Teacher awarded

Central Leader - - FRONT PAGE -

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.’’

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