From providing sewing machines to women in Samoan villages so they can earn money to advocating for Pacific women at the United Nations. These are some of the many causes Tofilau Bernadette Pereira has championed throughout her life, which was recognised at this year’s Queen’s birthday honours, for her services to women and the Pacific community.
“This is a humbling experience. I pay tribute to all of the people in my life who have contributed to my journey,” says Tofilau, who will be appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her 30 year career.
She was inspired to be a strong advocate for women while growing up in Samoa and being around her grandmother and other women from the villages of Lufilufi and Malie.
“I was always following in the shadow of my grandmother who was the leader amongst the women’s committee in the villages. It was exciting when they got together because they were always contributing to the general welfare of the villages, whether it was in health or caring for the children. “
After finishing high school, Tofilau left Samoa to study in Fiji and Australia, where she gained a social sciences degree in gender development. She returned to Samoa and was involved in many projects, including representing the Pacific countries at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and led the largest delegation of Pacific women to the UN Fourth World Global Conference in 1995.
She moved to New Zealand twenty years ago, and settled in Auckland with her husband, Antoine, and their 27-year-old son, Joseph.
“My first job in New Zealand was working for the race relations department as an education adviser. I was blessed because I was working in a team that was led by Sir Paul Reeves. It was a valuable experience. I got to learn about New Zealand politics and about Māoridom through this job.”
She left this role and spent 12 years at the Manukau District Council as a community development adviser. Her last job was helping prison inmates rehabilitate and resettle into society.
Outside of her career, she’s held many positions, including the presidency of Pacifica Incorporated, a member of the Cultural Advisory Committee for the Pasifika Medical Association and a board member of Southseas Healthcare in Otara.
She also holds the Matai or Chief title of Tofilau, an honour bestowed upon her from her village of Iva in Savaii.
“We have a saying In Samoa. It’s not just you that has been recognised but it’s the honour that equally goes out to everyone who has allowed you the space to be part of their world. I go with the blessing of my aiga and the different entities that contributed to my joy.”
She hopes to use the Queen’s birthday honour to inspire Pasifika youth to pursue their dreams.
“I believe in the abilities of the Pacific leaders coming through. It’s up to people like myself to give them the pathways and inspiration to succeed.”
Date: Friday 12 June 2020