Leadership and preventing disease in Tonga: Malia’s story

Saturday, September 28, 2019
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Growing up in Tonga and taking relatives to the hospital made Women's Leadership Initiative (WLI) scholar, Malia Kilisitina Vaka'uta Hala'api'api, want to be a nurse.

Below, the nursing school tutor reflects on how building her leadership skills will benefit her community and support the prevention of non-communicable diseases.


My name is Malia Kilisitina Vaka'uta Hala'api'api. I am from the only kingdom in the South Pacific - Tonga - and I come from its ancient capital, Lapaha. I am married with three beautiful children.

In 2018, I was blessed to be awarded an Australia Awards scholarship to do my Masters in Education at the University of Sydney. This opportunity opened doors for me, leading me to apply for the Women Leadership Initiative's (WLI) 2019 Leadership and Mentoring program.

Initially, I was interested in the program teaching me how I could become an effective mentor so that I could tutor the nursing students in Tonga.

I know that in my job, I am in a position of influence and that not only my words affect my students but also my actions and way of being.

In my community, the surge of non-communicable disease is very evident despite the strategies that the Ministry of Health has used to tackle the issue.

My involvement in the Australia Awards WLI is making me work on a project that is meaningful to my leadership journey as a nurse. Action speaks louder than words! This project will allow me to talk confidently to the student nurses and the people of Tonga about health issues, for now I am a role model of health.

I expect that, through WLI, I will learn essential skills in how to develop and get funding for this project and that I will be able to work with my mentor to implement this project.

[Pictured: Malia with her mentor, Anita George]

In February 2019, Malia attended WLI's 2019 Leadership and Mentoring first week-long intensive in Canberra where she met the other Pacific women scholars on the program as well as her mentor, Anita George. Anita is the Manager of Prevention at the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer.

I was so excited and scared at the same time to meet my mentor. But when I met her, she was not what I expected. She was so friendly and was willing to listen to me and guide me with my project. I actually thought to myself when I met her that she is my role model of wellness. I am looking forward now to working with her in implementing my project.

Through the WLI intensive, I was able to meet influential women, with their connections. I was also able to identify strategies to help with the implementation of my project. It was a highlight meeting the other participants and have them share their different areas of expertise.

I learnt from the mentors and their own journeys and strategies towards success. And I learnt the importance of having a network. Through all of this, I feel I will be helped to be strong and motivated to be the role model of wellness.

The network with the WLI participants and the mentors is a wealth of knowledge and support that I can always tap into for assistance in my work as a tutor to nursing students.

Through WLI, I have learnt that I can be a leader - for example, like the Hon Ali'imalemanu Alofa Tu'uau who is a member of parliament in Samoa - and that the sky is the limit for us women.


This story was first published on the Australia Awards Global Alumni website.