Meet the Team: Yole Lelaulu

One of twelve siblings, family is at the heart of everything Yole Lelaulu does in her life. It's her source of strength and support, and also what inspires her to work in service of her people.

A born and bred Aucklander, Yole has seen more of the city than most - moving a lot as a child after her parents separated. Following high school at Otahuhu College and St Cuthberts, she moved to Dunedin for a gap year while dealing with childhood trauma related issues.

"My mum always emphasised the importance of education to us. And I feel privileged to have had the opportunities I did - so I made the most of it. I was one of the few Samoans at St Cuthberts and I'd get a lot of stick from my friends about going to a posh private school, but I never lost perspective of who I was, where I'd come from, and where I was determined to go."

While living in Dunedin with her uncles and helping out at their hospitality businesses, Yole met a life coach who helped her articulate her passion and purpose and develop a roadmap to getting there.

"I knew even then that I wanted to be of service to my people, but I understood that I needed to have a qualification under my belt, so I completed a degree in communications and marketing at the University of Otago."

Service is something that is ingrained in Yole's family. Her mum has been a social worker all her life and her elder siblings all work in professions focused on growing people.

"Following university, I worked at a cybersecurity firm for a while, and when the opportunity came to join TupuToa two years ago, I jumped at it.

"It's a small organisation doing big things, so there's been lots of opportunities to grow personally as well. I've especially loved to see the growth in our interns. From meeting someone for the first time in their hoodie, who wasn't confident in themselves and who they are, to now being offered multiple roles at the end of their internship, thriving and just really stepping up to their potential."

Aside from her work at TupuToa, Yole has worked with the team at LeVa as a Youth Advisor and was part of their EAG for Atu-Mai, New Zealand's first national violence prevention programme for young Pacific people.

In the future she hopes to draw on her own lived experience and create programmes to combat sexual violence.

"Coming out of that trauma, I know that I need to use my experience and my voice to make a change, to help survivors move out of a victim mindset and help our people support each other better."

Recently, Yole also joined Pacific Women's Watch (NZ) and is now the deputy convenor. Through PWW(NZ), she was chosen to attend the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) conference at the UN Headquarters in New York this year, including being on a panel with former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

While it was unfortunate that due to Covid-19 the conference was cancelled, Yole welcomes the time for reflection and appreciation for the many varied experiences in her life.

"From poverty to private school, from childhood trauma to the UN. All that provides a lot of perspective, and at the end of the day, my happy place is with my family. All the good things I've done in life don't mean anything if I'm not being the best aunty for my nieces and nephews, so I try and invest a lot of time and energy into them." Knowing who you are and being grounded in your own cultural identity and your authentic true self is really important, says Yole.

"Through all the different worlds I've been in, I am very much of the view that I travelled far because I was true to myself. And that's what I love to see in our interns - the magic that happens when they are proud of who they are."

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