WOMEN OF THE ISLANDS - LANU FALETAU
LAWYER, MODEL & ACTIVIST
Introducing Lanu Faletau who has just been selected as an Obama Leader for the Asia-Pacific Region with an announcement made today from Malaysia.
My name is Lanu Faletau and I was born in Tonga and migrated to New Zealand for school when I was about 6 years old, I then moved back to Tonga briefly before permantly moving to New Zealand for boarding school when I was about 12 years old. I am so proud to represent two incredible nations and being able to call both countries ‘home’ is always an honour for me. More specifically, I am actually from a tiny island called Taunga and that’s located in Vava’u (an outer island of Tonga). So, I am a typical island girl! I love the ocean, I love to swim, I love the sun and of course relaxing.
I come from a family of four, I have two older brothers; Inoke and Solo and one younger sister Sonata. We are all very close and I’m lucky I have siblings who support me unconditionally and vice versa.
Currently I am a lawyer, a plus size model and a proud activist for body positivity, the advancement of pacific representation and education; and encouraging sustainable and healthier lifestyles by eating plant-based foods through social media. Aside from my work in the legal and modelling industry. I engage or volunteer for projects I am passionate about, whether it be advocacy for the underrepresented, providing mentorship or speaking up against issues I believe need to be rectified or at least vocalised. I also spend a lot of time just assisting projects where I can and recently, I was proud to help by packing books for an incredible organization that was founded to create community libraries in Tonga.
You are a Lawyer, Plus Size Model and an activist for body positivity, why do you think it's important to have Pasifika representation in these fields?
I think representation is important because “You can't be what you can't see.” As a Pacific woman, I always grew up feeling almost unworthy of my career choices because unfortunately I didn’t know too many female Pacific lawyers or even saw Pacific plus sized models. The rhetoric is certainly changing now (thankfully) but growing up, you almost feel that certain career paths are out of your league because you don’t see anyone like you. I think once I overcame my own insecurities and continued to strive for what I wanted to achieve, I realised that not only is there a place for me but there is certainly room for others like me.
So, knowing this now, I think that as a lawyer, a plus size model and an activist, it is important for me to encourage others to not only strive for what they want (no matter how unrealistic it is- it is possible) but to also not confine themselves to a box, but redefine what they want to be. Being a professional and a creative can almost feel contradictory but its certainly fulfilling. So, I hope that when our Pacific people see what I am doing, that they not only feel inspired that they can do whatever they want too, but also feel confident to step outside of the box and redefine whatever they choose to pursue.
You've just been selected as an Obama Leader for the Asia-Pacific Region - can you tell us what that programme is?
The Leaders: Asia-Pacific program builds upon the legacy of the Obamas, with a focus on shared values and ethical leadership. From December 10-14, the Obama Foundation will launch the leadership program, bringing together 200 leaders from 33 nations and territories in the AsiaPacific region. As such I will be traveling to Malaysia to participate. Leaders will participate in a series of leadership workshops and sessions, creating opportunities for them to inspire, empower, and connect with one another. Each Leader’s journey of growth will continue remotely for a year after the gathering, through webinars and a virtual speaker series, as well as support, amplification, and other opportunities from the Foundation.
Can you please share how you came to be selected - was there a selection process?
I am actually subscribed to the Obama Foundations newsletter and was following the developments of the Asia Pacific program in Hawaii earlier this year. Shortly after this, there was an application to apply for the 2019 cohort of Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific. Seeing the opportunity felt out of my depths and I almost missed the application deadline because I genuinely didn’t think I was good enough. But I applied and shortly after I got an email saying I was selected.
What is your hope that you'll be able to do with Pacific young people with the tools & platform you'll have from being selected as an Obama Leader for the Asia-Pacific Region?
Generally, I want to help young people reach whatever goal they want. Whether it be in the legal sphere, the arts, the media, sports etc, I really just want to help them realise that there is nothing they can’t do. More specifically, I hope that the tools and exposure to the incredible resources through the Obama Foundation will have me better informed to continue my work on areas I feel strongly about, especially in relation to the Pacific community. This is why my work as a mentor to our youth is so important to me because I am actually speaking and supporting people and its real.
What is the best piece of advice you've been given?
My grandma Colleen always tells me… “when people try to bring you down, God will lift you up.” So, every time I feel down about something or if something is going wrong, I know that I have a blessing around the corner. Because of this, I actually embrace the tough times a little more because in the end, it’ll be worth it.
What do you love about being a Pacific Island woman today?
Everything! I don’t take for granted that not too long ago there were so many cultural restrictions and connotations about being a Pacific woman. Even today I still see the struggle Pacific women face in their respective cultures. I personally don’t agree with a lot of cultural intricacies that have been placed on women; and I use to struggle internally with the conflict of being told to do something because its “culture” despite not agreeing with it. What I love about being a Pacific woman today is that more Pacific women are bold enough to redefine norms or break them altogether. Barrier breaking bosses is what I like to call them, and I am always inspired by them. I think it’s important to remember that “culture doesn’t make people, people make the culture” and knowing that culture is fluid and constantly changing and being redefined by the incredible people we know today is encouraging.
What is inspiring you about the future?