Alex Leapai, The Real Power House: What drives him to succeed?
Story and Photos by Helen Lauaki
January 27, 2014
Thirty four year old Alex Leapai, devoted father of six and loving partner of Theresa is more concerned about his priorities than whether he is the next World Boxing Champion. It is definitely important to Alex as he mentions that it’s his goal to achieve the top accolade of his sporting career as well as be the first Samoan and first Australian to hold the Heavy weight title. But what motivates him he states is being able to take care of his family and making sure their needs are being met. He says, “I’m just a hard working Samoan man and father trying to put food on the table and I have been blessed with a gift. I’m nothing special.”
Alex, a devout Christian, has learned by experience that his life is more balanced and in control when he is centred on the Lord. Hence, he puts God first while he focuses on his family and then his boxing career. “I always start the day talking to the man upstairs,” he says. This heavy weight contender knows he has the natural skills and strength coupled with world class coaching and training to achieve his goal; however, Alex, the “Man” recognises what powers his alter ego and that is his faith in God and his love and respect of family−including his older brother and especially his parents.
“My relationship with the Lord grew while in jail because there’s no one there you can trust. Of all the gifts the man upstairs has given me this is a hard one. But I’ve learned the lesson. I did a bad thing that no Samoan parent wants their kid to do,” he acknowledged. While incarcerated Alex turned to the Lord for strength to help him also deal with the pain of hurting his parents. It was in prison that he had a change of heart and made a decision to turn his life around and quit binge drinking and taking drugs.
He admits, “I’ll be honest. To see my parents break down in court. For me it was a turning point. I knew then that I let my parents down. I had to do something to turn it around and make mum and dad believe that I’m a changed man. I also made a promise to myself that I would never make mum and dad cry again. It’s not right.”
In 1979 Alex was born in the village of Lauali’i, Samoa and his parents moved to Mt. Albert, New Zealand when he was four years old. His was a traditional Samoan upbringing. At the age of eleven, the whole family migrated to Queensland, Australia. His father and mother, both members of the London Missionary Society, were strict parents. He understands the importance of knowing where he comes from and how it helps define who he is and what choices he makes now. “In order to move forward I must know my past,” he says.
He explains, “We were brought up the right way, where children respect their parents but somehow I kinda mixed the Australian way of life and drifted away from what I was taught and started smoking and drinking. I hung around with the wrong friends. When you hang around the wrong people you pick up bad habits coz you don’t want to be left out of the crowd.” Alex was a 17-year-old school leaver when he started drinking. He hadn’t formulated a purpose or had any direction when he left school, but he enjoyed playing rugby. The dream of playing for Australia ended when Alex pushed a referee at a match. He was banned from rugby for life. As harsh as that decision was he takes responsibility for that and has moved on.
He also believes when an opportunity ends another will begin. The drug taking and drinking was also affecting his early boxing athleticism and possibilities, but it didn’t stop him from pursuing this sporting path. Even though he regrets breaking his parents’ hearts, if it hadn’t been for his (2006) stint in prison, he wouldn’t be the ‘now’ changed man who is determined to right his wrongs and achieve the same success Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield have.
Alex Leapai continued....
He says, “I’ve been boxing for about ten years on and off. I never took the game serious coz I was still connected to the alcohol and the drugs. It was only being in that place, being locked up. I can’t fix the past but I’m trying to do the right thing.” Unlike Mike Tyson, Alex is fortunate to be surrounded by a strong support group which consists of his family and friends as well as his Manager and Trainer, Noel Thornberry. Having them around him attests to his grounding and preparation for this bout. He is dedicated and trusts Noel completely. “My manager and coach is like an older brother to me. He has 11 years on me and he is awesome. He trained Maselino Masoe to be world champion. He guided Masoe and took care of him and Maselino told me to get with this guy. He’s honest.”
Alex has another important goal. He wants to help overweight women, mainly Samoan, in Logan lose weight. When he himself isn’t training for his April 26th bout against Wladimir Klitschko, he is coaching his friends and some in the community through exercise programs. While I interviewed him at his home, he was running a fitness training session with his brother for at least eight of his friends and their wives. He believes strongly that husbands should work out with their wives and give them encouragement so they are both helping each other become healthier. “I want the husbands to exercise with their wives. Here ya see the guys encouraging their other halves and working out with them. I also have been teaching them massage techniques. This all helps them build their relationships. They get closer.”
He is a humble man with a big heart. He plans to open up a gym when he returns from Germany so that he can continue his goal of helping people in Logan lose weight. “There are a lot of overweight people from all cultures in Logan too and most can’t afford to pay for a gym membership. I used to get over 30 people at my place using my equipment. When I open up the gym, they can all come. For my Polynesian sisters, it’s focusing on their diet. It’s one thing to train but ya have to eat right. I want them to see that I cut down and lost weight to fight this bout. And hopefully they will think well if Alex can do it, we can do it too.”
When it comes to his boxing name, “Lion heart” Alex chose it to show people in his village how to do things the right way. The men in his village were labelled the infamous name, ‘Lion’ because of their hard-headed, ferocious, and unrelenting never-give-up attitude in rugby and other sports. So much so that they would also cheat and cause fights to win. “I want to change that. It’s okay to have the heart of a Lion but you must play by the rules and be fair,” he exclaims. One thing his village and father are proud of is that he has put them on the world map. In a few days, he will be going to Samoa to receive a blessing from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi and the Head of State, his Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese.
It is obvious to most of his followers that being Samoan reflects his stature and physical abilities to fight the 6ft 6in Ukrainian. “You can’t forget your blood and my blood is Samoan. I thank Australia for the opportunity but all this power comes from Samoa. And he’s never been hit by a Samoan bowler,” Alex laughs, but he is serious in his approach to the fight and in his preparation. When I last spoke to him on the phone on Thursday, January 23rd, he had been given the clearance to begin jogging and he is training every day. When he enters the ring, he will be representing Australia and Samoa.
‘Lion Heart’ the boxer has a goal and the ‘Man’ powering that goal is focused. Alex Leapai’s motivation for winning the heavy weight boxing title in a few months is for the people that are important in his life as well as himself. These are the people that have shaped him, encouraged him and given him a reason to be the best man, father, son, brother, boxer, friend and Australian resident.
For his partner and children: “It’s not about the money. This is for my family. I want to reach my goal and set an example for my kids.”
There is his mum and dad: “I want to do this for my parents. I want to put a smile on my parents’ face. Not they expect it, but it’s something I want to do for them.”
His friend and world class boxing Coach/Trainer: “Noel Thornberry is real humble and family orienteered. We are very close. For me to win this title means a lot because he’s a part of this and I want to do it for him, my family, Samoa and Australia. It’s not about the money.”
His nephews: “That’s what I tell the boys if you’re gonna take on the name, do something with your name. Don’t go to the city and get in to trouble. Do something good coz your name is important.”
To Youth: “When one road ends another road opens up. That’s what happened to me. I want to help youth here change their bad behaviour. If I can change kids out there or anyone whose watching what I’m doing it means a lot to me.”
Alex 'The Lionheart' Leapai
BirthdateOctober 16, 1979
Height 183 cm
Reach 190 cm
Birth place Samoa
won 30 (KO 24)
+ lost 4 (KO 2)
+ drawn 3 = 37
rounds boxed 188
We Welcome Uo Alaalatoa brown to Samoans in Brisbane and Le Malae
Uoiasouma Alaalatoa Brown. known appropriately as "Uo" has joined the team for Le Malae in Brisbane, Australia. She is a Broadcaster/Announcer for Radio 4EB 98.1FM Brisbane. The EB in the station name stands for Ethnic Broadcasting. They have over 50 countries broadcasting in their own language...."so we bring the world to OZ and out to the wider audience."
They have a timetable for each country. Samoa is on mostly at lunchtime. Friday morning Thurs, Sat, Sun.. 12pm-5am. Samoa has the most hours depending on members to hold airtime..so we have almost 500 members..a fraction of Samoans in Brisbane. To listen to this station click on this link: http://www.4eb.org.au/listen
Born in Malifa, Apia, Samoa she attended and graduated from Samoa College. She moved to Sydney, Australia in 1987 and later moved to Brisbane where she currently resides.
Her first job was with the US Peace Corps in Apia, Samoa. At present she is a Community Volunteer providing service to a variety of different media and other organizations including her work for the radio station which .
For those who have conversed with Uo its quite apparent that she likes to laugh and has a great sense of humor. This is the right personality when dealing with live radio where entertaining is one of the important skills one should have when on the air.
We anticipate alot of great stories from the collaboration of Uo and Helen in Brisbane. Samoans from around the world will be pleased to
witness the continued improvement of Brisbane's media offerings. The most recent offering involves Uo's review of the controversial play by Samoan playwright Victor Rodger, "Black Faggot". Please read the article posted in here.
It is with this great addition to the Brisbane team that bodes well for future news and media from this crew, that we look ahead with much anticipation to Uo's contributions to Samoans in Brisbane and make it special. We wish her well with her radio broadcaster position and encourage all of our Samoans in Brisbane to join the 4EB Radio membership and support ethnic broadcasting.
Remember we are a growing organization and you too can suggest stories or even submit articles for the website. Contact us here in the website and we will be happy to provide you with exposure. We invite announcements of weddings, funerals, church events, festivals and fundraisers. All of these stories we will share pictures and information if we are given adequate notice before the event.
Kitch Wesche Is A creative Performer who has fans world wide yet mentoring disadvantaged youths Brings him full circle.
by Helen Lauaki
January 17, 2014
Reforming his life from one of drugs and gang violence to that of an accomplished Beat Box Artist/Poet/Song Writer, Kitchener Wesche is a 28-year-old Samoan man living his dream in Brisbane, Australia. He has a Number 1 hit in Poland and a part from performing in various major festivals around Australia; he works as a Ghost writer and Youth Mentor for Government organisations and other non-profit groups like Creative Sparks.
Kitch as he is known to his fans and sponsor, Skullcandy, has his own signature music sound. It is a collective of his early Rap and Reggae tunes mixed with House beats and the Dance Music style, Breaks. ‘Breaks’ is slightly similar to hip hop, but it’s, what they call in music terms, a break beat. This sound is what has contributed to his international popularity as a successful DJ in Brisbane and a Ghost writer in Europe and other countries.
While interviewing Kitch, he sheds light on how it all came about for him starting with his Disc Jockey and music writing career. “As an MC in the clubs, no one was doing what I was doing. I was adding the reggae singing, beat boxing, and rap together and playing it on top of the dance break beat sounds. I was crafting my art and mixing it in to their dance sound and created my own sound.”
Within nine years, this young, Samoan man has received Awards and built up a career of industry firsts and personal triumphs. In 2004, he pursued his love of Beat boxing and entered the Australian Alliance Beat box competition for Australian Idol and was successful. From there he made it to the “Australia Idol” finals.
Between 2004 and 2006, he was part of the singing group, Modern Day Poets and he wrote the track, “City of Dreams”. The song was nominated for an ARIA, which is the Australian music award version of the USA’s Grammys. He also appeared on MTV and at the Australian Logie TV Award Show. He often performs at the Byron Bay Blues Festival, which is a National Festival that showcases well-known International Artists. In 2009, he collaborated with the Indigenous Didgeridoo Artist, Adrian and a Western Javan Flute Player. They combined Indigenous and Samoan Hip Hop Beats with the flute master and performed at the World Indigenous Festival in Canada. In 2010, Kitch won The Brisbane Council/MTV Song Writing Award for a song he also sings titled, “Positive Thinking.”
His fans and Industry peers could ponder how different the Brisbane/World dance music scene would have been had this young Samoan continued the reckless lifestyle he began in his adolescence. He talks about his bout with walking on the wild side and how it took a personal tragedy to bring him back on the straight and narrow to pursue his passion. It is a personal story he constantly shares with young, local Samoan and Multi-cultural youths while he mentors in Logan, Brisbane city and in rural Indigenous territories.
When he left school, he revelled in a gangster lifestyle of drugs, violence and alcohol. He does admit he was lost and had no direction in his life at that time, but doesn’t regret it. “I’m not afraid to say it. I mean hanging out with people that society thinks are unstable, but they were great friends to me. I didn’t do anything to harm the community but I harmed myself and my family.” He does state that initially, he started taking drugs to deal with the pain of breaking up with his then High School girlfriend.
He admits, “I couldn’t remember much during that time coz I was always high on drugs.” The seeds of change we’re planted in him when three of his friends died. The impact of his best friend committing suicide by over-dosing on drugs was overwhelmingly painful for him. It was his first reality check and initially shocked him out of his destructive behavioural pattern . He was devastated having to bury his best friend. Another friend died of complications of years of drug abuse and then the third, like his best friend, also died young.
He reflects, “It was a real wakeup call for me. They were so young and to die like that. It made me think, that life is important and delicate. And when my second friend past away it made me realise that this is it. I could continue the way I’m living this fast life or I can pursue what I was given.” He means his gift of rhythm and his talent for beat boxing. Some of Kitch’s family are still members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and this is also the religion he was raised in. He mentions that he felt the ‘wake-up call’ was Heavenly Father giving him a second chance.
As he reflects on the series of awards and personal accomplishments pursuing his career dream, Kitchener speaks honestly and humbly about how his talents have helped him see that he could really make a living out of them and give something back to his community and contribute positive vibes, globally.
In 2004, he talks about being successful in getting in to the Australian Alliance Beat Box Australian Idol Competition. “For me, getting in, being able to see what I could really do. Now, I understood that Heavenly Father had given me this gift that I could really make something out of.”
When talking about his song being nominated in the same year for an Aria he says, “That was great for me. I mean, being a young Polynesian kid getting accepted by suit and tie people of the industry, honouring me for my poetry work. I realised that my poetry is another art form not just my showmanship that I could pursue.”
In 2006, he left the group, Modern Day Poets and had the opportunity to pursue dance music. “As an artist, you’re always hungry to explore different things.” I met a DJ that was a representative of Central Station. I felt really blessed, coz he could have picked anyone, but he picked me. He asked me if I wanted to do dance music.” Kitch mentioned that he wasn’t sure whether he would as at the time he had his reggae band, Soul Rebel. Eventually, he decided to give the dance music a go and the rest is history as goes the cliché. Today, he has a No.1 song in Poland that features his signature style music. This was a door that opened after writing music for the Australian Hip Hop Artist, Joel Fletcher in Melbourne.
His friends in the industry are also his business friends, which include (to name a few) Tenzin and Stafford Brothers. Even though he has met movie stars like Russell Crowe, has performed with bands like the Potbelleez and collaborates with International Artists, he remains grounded and remembers where he’s come from.
Kitchener Wesche was born in Wellington, New Zealand. After living in Porirua for a time, he moved to Titahi Bay where he grew up. In 1996, his parents migrated to Australia with Kitch and his siblings in tow and he believes his family were meant to move to Australia.
“It’s like the Lord of the Universe or Heavenly Father brought us here. And it has been an amazing journey to be in Australia,” he reflects. Kitch has always lived on the South side of Brisbane and he grew up in Logan. “I love it here and this is my home. Meeting the people and with my music, moving here helped me find my own element. I discovered my gift which is rhythm.” He didn’t really know what he was going to do when it came to music but now, as an artist looking back, he can see he was surrounded by the influences of it.
Since he was a child he listened to his Aunts’ and Uncles’ on his mum’s side sing, constantly. As he grew older he was put in to cultural dance groups, like (Maori) Kapahaka and the Samoan Siva'afi and Sasa. Coming from a religious family, he spent most of his formative years singing and giving talks in Church. His love for Beat Box came when he visited relatives in the United States.
He watched the TV Channel, Black Entertainment Television and saw for the first time, the art of Beat boxing. For him he recalls, “it was a WOW experience when I saw this Beat boxer on BET (he does a beat with his voice) come out on stage and start beat boxing the intro line, ‘Welcome to BET.’”
He continues, “For me it was like, ya know I’d never seen that before in my life and I was blown away.” When he returned home, he began beat boxing at High School and received popularity due to it being a new, fresh sound. The important thing is that he was good at it and it is the skill that initially catapulted him in to the Brisbane music scene and on Australian Television.
His mother is half Chinese and half Samoan and his father is half German and half Samoan. He states that he gets his work ethics from his father who is a very hard worker. And he attributes this hard work ethic to his succeeding in all his creative music skills and as an outstanding Beat boxer performer. “I get it from my father. I had the mindset to work harder and train harder. My personality on stage as a showman is what has stood out with my peers and Industry people.”
He has a great sense of who he is and his Samoan heritage. He visited Samoa a few years ago and has a traditional Samoan tattoo that runs across his scalp. The designs are from his father’s side and the tattooist gave it to him as his strength. He also has a Dragon tattoo that embodies his Chinese heritage.
Kitchener believes in writing spiritual and positive music. He attributes his spirituality to his LDS Gospel roots and to a Native American woman named Kim Wheatly from the Snaba Tribe of Ojibwa. He met her when he visited Canada with some other Australian and Indigenous Musicians. She helped him become accustomed to feeling and seeing his spiritual nature. She also taught him how to tune in to his spirituality and channel it as a coping mechanism. It also gave him the ability to cultivate his music and keep himself clean and drug free.
One can access his website to listen to his signature music and there is also a website where people can buy and download his songs. Below are links to listen to some of the music that has made ‘Kitch Wesche’ a world-wide name.
To purchase his music go to this link: http://www.beatport.com/release/send-your-soul-feat-mc-kitch/1200364
Toni Fonoti aka the Inspirational Dude Making a Difference with his music talents here in Brisbane.
By Helen Lauaki
December 7, 2013
Toni Fonoti aka The Inspirational Dude – Music mentor and Director of Firelion Music Publishing Co
“What gets me up in the morning is my vision to have an inspirational planet. Because I truly believe when people are inspired—when they know their passion, they know their purpose. And when people have a purpose then they know who they are and they’re happier. They’re much more giving with their family, much more productive, more peaceful with themselves and then they inspire others.”
Toni Fonoti is a man on a mission. He has made it his life’s mission to inspire people to find their purpose in life. Why? So they will in-turn inspire and help others. By helping others, they benefit the communities they live in. “When people find their passion, the planet-the community becomes a better place and people are more loving and giving.” His mantra as the IDude is ‘Ignite the Passion within.’ He says excitedly, “my mission is to inspire people to find their passion and to ignite that passion. Then that becomes their purpose.”
In 2003, he began working with the Cerebral Palsy League in Queensland, Australia utilizing his musical skills and talents. By 2006, he created a song writing program and studio for people with Disabilities. He still runs this successfully through the League. He also uses this program for people who suffer from Mental illness.
The inspiration for this program came when he decided to work as a Volunteer with individuals who had Cerebral Palsy. He had been a professional musician for over 20 years and he wanted to give something back to the community. It ended up being an education for him and these individuals. He learned something important from them which helped define his business objectives and mission.
Toni explains, “A lot of them believe in themselves and some don’t see their disability as a problem but as a gift. They believe they’re here on this earth for a purpose.” From this experience, he was in awe of them and their accomplishments. When he initiated the music program, they responded with enthusiasm and confidence. He helped them write songs about their experience. He became the Music Director there. He coordinated the producing of CDs and putting their singing group. They travelled as a musical group around the country giving concerts in different cities.
In 2007, he added Life Coach to his business services and it has been a win-win for him and the clients he works with. He believes in staying in contact with past clients as well and is enthralled with their progress. He also coaches life coaches. Once he saw the outcomes of working with a Life Coach, he recognized that being one would be the way for him to achieve his vision of having an ‘inspirational planet.’ He says, “Making a difference with you first and then making a difference with one other will make a difference to a lot of people.”
Initially, he became a Life Coach to help his children out as they were-as he puts it-“going off the rails.” Toni remembers, “I went to see a speaker and he said that the way to inspire your own children is to live an inspirational life. And I thought, okay that sounds easy but it wasn’t and I was like well how can I find the inspiration in my life? So, I trained and learned the tools and skills of becoming a Life Coach so that I could change myself and inspire my children. And it worked. Instead of talking to my children, I changed my life and that inspired them to change.”
Toni Fonoti is a man of many skills and talents. He himself is a man of many passions and this is something he knows is common with a lot of people. He says enthusiastically, “It’s not uncommon to have more than one passion. I love cooking. I love gardening, my family and I love coaching. That’s five things, but it’s finding the one main thing you love that makes your heart sing.” How can one find out what they’re passionate about? A person can find their main passion by recognizing how they feel about something they’re doing.
One main passion that has been constant throughout IDude’s life is Music. Music and writing songs feels like winning lotto to him. It is what literally makes his heart sing. He first came to prominence for his song writing talents in New Zealand where he created the iconic Pacific Reggae Band, Herbs (Slice of Heaven fame). He wrote classics like “Dragons and Demons” and “French Letter”.
“French Letter” is a protest song against the French Government. In the late ‘70s and during the 1980s, the French Government were testing Nuclear Bombs off the coast of French Polynesia. The melody was catchy and the lyrics assertive and insightful. It was critically acclaimed worldwide through Greenpeace. He was 25 years old. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuJ8PP1Icfw
For me, personally, the songs he wrote for the group, Herbs, have been an inspiration to young NZ-born Samoans growing up in a Western Culture. They are as melodic and insightful today as when they were then. He has received gold and platinum albums for his songs with his band, Herbs. In 2012, he was inducted in to the NZ Music Hall of Fame for inspiring up and coming Polynesian musicians.
As a young, 25-yr-old growing up in Auckland, he saw writing songs and lyrics as a way he could pay tribute to his Samoan heritage. He stated that he didn’t understand why Samoans would leave their beautiful island and ‘eating from the land they own’−way of life− to move to NZ and work hard to pay rent. He recognizes what his parents have taught him spiritually, personally and workwise. He also has great respect for them for leaving their homeland. “It takes a lot of courage and I respect our Samoan parents for having the courage to come to another country to give us a better life, especially when they couldn’t even speak English.”
He didn’t learn to speak Samoan growing up in NZ and he always felt like an outsider. What he has learned for himself is embracing the best of both his Samoan culture and the Western culture he was brought up in. Toni believes that he could best contribute to his parents and celebrate the beauty of Samoan culture through his music. He could give them a voice through his music and Toni continues to do that here in Brisbane-the place he calls home. Through Inspirational Dude he gives everyone a voice.
He moved to Brisbane, Australia in 1997. He loved the weather and he loved the people, instantly. He says, “One of the first things that appealed to me is how the people say ‘giddaye’ and are so friendly. The lifestyle is very laid back and being much warmer is more conducive to people being open as well.” He laughs as he adds, “we give the eyebrow and I guess that’s how we say hi.”
The turning point for him came when his brother passed away. “We only have today to make things happen. I learned the lesson that right now is the time to do the things we love. We all have a used by date. We all definitely are going to die and I like to talk about it-just for inspiration- and then I say to them, so what are you doing now? Why not do the thing you love and that way you’re happy.”
He speaks about what his major motivation is. The core of why he works so hard with his music and his Life Coaching is his spiritual beliefs. “The label that my passion for all this comes under is living in a way you have “Unconditional Love for Others.”
“I was five years old and we were Methodists. I heard the story of Jesus and how He was hated and despised for what he did, but he kept doing good and He blessed the people that hurt him. He loved the children and said the Kingdom of God is like that. I thought gosh that is really awesome. And it connected with me in a very deep way. And when I got home I said, I’m gonna be loving like Jesus. And I did it but it only lasted a day. But all my life I’ve not forgotten that. It has stayed with me.”
The ultimate soul-defining principle he believes wholeheartedly is to be loving and kind. The only way he could accomplish this is by following what makes his heart sing. Through my passion for music, I can be loving and kind all the time. Jesus’ passion was loving, healing and teaching the people. I can be like Jesus. When one follows their passion, it is the biggest way of giving. Because you give of yourself-your skills and your talent, your message-to others and they become inspired and do the same and give to others through their passion.”
He has four children-two boys and two girls. Two of his sons have followed in his footsteps. They are inspired by his work and have a passion for music too. He is one of the hardest working men in Queensland. He is constantly performing gigs. He performs with his sons on Friday nights at Toscani in Downtown Brisbane. “You don’t have to live for your children or let your children be your motivation. You just be your truth and be your motivation. And they will carry it through for you. It is the legacy you leave for them. That is to follow your passion and it will live forever. It goes on and on through them and the people whose lives we touch.”
Toni credits his spirituality to his early Christian beliefs, Buddhism and everything positive he has learned throughout his life.
People can access his company’s website and listen to some of the positive songs he has written in conjunction with this program and his Life Coaching. (See the website address at the end of this article)
Suzanne Utai – Counsellor/Therapist and Executive Committee Member of Grow Support Inc.
December 1, 2013
“I like working with Polynesians because they will always have motivation to change and that motivation is family.” Suzanne Utai, (maiden name Pauga) is part of the Executive Committee for the non-profit organisation; Grow Support Inc. situated in the heart of Woodridge, Logan city. She is also a Counsellor and Therapist. Her job portfolio mainly involves Mental Health. Logan City has a high population of people who suffer from mental health issues, and a good proportion of that population are Youth. She and Grow Support Inc. contribute a lot of their time and resources to giving support and solutions to youth as well as Adult sufferers. Talking with Suzanne, it is easy to feel her sense of purpose and dedication to her work in mental health and she often works overtime to help and care for the wellbeing of her young clients. Suzanne says, “I’ve come across a few of the kids who are really depressed and it’s nothing to do with what their parents have done but what these kids have gotten themselves in to. They’ve gotten in to trouble and they don’t know how to get out of it. So, they’ve become really depressed and they don’t talk feelings to their parents because they don’t know how to talk feelings with them.” Through her efforts and research, she has written and created a program called C.A.D. (Culturally Appropriate Debrief). CAD is a program that is not only making headway with Polynesians affected by depression and other mental issues, but it also relates to Indigenous as well as other multi-cultural groups. There is a correlation with these groups where the challenge is being able to share feelings and discuss issues openly. She says, “In our culture, we don’t talk about things that have happened. We don’t share feelings.” From her research she sees that feelings are a very difficult thing to share for a lot of the Multi- Cultural groups not just Pacific Islanders. It is a common situation in Pacific Island cultures that children grow up not knowing how to share their feelings because their parents never shared their feelings with them. The cycle continues from one generation to the next. It is important to note that our generation are now talking our feelings; however, it is still a challenge for our parents to cross over. Suzanne comments, “We’re the ones that are helping our parents open up and talk that way. And it is a generational thing not specific to one culture.” Despite this breakthrough, there are still some in all three generations whom still find it difficult to open up. In relation to CAD, she says, “We don’t like to talk to Counsellors because they may say; oh you have a mental issue because you were hit while you were young. There are a lot of issues that relate to when kids were young, but then there’s a lot that aren’t. This is why I do CAD because we debrief. I use the same techniques as I do in therapy and I have a lot of the same skills as a Counsellor, but I also understand the culture. I work with the Culture and their upbringing. What is expected of them as a child and also what is expected of them as an Adult.” Through Culturally Appropriate Debrief, she initiates cultural understanding and it is how she works with Polynesian clients to help them deal with their challenges. Suzanne summed up for me what CAD is. “Culturally Appropriate Debrief is touching base about what is happening within our lives and how we can get an outside perspective and support on what and how we’re doing. And being able to share feelings and being able to relate.” She enjoys working with Polynesians and she has made a difference with this program with her Polynesian clients−Youth and Adults. She says, “I’m really fortunate that I can work with a lot of our Polynesian people and that they feel comfortable enough to open up to me.” Suzanne adds, “I think ours is like a lot of other Communities. You have a lot of well people and then you have some that aren’t. I think we have very healthy, mentally well people in our Pacific Island community.” She also works with a lot of men who come out of prison and whom are mandated to do counselling. These are men who struggle to deal with counselling and she has helped those men who have been referred to her because of CAD. “I tell them I don’t do Counselling. I do Culturally Appropriate Debrief.” Through this program she is able to help them share their feelings and a big part of that is because they are able to connect with her and it resonates with them how she relates to their upbringing. Especially with Samoans as she can relate to their childhood experiences being Half-Samoan. She mentions that when they talk about growing up and how they’d ‘get the jandal’ or they’d ‘get the hiding,’ she has had similar experiences. “A lot of them connect with me because I say, yeah I got that too and so we laugh about it together. We were crying when we were young but as adults we can laugh about it now. And I’ll say boy I’m not going to do that to my kids. But I can laugh about it now. And they see that I relate to how they’re feeling.” It is inspirational to talk to her about what she does and how much she loves her work. She can’t remember at what age she wanted to work with abused children, but she says it’s something she’s always wanted to do. One important aspect of it is being able to help Polynesians. She says, “I like working with Polynesians because they’ll always have motivation to change and that motivation is family. It doesn’t matter how bad your parents were or how bad your Aunt was. They have those strong family ties and they’ll say I want to change because I want to make my mum proud or I want to make my dad proud.” Suzanne Utai’s father is Samoan and he is from the village of Lauli’i on the island of Upolu. Her mother is Australian. They are devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her parents met in New Zealand where she was born and then they moved to Australia when she was ten years old. Her respect and love for her Samoan heritage has come from her respect and love for her father. She fondly says, “I am really proud of my Dad. I love my Dad. He is such a good man. I mean, you hear so much crap in the news about Samoans doing the wrong thing, but that’s not the Culture.” She lived in Hawaii for seven years where she studied Social Work at Brigham Young University in Hawaii. During her time at BYU-Hi, she gained international experience in the areas of Domestic violence and child abuse. She worked as an Intern for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office in Domestic Violence for six months. One of the highlights of her work study experience was in Upolu, Samoa where she worked with American kids in a Residential program. Suzanne also worked in a Residential program in Waikiki after her residency in Samoa.
In 1998, she graduated from BYU-Hawaii with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. In 1999, when she returned home to Brisbane city in Queensland, she worked at Centrelink for six years as a Multi-cultural officer. During that time working there, she opened her own private practise and she has had her private practise since 1999 when she returned from Hawaii. Suzanne also managed a Street Advertising company in Brisbane and had a staff of 15 under her. She gave up the Street Advertising position and working at Centerlink to take on a Case management role that paid well. She also started up her own company called LTS. Suzanne learned that owning a company has its advantages and disadvantages, but it is an experience she has gained. She also worked a while at the Logan City Council and then began working for Grow Support Inc. in 2009. She enjoys working in the Community and with her current staff. When she talks about her work, her face lights up and as she expresses how she approaches her work, it is easy to get caught up in her excitement. When she talks about the people she works with it is easy to see why there is an excitement and a love for what she is doing for others. One of whom is also a friend she met at BYU-Hawaii. Suzanne says, “The people I work with are my friends. The three of us are a great team and we all have different strengths and different skills and work well together. They work hard and so if one of our children is sick, it’s okay for one of us to go home and take care of them. And we laugh together.” The fact that the organisation’s business motto is ‘Family is more important’ is a strong indication as to why they’re successfully making a difference in Logan. In the States, she worked with mainly, Pilipino, Latinos and African-Americans. When asked if there is an underlining issue with all these groups, she replied, “Yes, when it comes to Multi-cultural groups like those you mentioned, we work different. We’re very visual people and so our minds work better when we’re doing things.” This is exactly how she approaches her work with Polynesians. She adds, “And Polynesians also would rather be doing something instead of just talking to you on a one on one basis. So things like going to a coffee shop, riding in a car, or playing basketball are things that would make some of my clients comfortable. So, I work where their comfort zone is and not mine.” Suzanne Utai is a wife, mother and a woman whom continues to challenge and set goals for herself. She has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and she plans to do her Doctorate next year.
Empowering WOmen Globally is Aina Notoa's vision and Passion.
By Helen Lauaki
“When we focus on money, we are powerless; when we focus on our life purpose we are powerful.” - Aina Notoa
Aina Notoa, a Samoan-born Queensland resident, is the CEO and Founder of the internationally connected and recognized Business, GR8 Women. Gr8 Women has an international membership starting in Australia and going as far as Pakistan and Europe.
Part of the work that GR8 Women delivers is organising empowerment seminars and workshops in Australia. Aina has been able to have international women from all over the world speak on various topics that reflect the challenges they overcome in their part of the world. Like the difficulty of one woman, Manal Al-Sharif having the right to drive, in the Middle East, to the plights of Indigenous women here in Australia, and woman in China and the United States (including Native Americans).
When I met with Aina at her home, she had just come back from a business meeting with a pattern maker. The pattern maker had completed the first design for women in Pakistan who are making clothing, bags and other accessories to sell, internationally as part of the GR8 women solution to global poverty. It is called Project Agape and is the humble beginnings to the GR8 women online store that will help provide economic initiatives and personal achievement for women there.
Project Agape is just one of the many projects Gr8 Women has set up to help women all over the world achieve their life’s purpose. When asked what GR8 Women is about, she replied, “The concept is bringing women together through story. Uniting women globally through the power of story because everyone has a story, everyone can change their story and most importantly everyone can weave to a new story. ”
Since its inception in 2010 and teaming up with eight of her female friends Aina’s company’s primary objective is to help women find their life’s purpose. “From the power of sharing, it was like a vibration that started. And I thought, imagine if we projected this vibration, globally and we did within a year with 22 countries following. We’re still defining our vision as we go and our soul aim is to help men and women that are lost weave a new story to their life purpose. The one God’s given them.”
Another Gr8 Women project launching in 2014 will be the element of counselling women and men. The Gr8 Women Database is 30% male and she states that there is so much pain in the world and were compounding the stresses on top of each other in so many ways – spiritually, financially, physically, and mentally. “The human spirit can only take so much.”
She goes on to say, “Men feel that it is their role in society to heave the pain. They have to be strong for the family and a lot of the mental anguish comes from pain that hasn’t been resolved over a long period. For the human spirit for both men and women we need to get vulnerable. For me, it is dealing with the pain, resolving the pain and allowing the pain to heal on a deep level. But vulnerability is so much more powerful. Saying, hey I need help, I’m hurting can you help me; or, taking time out to heal is so much more important and is the beginning of the healing process , especially if the core is your life purpose.”
Aina believes that whatever the heart wants to do is what God has planned for us and she sees Gr8 Women as her life’s purpose. Even though it is for the benefit of all women, regardless of religious or personal views, she gives credit for her business to God and sees this as her calling from Him. “Honestly, I don’t think there’s ever turning back once you go in to business.”
She grew up in Invercargill, the South Island of New Zealand. She was attending High School in Invercargill when her parents decided to move to Sydney, Australia. It was within three to six months later, when her parents moved to Brisbane that things started coming together for her.
“It was the best move,” Aina exclaimed. She was 18 years old and she finished her senior school years in Brisbane. She went to University to fulfil her parent’s dream, but it was never something she wanted to do. She recalls, “I would venture to university on certain days and then ended up hanging out at the Gold Coast as I feel I was not inspired. I moved from Degree to Degree, from Business to Arts. Even after one lecture in Nursing, I thought words are too long, to hard basket not for me.”
She then applied for a job at a Call Centre and went in to the corporate industry in Brisbane city. She began working as a Personal Assistant for two Level four Managers at the Telstra Communications Company and pursuing a career as a as a Business Analyst in IT. She was there for almost 14 years when she felt the prompting came to follow her life purpose.
It was the corporate sphere that the opportunity arose to find her life’s purpose came. Under the mentorship of two General Managers, she was taught how to organise conferences. One particular expanded her knowledge, skillset and mindset..
She says, “His way of thinking changed my mindset in a huge way – allowing me to create, be more than the ‘job description’ and think like Edward de Bono carrying many hats. He got me to lead Conferences in Melbourne as well as virtually with Sydney and Brisbane. I loved leading the workshops and I really loved teaching/mentoring and running training programs.”
Then after an incident that happened at work where she helped a colleague de-stress by encouraging him to go for a walk with her on their lunch break that Aina felt inspired that she could help change many lives. From helping him she realised, “if I can help change one person, I can change many.”
She goes on to say, “From that experience I knew I could do anything. I believe it’s our own fears that hold us back, simply our mindset. It is our own mindsets is our greatest enemy, we are our own greatest blockers.” She also credits the people she has met along the way that have helped her bring all this to fruition. She says, “My Accountant connected me with one of his clients, a business mentor in June 2009. She helped me-a lot because I had such a ‘victim mindset’ and at the time I was blaming everyone else but me.”
The knowledge she gained from her experience working with her two Managers, her friends that have embraced her vision and her family are some of the people she thanks. She talks about how GR8 Women is a collective, about many not one. That it is women sharing and helping each other together build and move forward together. “It’s been such an amazing journey.”
One of the beliefs she has gained and learned is that money isn’t the driving force for why people do things. “Regardless of what funding we have. Regardless of what money comes what is cruicial is your ‘why’ in life – what I call the Y Factor.”
The catalyst for change and innovation is when an individual realises their potential and their greatest attributes and how they can utilize them to benefit themselves and others. Being great is a God given gift and money is not necessary when you are pursuing your life purpose. “When we focus on money, we are powerless; when we focus on our life purpose we are powerful.”
When I interviewed her, she was in the process of moving to Samoa with her husband and children. She says, “I feel the calling is to go back to Samoa. Part of our calling is to use the rich healing powers of our Polynesian Nations. Our people are innate natural healers. Our gifts unique to our islands (Medical healing) are being taken offshore and being utilized for a ‘product’ people take for granted – and not fully understanding the essence and the deeper meaning of our healing methodologies. Many of the countries that are coming up in business word are Third World countries, because they treat the resources and things they have like gold and do not take things for granted.”
The other reason is also for her children. During our interview, Aina’s younger son (a toddler) awoke. Watching her soothe him as she spoke to me illustrated the nurturing strength of a great woman coupled with a divine feminine nature and essence. She defines today’s great woman as she is not only the CEO of a successful international company, but a woman who is a mother and wife first. She is dedicated to keeping the balance between time for her family and time for her work. What she values most is God, and her family.
“At this point in time, technology is powerful and is supposed to propel us forward and save us time, however it is removing the real people connection and causing more stress to families and society today. I see my life getting caught up too and so I want to nip it in the bud now. Going to Samoa, I believe will provide us with a new perspective, allow us to really ‘live’ and reset the roadmap of our family life to embrace ‘simplicity’.”
For her children, it is about learning respect for themselves and their Elders. To treat people and what they receive in life like gold. It is about them knowing who they are wherever they travel to in the world, because knowing who they are is crucial. She will also be home schooling them. She says with excitement, “Learning our poetic language will be awesome. And I can’t wait to take my children on road trips and encapture the beauty together. There’s so much richness and beauty in our islands.”
“God’s calling is most important and what challenges we come across it’s purely to strengthen us on our journey.”
Anyone can become a member and register on the GR8 Women website to receive all company updates. If you would like to follow Gr8 Women, here are the Social Media sites:
FB, Linked In, Twitter and Instagram and Google +.
On the site are inspirational thoughts, quotes and information by women all over the world. One can also get a copy of Volume I one of GR8 Women once you opt-in to the gr8 women website atwww.gr8women.com
SAMOAN MAN MAKING A DIFFERENCE AMONG TROUBLED YOUTH IN BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA.
November 1, 2013
by Helen Lauaki
Charlie Fetoai, a New Zealand-born Samoan, moved to Queensland, Australia, with his family when he was six years old. He now calls Brisbane home. He started his professional sporting career at 18 when he was contracted to the Brisbane Broncos rugby league team. Soon after, he switched codes to play rugby union with the Queensland Reds.
On July 17, 2009, Charlie’s professional sporting career ended in an instant when he broke his neck during a rugby game. Shattered but not a broken man, Charlie spent more than six months in a hospital rehab ward and evaluating what he was going to do next.
For Charlie, dance played a huge role in his rehabilitation. Through dance he taught his muscles how to contract and coordinate. He saw how dance could be a bridge to engaging with kids who were otherwise struggling, and he wanted to create the team bond that gave him so much support during his football career.
In 2011 Charlie started the Academy of Brothers, consisting of 25 young men from a range of cultural backgrounds who are united by their love of dance. AOB not only performs together, they support each other and act as role models for their communities. Charlie wants to make sure ‘his kids’ believe in themselves and have the life skills they need to survive and become responsible citizens. He says “understanding who they are and having self-esteem are important to me. We are a family and I want them to feel self-worth and respect for each other.”
Since 2011, AOB has won national titles and placed highly in international hip hop competitions. They are now in the grand finale of Australia’s Got Talent. Combining stunning, electric performances with charisma and likeable personalities, AOB has won the hearts of the Australian television audience.
Charlie’s father passed away and he fondly talks about him. His parents have brought him up well and he hasn’t visited Samoa yet. His mother is an important part of his life and he learned from his parents the importance of believing in himself and working for things he wants to achieve.
The success of AOB is no surprise for those who know Charlie. In person he is humble, thoughtful and kind, as well as being clearly highly motivated with a dash of business savvy. He is always willing to help and offer advice to young performers and young footballers. He sincerely wants to help these young men feel valued and successful, and he is driven to mentor his dancers about how they can use their skills to create economic opportunity for themselves.
Support AOB by voting during the Australia's Got Talent finals for AOB. You have until this Friday 11/8/2013 to vote.
Check out their performance at the recent Australia's got Talent below.
Helen Lauaki is the editor in chief for samoans in brisbane webpage.
Helen Lauaki was born in Auckland, NZ and then Studied at Brigham Young University - Hawaii as an English Literature major. While there she worked at the BYUH TV Studio as a Technician. After returning to New Zealand she worked for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Audio Visual/Fleet Department. She owned and operated her own Video Production company in Auckland, New Zealand. She since moved to Australia and lives in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia where she is a Producer/Director/Screenwriter/Events Producer for her company VW Entertainment. Helen has run marathons and has great enthusiasm for the youth and providing programs that promote talent. She will be an asset to the Malae website providing our first access into the lives of Samoans in Australia, a growing destination for Samoans due to its location, strong economy and high standard of living. We welcome Helen aboard Le Malae.
bring it to logan city competition is gearing up for a big xmas live show
A most amazing concept has been put into action by VW Entertainment in Brisbane and neighboring Logan City. The owner of VW Entertainment, Ms Helen Lauaki, describes her vision as:
"I live in the State of Queensland in Australia. The population here is 4,332,737. The weather is tropical and a lot of the landscape is beautiful and serene. The main activities are outdoor activities like camping, hiking, fishing, surfing and swimming. They put on endurance Events like Tough-Mudder, Iron Man Gold Coast and Marathons to name a few. If you’re a person who loves to do this type of thing, then this is a place for you.
I live in the city of Brisbane or more the Greater Brisbane region which has a population of 2,065,996. It is a Multi-Cultural population that includes Polynesian cultures and Indigeneous Cultural Groups. It is rich with the wonderful ethnic and cultural goodness that comes in a Multi-cultural City but at times, there is conflict.
Just east of where I live is the City of Logan – population 47,259. Within that population, there are atleast 1,079 persons statistically recorded whom are of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander decent. There is also atleast 3,500 New Zealanders of Samoan, Tongan and Maori decent living in Logan City. More than the population of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders.
For over the past ten years there has been continued friction and animosity between Polynesians and Indigeneous groups in Logan. Some of which have been unfortunately fatal encounters that have caused National media coverage.
With the support of the Logan City Mayor, Pam Parker, one of my objectives is to build bridges between these two groups through Multi-Media projects. These projects are aimed at providing Economic Initiatives for local Artists, including Samoan and Indigenous by working together to promote understanding and appreciation of each other’s Cultures.
Being an artist and living within Brisbane and Logan City, I see the negative effects of these problems. Mainly from Media coverage, but I realise there is a need for something positive and good. Every person in this world is inherently good. Unfortunately along the way sometimes people make wrong choices that have a bad effect on themselves and others.
Putting in place a program that gives universal hope and envisions self-progress is Productive, regardless of Community issues or personal difficulties.
The first stage in implementing this program is producing a Dance, Singing, Comedy Competition for 18yrs to 45yrs emerging and established local Artists. It is a Family Christmas Event celebrating Cultural Unity and giving these Artists a platform to show their Talents. This will become a yearly Event in Logan City and 80% of Ticket Sales from this Event will go to fund Artists’ Project Initiatives for Community Causes in Mental Health, Anti-Drug Prevention Campaign for Youth and Suicide Awareness.
I have always believed that Entertainment it its purest form informs, educates, uplifts and adds value to people’s lives. It can be the difference to monotony, personal suffering and a life less ordinary. I am passionate about continuing that belief and being a part of something that promotes universal awareness of Human Triumph over Challenges in Art and in REALITY.
Through my business, VW Entertainment, I aim to create Economic Initiatives for local Artists and help them make Champions out of the Every day person whom triumphs over their challenges."
This is the Press Release for this event
With Full Support from the Logan City Mayor, Pam Parker, Councillors, Lisa Bradley and the Springwood Mayor, John Grant and the Ganyjuu Family Support Services, VW Entertainment Presents:
A Family Christmas Event Celebrating Cultural Unity and Encouraging Young, Emerging Dancers, Singers and Comedians to Enter and Perform in front of a Live Audience.
80% of Proceeds from Ticket Sales go to fund Artists' Project Initiatives for Community Causes in Mental Health, Anti-Drug Prevention Campaign and Suicide.
For all of you living outside of Queensland you can make a payment on the Donation page to watch the final round of the Competition via private streamlining.