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"Showing up and being ready to listen and serve is enough to make a difference," says Samoan Junior Doctor, Tiare Jones
Updates / Community, 30 May 24
Dr Tiare Jones is a proud Samoan Junior Doctor currently working at Middlemore Hospital, Auckland. This year for Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa (Samoan Language Week) Dr Tiare shares her reflections as a tama’ita’i Samoa.

Fa’atalofa atu, mālō le soifua maua ma le lagi e mamā.  

O lo’u igoa o Tiare Maina Jones.  

Fa’amanuia le Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa. 

My dad hails from the villages of Moata’a, Nu’usuatia, Vaie’e and Sapapali’i on my Grandmother’s side, and my Grandfather is a New Zealander. My mum hails from the villages of Safune in Savai’i on my Nana’s side, and from Leone in Tutuila on my Papa’s side. My mum moved from American Samoa to New Zealand when she married my dad, and myself and my two younger brothers have been raised in West Auckland our entire lives. 

Like many Samoans born and bred in New Zealand, I have been surrounded by gagana Samoa throughout my life, but not completely immersed to the point where I can confidently understand and speak it. I attended Aoga Fa’a Samoa until I was 5 years old, then moved to a predominantly Palagi primary school where my gagana quickly faded.  

While I firmly believe that language is vital to sustaining culture and tradition through generations, I also know that our values of alofa (love), tautua (service), fa’aaloalo (respect), fa’atuatua (faith) and aiga (family) are the pillars of Fa’a Samoa and the driving force behind our dreams and successes. Despite not having a strong grasp of the language, I have been born into a loving Samoan family who have raised us within this value system and helped me to feel closely connected to my culture.  

This has fostered my passion to pursue medicine, so that I can try to be part of changing the health statistics for our Pasifika people, and provide a safe space for them within the health system. I often feel like I am not doing this justice because I cannot fluently speak Samoan, however I have had many beautiful interactions as a junior doctor at Middlemore Hospital that remind me that simply showing up and being ready to listen and serve is enough to make a difference.  

An experience that had a profound impact on my cultural and language journey was spending 10 weeks in Samoa completing an elective placement at Tupua Tamasese Mea’ole Hospital, while living with my family in our village of Moata’a. It was heartwarming to see our culture and language thrive in a health setting, from starting each shift with pese and prayer, to witnessing our Samoan health professionals provide incredible leadership and care despite their challenging work conditions. One of the most invaluable lessons from this experience was understanding how to use gagana Samoa to maintain the vā fealoa’i in a clinical context, as I learnt how to properly address patients- particularly our elders- and to respectfully carry out examinations. Most importantly, my elective allowed me to spend precious time with family, better understand my heritage, and plant deeper roots in Samoa which I hope to continue nurturing in the future.  

I think it is natural for those of us who are not fluent in our own languages to feel inadequate in our cultural identity. Insecurities are loud, and I have realised that my own self-doubt has been the biggest barrier to learning gagana Samoa more deeply. As we get older, my siblings, cousins and I are also realising that we need to be secure and knowledgeable in our culture and language to ensure it is passed down to the next generations. I often feel overwhelmed by this responsibility, however reflecting on the theme for this year’s Samoan language week allows me to put things into perspective.  

“Tautua i le alofa, manuia le lumana’i” reminds me that as Samoans, everything that we do flows from a heart of service for our families, friends and communities. Keeping this at the forefront of my mind, rather than focusing on how much I do not know, provides more meaningful motivation to sustain me in this ongoing cultural and language journey. And remembering to do it all in love - which may look like showing ourselves grace when we make mistakes, or encouraging others in their efforts rather than tearing them down- is the key to making this an enriching experience for all. 

Fa’afetai tele lava ma ia manuia lava.