Meet the Team: Florida Foliaki

She may have been born and raised in Auckland, but Tonga holds a special place in Florida Foliaki's heart.

Florida's grandparents migrated to New Zealand from Tonga, and her grandfather in particular encouraged all his grandchildren to "not forget about our family and people back home who didn't have the same opportunities as us."

The importance of education, and it's potential to change lives was something else her grandfather taught his grandchildren.

Florida did a double degree at the University of Auckland. Her Bachelor of Property was inspired by a high school study tour to Colliers' offices, where she loved the culture and insights provided into the opportunities within the property sector.

Her other degree is a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Marketing and Management, which speaks to her creative side and love of working with people.

Service is central to Florida's family, and it came as no surprise when she chose to go to Tonga to teach high school students, after graduating from the University of Auckland.

"My grandfather was a doctor who sat on church boards, implemented several pacific medical initiatives and contributed immensely to the Tongan community. That was something he passed on to his family - to serve".

"We never viewed service as a chore. It was always a part of everyday life."

The school Florida taught at, 'Apifo'ou College, has special significance. Her grandparents studied there, as did some of the next generation before migrating to New Zealand. And her aunties and uncles have taught there as well - following a similar journey that Florida would take years later.

"I feel education is crucial for success and also at the core in terms of a solution to a number of the problems our young people face. I felt that if I could help these kids do well while they were still at school, then they would have a higher chance of succeeding later in life."

Florida had initially planned to volunteer at the school for a year. But when she was about to

return home to Auckland, Cyclone Gita struck Tonga in 2018, impacting the school badly.

"I felt that was not the right time to leave. Volunteering is not a matter of doing time, but understanding when you are needed most. I felt like I had to stay another six months to really help out and help the school pull through."

Florida says teaching taught her patience and empathy, especially for children who were coming to school with "their own struggles at home." These are all skills and attributes she now finds useful as a TupuToa Navigator, a role she has been in since August 2019.

"I love working with youth. I love seeing the confidence that they build up throughout their time with us, especially from the beginning of the internships and coming out at the other end."

Outside of her work with TupuToa, Florida continues to support her former students in Tonga and provides tutoring and help with their studies. She is also involved with the Mt Wellington Tongan community where together with a group of teachers and university students she runs a po'ako (night school) session once a week for high school students to help them with their studies.

Family is important to Florida, the youngest of four siblings, and music plays an important role in her family life.

"Growing up, my dad was heavily into music, he had his own little band. It was expected of us kids to learn a musical instrument. In high school, I was in two different orchestras, I played the double bass violin. It kept me busy. I don’t play anymore, but music is still something that is a big part of my life."

While working to help young people on their paths, Florida sees herself continuing to contribute to the Māori and Pacific community.

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