Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua, Vaiala, Fa'atoia, Fai'a'ai, Sagone, Hamburg
A strong connection to Te Ao Māori and whānau are what Talalelei Reweti says defined his childhood and greatly influenced his life journey.
"I have come through Kohanga reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori. We have a big whānau vibe – we always have people over at our whare, there's always been love and compassion for others. It also helps that we are great cooks and we are well known for it."
Growing up in Auckland, and spending a couple of years in Samoa during his pre-teens, Tala was a sporty child who harboured ambitions of studying physiotherapy with the dream job being working for the All Blacks.
At Kelston Boys High, he represented the school in rugby and later would go on to coach the school rugby league team as an adult.
The back up option, given the family's cooking skills, was to go to culinary school and turn talent and passion into a career.
In the end, like many of us, Tala ended up studying something quite different.
"I studied sport and recreation at AUT University and wanted to be a teacher – to be able to influence and be a role model for Māori and Pacific youth.
"Living in Samoa taught me just how privileged we are here in New Zealand. But I am also very grateful for the opportunities I got while I was there."
As a child, Tala represented Samoa in tennis, and also learnt sailing at the local sailing club, and picked up Ailao Afi (fire dance).
"I grew up with loving parents who wanted the best for their children. My mother was a teacher and my father worked in the navy and they were great role models for us."
Following his degree studies, Tala worked as Operations Manager for the Get into Life Youth Development Trust for four years, where he was "thrown in the deep end".
"One of their managers was leaving so I got given the job and with a short handover I had to just step up. I learnt to not be afraid to ask questions and to treat all experiences as learning opportunities."
Working with young people has been a focus for most of Tala's career. Whether it was in his role at the Trust, or through sports coaching, or even his leadership of a Cook Islands cultural group.
Following a short stint in Melbourne, and roles that included logistics and factory work, Tala learnt about TupuToa.
"The more I read, the more I wished TupuToa had existed when I was at university. I really bought into the kaupapa and so here I am – helping Māori and Pacific tertiary students secure a brighter future.
"I've never had a job before where I wake up each morning feeling so excited about going to work. TupuToa has given that to me. When I talk to our interns, I hear their stories, I can empathise because I see flashbacks of some of my own experiences."
Tala says the ability to "impact someone’s life in a positive way" is what he likes most about his Navigator role.
"I've been thinking about what sort of world I'd like my son to grow up in, and what I want for him is a space where he can be comfortable to do whatever he wants to do.
"I hear stories of our Māori and Pacific students being pushed into studying things that they aren't really passionate about, into roles that they don't really aspire to. I want them, as I want my son, to be able to have the same choices as everyone else, to be able to do whatever they want to do, to the best of their abilities."