Gabrielle-Sisifo Makisi (Gabby) was announced as part of the Queen’s Birthday honours as a recipient of a QSM for services to Pacific communities and education. Gabby is a Manager in Strategy and Integration, PICI, Ministry of Education – walking the talk as part of her community.
The citation outlines five key areas of Gabby’s service, including: Pacific education, TuTagata, Vinepa Trust, Pacifica- Newtown and her church work as a member of the Kilbirnie Salvation Army.
My three biggest inspirations are my mother Tagaloatele Professor Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, grandmother Emele-Moa Te’o Petaia Fairbairn and my Dad, Jim Dunlop. With role models like that, how can you not be involved! In our DNA as daughters, sisters, cousins, and aunties.
I was a teacher for 18 years at both Onslow College and Rongotai College. I taught and was a middle manager of Social Studies and History and was a Dean and Pacific Dean. As Pacific Dean, I ran afterschool homework centres, book clubs, the poly group, careers day, role modelling and mentoring programmes and Pacific gospel choirs.
I’m passionate about education as a means for transformation and a keyway to realise the Pacific migrant dream. My focus wasn’t just on Pacific students but the philosophy that what is good for Pacific people and families, is good for all families (having a good work ethic etc.)
Rongotai college – the young men here were and are exceptional and taught me about being Pacific in the 2000 – O le ala I le pule ole tautua.
TuTagata is the biggest and oldest Poly festival for Wellington Secondary schools. The quality of the performances is described as second to none, with schools practising for months to perfect their performances. Celebrating Pacific, the families and communities we come from, traditional and contemporary, excellence and building and strengthening and building Pacific youth leadership.
I love TuTagata, but it is hard work and relentless.! Funnily enough I performed in it as a year nine Wellington East student before I went to Samoa and Samoa college. When I started teaching at Rongotai in 2001, TuTagata hadn’t gone ahead in 2000. My Pacific students and their parents really wanted it to resume as it was ‘the one place we can be us, feel safe and celebrate our culture with our parents.’
So we made it happen. That year, four of the seven TuTagata schools returned. The first five years were spent making it fantastic, sourcing funding and having Talanoa with all the schools and communities on what a rebranded TuTagata could look like and should be. Asotasi Va’a Makisi an alumni of Rongotai college wrote the constitution and led the alumni support focus.
Today, I’m the faufautua (advisor) and events director of TuTagata. It is a huge operation, with 800 students, from 10 schools performing annually (seven original TuTagata and three invited schools). It is held at TSB arena, which has capacity for 5,655 people and tickets sell out within two hours of going on sale, showing how popular and huge the event is! 21 years on from the rebranding, I’m the only board member not from a school.
Vinepa trust was founded by myself and my husband Asotasi and my cousins Tiumalu and Afoa. It is a family trust named after my great, great grandmother Vinepa Toalepai Aiono Petaia. Every year from March to November, Vinepa Trust holds study hubs weekly on a Tuesday night for students’ years 1 to 13. It involves teachers from the community and past alumni come back and mentor the kids. This has run since 1988 with for the last 5 years funding support from Pasifika futures small grants. We supported our families during covid wit food parcels, utility bills paid with funding from Pacific futures and Vaka Tautua.
Vinepa also runs an annual health day and workshops on such things as young mothers, grief, mental health, planning for end f life etc -brining Pacific expertise into our community. Our health arm also runs a weekly Zumba session. The health arm is supported by the Ministry of health Pacific community grant.
Our Pacific community (Wellington Eastern and southern suburbs) wanted programmes which strengthened, celebrated and supported Pacific identity, language and culture. We have secured funding from the Ministry of Pacific peoples and have run Tuiga workshops, Monomono, patchwork quilt making workshops and have beginner Tongan classes, Fa’amatai workshops, Screen-printing, plaque making and Measina workshops for the rest of 2022. Is always advertised on Facebook - first in first served, run in our church - with waiting lists!
We are so grateful to our funders for recognising Pacific communities and what we do and can do as the families that live in these communities. These agencies not only give the $$$ but provide the practical support and encouragement we need to be resilient and continue on top of full-time jobs, study, busy households and family and church commitments. Much application writing, report completing and a budget down to the last cent.
PACIFICA Is a national Pacific women’s organisation since 1970. The Newtown branch is my home. My mother has been a national president and I have stepped down as Newtown branch President while I study.
PACIFICA Newtown runs many programmes in our community - from mentorship, wellbeing to a second to none group of Pacific women who encourage and build each other through bi-monthly breakfast Talanoa down to the day by day ‘stuff’.
Church – Kilbirnie Salvation Army
The Kilbirnie Salvation Army is what I describe as my second home, my church family. I have run the youth programmes and am currently leading our Pusa Alofa programme with Major Silone Collins and Tiumalu where we distribute love boxes to our families who have been identified using community intelligence.
Chuffed to be nominated and recognised as is not just me but the mighty collective I belong to - my side of the river, our Kilbirnie/ Newtown/ Lyall Bay village.
Vi’ia le atua.