Kiribati Language Week: Resilience in the face of hopelessness

Kiribati migrant Kabwenea Tangiraoi is not shy about sharing stories of the struggles her and her family faced when moving to Tauranga 12 years ago. Along with her husband, Jason, and their four young children, Kabwenea lived in poverty and become homeless.

The family of six lived in a tiny two-bedroom unit with another family, so nineteen people in total. Food was scarce and the family had to ration one loaf of bread each week and survived on the Kiwifruit Kabwenea would bring home from her work.

“I know this struggle is a reality for many of our Pacific people, especially for those who come from the islands in search of a better life for their families. That’s why I have chosen to share my story, to let people know that it does get better and that help is available.”

Kabwenea recently shared her story in the book When the Dominoes Start to Fall – Stories of Homelessness – a collection of tales from people who have experienced homelessness in Tauranga. Kabewenea became a contributor to the book after she reached out for help from the Pacific Island Community Trust in Tauranga, a partner of Pasifika Futures and an organisation supporting Pacific Island families in the Bay of Plenty area.

Kabwenea and her husband, migrated to New Zealand to  provide better opportunities for their children. Although they had savings, Kabwenea assumed that they would earn plenty of money in New Zealand and she gave the majority of her savings to her parents. When they arrived, they didn’t expect to live a life of homelessness and struggle when they settled in the Bay of Plenty.

“We didn’t know much about how we could get help. We got into debt and owned money. It was very hard for us to find good jobs because we had bad credit.”

As new migrants, Kabwenea and Jason had not been advised about their legal entitlements, access to housing or how to apply for financial assistance from Work and Income NZ. When they reached out to the Pacific Island Community Trust, they were connected with a whānau ora navigator who worked closely with Kabwenea and her family. Being part of the Pasifika Futures network meant the navigator was equipped to provide the family with the relevant tools and information to improve their situation quickly and sustainably.

“We received so much support from the Trust, the community and from the teachers at our children’s school. It showed us that people in our community really care.”

Today, Kabewenea is a health care assistant and Jason is a commercial cleaner and they have enough income to pay their bills, service their debt and provide stability for their family.

Kabewenea says that during the tough times, she thought of her home in Kiribati. Thinking about her culture gave her the strength. This week, New Zealand celebrates Kiribati Language Week. During this time, she encourages her children to speak the language so they can be connected to their parent’s heritage.

“Our struggles remind us why we came to New Zealand, for a better future for our children. But it’s just as important that we continue to speak our language in our home so our children can be proud of their culture.”


Date: Monday 12 July