By Laurens Ikinia
Students from six Melanesian countries and territories in the Pacific — Fiji, Kanaky/New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and West Papua — have gathered at Auckland University of Technology to form a club to “empower wantoks”.
The AUT Melanesian Students Club was launched last Sunday with representative students from each Melanesian country who are currently studying at AUT.
Interim president Majory Kwaina, the driver of the initiative, said she was excited by the move which “marks the beginning for our Melanesian wantoks who are studying here at AUT”.
Wantok, a Tok Pisin word from Papua New Guinea, means a close comrade or a person with whom one has a strong social bond, usually based on a shared language.
The launch of the club was one of the key actions taken by the students who met at AUT, including dozens of students who are currently studying at AUT, Auckland University, Unitec and Waikato University.
“I am overjoyed that today marks the beginning for our Melanesian wantoks who are studying here at AUT,” said Kwaina.
Two main goals
The club has set two main goals:
- Empower and strengthen Melanesian students who are studying at AUT through academic, cultural and social participation in the events provided by the institution and the community; and
- Be the representative voice of Melanesian students through the AUT students Association (AUTSA).
Kwaina, who is doing her final semester of a Postgraduate Diploma in Medical Laboratory Science, said that the establishment of the club was also to build networking among Melanesian students and to provide an avenue for collaboration with the community.
She said the club was formed because there were many Melanesian students studying at AUT but with no representative within AUTSA.
Kwaina, who began her studies at AUT in the second semester of 2020, said her initiative had gained support from AUTSA and other Melanesian students.
“Today marks the first day of our social gathering as we come to witness the official launching of our club,” she said in her opening speech.
“There is so much to build. Today we lay the foundation of our building; this house requires engineers, architects, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians to complete it.
“You are the engineer, architects, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians who will work together to build this house. This place cannot survive by its own, you are the family that needs to live in this house which will be launched today.”
Sharing stories, concerns
Vice-president Billy Kobepa, in his second year of a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering study at AUT, said he was grateful to have this space where Melanesian students could come together and share each other’s stories and concerns.
He called for unity among Melanesian students.
Marianne Afuna, an AUT second year PhD student in accounting at the Faculty of Business from Solomon Islands, said: “Having a club like this is very important — especially for new starters like those coming from high school and leaving family to come here to study.
“It is very lonely for us Melanesians because we look around and we don’t see a lot of us here.
“Having an association will bring students to come and meet other Melanesian wantoks and we can help each other as students and participate in social activities,” said Afuna.
She added that it was difficult for research because many academic staff did not understand the Melanesian culture.
The executive committee:
President: Majory Kwaina
Vice-president: Billy Kobepa
Secretary: Kilakupa Gulo Vui
Treasurer: Junior Timothy Doedoke
Academic coordinator: Marianne Afuna
Events coordinator: Meike Siep
Laurens Ikinia is a Papuan Masters in Communication Studies student at Auckland University of Technology who has been studying journalism. He contributes to Asia Pacific Report.