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Surviving on her own

Tragedy struck Kuenitelina (Kueni) Tanginoa’s family when her husband- the father of her five children- was taken from them in 2013. As a young Tongan stay-at-home mother, now a widow, Kueni felt lost. With the help of The Fono’s Whanau Ora service Kueni has been able to pick herself up for the sake of her children and is half-way towards finishing her degree to become a Social Worker.

“I came to New Zealand in 1989 for a chance at a better life,” says Kueni, who was 21 when she arrived from Tonga.

She settled in Kaikohe with her adoptive mother and before she knew it she had seemingly found that better life in New Zealand.

With a loving husband she soon had five amazing children- three boys and two younger girls.

As a homemaker, Kueni was content to be a stay-at-home mum for her children while her husband worked. Their family was happy.

However Kueni’s husband was diagnosed with cancer, and sadly passed away in 2013 leaving behind a bereft family and a lost Kueni.

“I relied too much on my husband,” Kueni admits, “he was the only one that worked.”

“And when he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away I realised I had to work to support my children, but I had no qualifications or anything.”

It dawned on her that she had to set an example for her children. She knew she needed to start studying in order to gain a qualification to build a good career to support her family. 

She enrolled into a Bachelor of Social Services with the Bethlehem Tertiary Institute in 2015, which is the same year she enrolled with The Fono.

“I was struggling to make ends meet,” says Kueni.

Between studying and looking after her two youngest, as her older sons moved out of home, two to Australia for better job prospects and the youngest boy to Auckland to study visual arts, Kueni was finding it hard to cope.

She finally asked The Fono to help, and was provided with assistance on her journey to become more independent.

Her Whanau Ora Navigator Falesiu (Fale) Fotu soon became her confidante, not only being an ear for her to talk to about her issues but also through providing sound advice and helping her on a pathway to a brighter future.

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“She gave me advice on how I can improve my personal life, for instance to stop smoking.”

Smoking was a huge drain on the little money she had, as well as a detriment to her wellbeing and the wellbeing of her family.

Kueni was referred to smoking cessation services which helped her to stop.

Falesiu also helped her set up automatic payments so that bills wouldn’t pile up, with Whanau Ora helping to pay the immediate arrears which Kueni was struggling with.

Whanau Ora also helped to replace all four tyres of the family car, their only mode of transportation to and from school, the doctors, university and to her part-time job at Countdown from their remote home in Kaikohe.

Kueni started her own vegetable garden, to help lessen the cost of groceries, and has learnt to prioritise her needs on her own.

It’s something she and Fale have worked on, when setting family goals.

The Whanau Ora Navigator says it gives her a sense of pride to see Kueni’s progress and is more than happy to just have a chat with Kueni when she calls.

“As a young widow with young children she’s still looking after, she’s made so much progress,” says Fale.

“Keuni wants to achieve the goals we’ve set; she tries to do whatever she can to help her family.”

The main goal is finishing her degree and securing employment.

Whanau Ora provided her with a laptop for coursework, which is also used by her daughters for homework.

“It’s been very hard, because I didn’t do well at school when I was younger,” Kueni laughs.

Although schooling isn’t her strongest suit and English is her second language Kueni is persevering, “I’m glad my second year is over and done with.”

She has two more years of study to go, but Keuni’s just so grateful for the help given to her by The Fono Whanau Ora service.

“They helped me not just financially, but also with family issues- just being able to talk with Fale is a great help.”

Kueni just wants to keep working towards being independent so that she can pay the kindness forward; helping others once she too is a social worker.

“I want to work and get a good income, become independent so that I don’t need The Fono’s services anymore. Because maybe there are some other families who need The Fono more than me.”

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