As a child, dentistry student Ateliana Taufa had the best of both worlds growing up.
Each year, she would spend six months living with her parents in Tonga and six months with her grandmother in Auckland which allowed her to speak and understand both the Tongan and English languages fluently.
She says at the time it was a challenge, but it made her realise the importance of knowing the Tongan language and culture.
“It was hard at first because I would spend six months in one place and would settle in and adapt and then I would move again.
But looking back, I don’t regret it at all. It made me appreciate my Tongan language and culture. I’ve seen many people who weren’t lucky enough to live in the islands and I think it’s harder for them to keep up with their language and culture.”
At just 19, Ateliana is in her second year of her dentistry studies at Otago University in Dunedin. She was inspired to become a dentist because she saw the need for affordable oral care in her own community.
“I know the journey to becoming a dentist will not be easy. There are times where I feel discouraged and overwhelmed. But when I think about the reason why I am doing this, which is not just for myself but for my family, my Tongan and Pasifika community, I push through and persevere – knowing it will all be worth it in the end.”
She says that visiting a dentist is a scary experience for most people and with the Pacific community having traditionally low numbers of appointments, it’s even more important that Pacific dentists are visible in this area.
“I’ve dealt with some Tongan patients throughout my training and I’ve spoken to them in Tongan. It automatically builds that trust and makes it easier to engage with them, especially when they are feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable.”
Ateliana loves speaking Tongan and retains a good grasp of her language by talking to her grandmother in Tongan and reading her Tongan bible.
“My favourite Tongan saying is ‘Maumau e ‘elili mo e loka’ which means something good or precious is worth having when it is not easily attainable. I think this best describes my journey to becoming a dentist.”
Date: Thursday 10 September