are now hanging out with their friends again, and I think that’s the most important thing,” Spethman said.


“Sport provides the opportunity to become a well-rounded student. You can’t just be book smart, you need to have team skills, communication skills, all those soft skills that you only learn in a club or in your community or with friends,” Spethman said.


The Pasifika Varsity Games brought together more than 200 students representing their respective student groups from across south east Queensland to compete in volleyball and touch rugby.


The Games kicked off on April 6th with Volleyball held at the Logan Metro Sports Centre and touch rugby held the following day at QUT Kelvin Grove Stadium.


One of the student organizers of the event Fantasha Kale, who serves as the QUTPA Sports Coordinator, says that the Pasifika Varsity Games is a key date many Pacific Islander students look forward to each year.


“Sport is a good way to pull us together and actually form friendships and creates a community at university,” Kale said, “We can lean on each other through sports, it might be a bit competitive and whatnot, but at the end of the day, we always come back together and it’s just like one big family.”


QUTPA came out victorious this year over their competitors in both volleyball and touch rugby, but the importance of the event goes well beyond success on the court and field.


Much like Tutuvanu, Kale says that joining the Pasifika Association has given her the opportunity to join a community larger than herself. But her expectations of the organization were not as optimistic when she joined.


“My expectations coming into it was nothing like it is now. I thought it was a fun group to chill with and it is, but then I fell in love with the group. It was like having a family and a purpose, and my values for the group changed.”


Since joining QUTPA Kale says that she has developed a wealth of skills that she is able to apply to her study where she is working towards a Bachelor of Nursing/Bachelor of Psychology.


“I want to get involved. I want to bring people into the group and actually show them it’s not just like any normal group. We lean on each other, we can help each other,” Kale said.


The Pasifika Varsity Games and other tournaments just like it across Oceania and the world are planned, organized, and run through the dedication of student leaders just like Tutuvanu and Kale. But for Kale, the Games are just a starting point.


“I want to be able to provide the Pasifika Varsity Games, but add different elements like the cultural perspective, the spiritual perspective and the fellowship behind it,” Kale said.


“I want to see us grow where we can cater to not just our universities within Brisbane, but to the whole of Australia.”





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