By: Natalie Akoorie

Dame Winnie Laban has been honoured as Dame Companion, New Zealand Order of Merit, for her services to education and to the Pacific community.

Pasifika champion and former Labour MP Luamanuvao Winnie Laban has another honour to add to her achievements.

Laban has been made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to education and the Pacific community.

The 62-year-old was made a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order in 2011 and picks up the new title in today’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Laban left Parliament after 11 years, where she had been Pacific Island Affairs Minister, in 2010 to take up the first position of its kind at a New Zealand university, assistant vice chancellor Pasifika at the University of Victoria.

The New Zealand-born Samoan woman has since provided strategic advice, direction and support for Pacific students and staff, increasing enrolments and raising Pacific achievement.

Also an associate professor, Laban has been patron of the Wainuiomata Pasifika Education Success Initiative since 2013, and patron of the Cancer Society Relay for Life since 2008.

She is patron of the Wellington Pasifika Business Network and Wellington Rugby League.

“I want to get more brown boys into university,” Laban told the Herald. “I want to see all our people thrive.”

It’s been Laban’s life’s work to advocate for Pacific people, particularly women, and to achieve social justice and opportunities for marginalised communities.

“I work very hard because I want to really push to get our kids succeeding much more in the mainstream.”

When her parents, Emi and Ta’atofa Kenneth Laban, arrived in Wellington in the 1950s they left their entire family behind to eke out a life of education and opportunity for their two children.

Their legacy is the reason why Laban accepted the title of Dame.

“One of the things I always remembered mum and dad saying is they wanted us to participate as equals in this society.

“They worked hard. They were thrifty. They were leaders in the community. We were brought up in many facets of the Samoan and Pacific community life developing over time.

“Our lives really are just an extension of what our parents dreamt for when they came here.”

Laban’s father died in 1994 and her mother in 2009 but they instilled a belief in their eldest child that family, relationships and education were the key to success and happiness.

“That deep sense of family is who you are … that’s what makes you. Relationships must be built on respect.

“And I have a huge focus on getting our kids into university because, as you know, you have the piece of paper, you get a better-paid job. It benefits the families and then the community.”

Laban graduated with a social work degree from the University of Victoria and was a family therapist and community development worker, focusing particularly on the Pacific Island community of New Zealand.

In 1992 she was given the Samoan chiefly title Luamanuvao from her mother’s village of Vaiala, Vaimauga, in recognition of her work.

Her younger brother Fauono Ken Laban, a Sky TV sports commentator and also a prominent Wellingtonian in various community and sporting positions, received his title from the same village.

Laban, who remains in the Wainuiomata working class suburb her parents settled in, said her husband Dr Peter Swain – who has worked alongside her in Pacific countries – was very proud of her honour.

The title also recognises Laban’s membership of the Creative New Zealand Arts Council since 2014, and that she was chairwoman of the Pacific Arts Committee from 2013 to 2014.

Since 2017 she has been a member of the Australasian Association for Institutional Research, the New Zealand Institute of Directors, the Commissioner of Police’s National Pacific Advisory Forum, and an auditor for the Academic Quality Agency for New Zealand Universities.

She has also been a member of the National University of Samoa Council since 2012 and the Institute of Judicial Studies Board since 2011.

Laban is currently involved in a project in partnership with Wellington City Council and Victoria University to construct a multi-purpose fale malae in the Wellington region.

She has just returned from Samoa where she was involved in the launch of a partnership between the National University of Samoa and Victoria University to teach nursing training.

“New Zealand doesn’t exist on its own [in the Pacific]. The honour really is celebrating that.”

Source: NZ Herald

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