WHEN Jan Taouma helped open the country’s first licensed Samoan language nest she never dreamed she would still be managing it 30 years later.
But thanks to a mysterious nomination the Blockhouse Bay resident has been awarded the Queen’s Service Medal to help mark the milestone.
The A’oga Fa’a Samoa early childhood centre started life in 1984 in a community building in Herne Bay. It was driven by a group of parents and grandparents who wanted to nurture Samoan culture in New Zealand.
‘‘My husband and I had just come back from living in Samoa for 10 years and we had a two-year-old child at the time,’’ she says.
‘‘And because I was a school teacher and my husband had been involved with setting up the preschool movement in Samoa we were asked to be a part of it.’’
Her long relationship with the centre means she has seen generations of families come through the doors.
‘‘I’ve got my grandchildren coming through there now, so having my children there and then my grandchildren is fantastic,’’ the mother of seven says.
In the early days Mrs Taouma would do a van run to pick up children because the centre was not located near any public transport.
A shift to its current location on the grounds of Richmond Road School in 1987 made it more accessible for the many Samoan families that populated Ponsonby at the time.
Over the years the roll of A’oga Fa’a Samoa has almost doubled to the point where it is now licensed to care for 50 children. And the movement for Pacific language nests has also grown so there are more than 70 around the country.
‘‘Of course the big problem for Pacific early childhood centres is that we don’t get resourced from the government so that’s a big struggle,’’ Mrs Taouma says.
‘‘There has been a huge amount of research that shows if children learn in their own language and culture then they will become more confident, better learners and actually will start succeeding, but New Zealand is very slow to take it up, especially when you consider countries in Europe who really take the research on board.’’
Mrs Taouma turned into a passionate advocate for early child- hood education through her involvement with the fledgling language nest.
‘‘We get wonderful letters written from students who are now at university thanking us for the good grounding we gave them and how it set them up for life.’’
Among her education activities she was a council member of the New Zealand Childcare Association from 1992 until 2012 and is a life member.
She also won the Human Rights Commission Samoan Language Award in 2010.
But she was surprised to be awarded the Queen’s Service Medal.
‘‘I felt very humbled and a bit overcome at being nominated and I’d like to thank the people that supported me.’’