Fa'afetai i le avanoa. Malo fetalai po'o le saonoa. Fa'afetai i le alofa o le Atua, ua tatou feiloai i luma le nuu ae le o tua o nuu. Ia ave le viiga i le Atua, O'a paia o Samoa, o le a le o'o i'ai sau leo. Ai nuunuu atu i faleupolu o le latou matafaioe lena, aua faigata Samoa o le ao mamala. Talofa lava and warm Pacific greetings, my name is Lealailepule Edward Cowley
What is your story?
I was born in Auckland Central a very long time ago, I grew up in West Auckland, I'm number six of eight children and I'm close to all my aiga/whanau. I went to university in Sydney, I've lived in Sydney, London, New York, New Caledonia and Auckland. I have three daughters and I'm all about people. Shared experiences, sharing the love and sharing kindness. The numbers of doors which have been opened, the contacts I've made and the experiences I've had all because I took the time to smile at someone and be open to sharing some of me with them has been paramount in my life. I encourage anyone and everyone to try it - you too may very well be surprised!
What motivates you to get out of bed of a morning?
My alarm, mainly because it goes off at 4.30am Monday to Friday. On the weekends I have a sleep in until 6.15am which is amazing! It's a routine I've cultivated over the last 25 years. I train six mornings a week and I've had the same personal trainer for 25 years. I figure if I try to keep myself as fit as I can, I'll be in a better position for life, family, friends, work and play. I'm nervous if I change that routine now it'll be the beginning of the end. Plus I love to eat and that's the trade off. Long may it last.
What is one characteristic you've received from your parents that you want to keep, and one you wish you could change?
I think they are one in the same really, my parents were extremely humble giving people who spent a lot of time sharing time, food, advice and support for family and friends. While growing up we were always having to share everything we had, at times I hated the it and wanted to have my own space, with my own things and not have to share. As an adult I seem to have adopted the same practise in terms of having an open home, open heart policy. Where possible I am the same with my family and friends. There are times when I have a fleeting thought whereby I imagine my life being a lot simpler and I would have more time to myself if I wasn't like my parents - but then what would I do? I'd be bored in an instant. My life is that which my family, culture and environment has produced and I wouldn't want to have it any other way.
What is the most memorable activity you did your family as a child?
Singing, singing and more singing. My family would spend a lot of time singing together, we would rehearse for church activities, local talent competitions and anywhere and everywhere my mother could find for us to sing. We would sing for visitors, sing at family gatherings and for the local senior citizens homes at Christmas and Easter. We laugh about it now and as time goes by I come across many other Samoan families who did the same thing. In lots of ways it gave us tools for life. It gave us confidence to not fear public speaking, taught us how to be engaging and learn how to work a crowd. Things which have served me well to this day. Although I'm not much of a singer these days, I can whistle up a tune no worries.
What would your ideal holiday be?
Time as we all know is now a precious commodity. People are time poor and we often struggle to see family and friends due to life. I would love to hire a whole heap of beach fales in Savaii, Samoa for a couple of weeks and go on holiday with all my family and friends. Time to relax and catch up with people in the tropical paradise that is Samoa. Enjoying the warmth of the sun, and cool of the sea breezes without the craziness of everyday life. We need to make time to share food, fun and fellowship with family and friends and make the most of the time we have here. Plus it would give me a chance to show off how stunning Samoa is to anyone who has never been before. The more the merrier.
Could you share any one defining moment in your life?
The day we buried my father, December 13 1996. My father died of lung cancer as a direct result of smoking his entire adult life. He started smoking when he was 13 and died when he was 63. At that time 6 of his 8 adult children were longterm smokers. We grew up with our father, mother socially, aunties and uncles who smoked. It was normal for us. After the funeral all my siblings were sitting around drinking and smoking. My sister said ‘“look at us - we have just buried our father because of his smoking and look at all of us, is this what we want for our children?” We made a decision that night that we would all stop smoking together for the future of our alga/ whanau. It was an was an easy decision to make, not such a easy action to follow through on. As you would expect it took dedication, determination and support from all eight of us to get all six smokers over the line to being Smokefree. The great thing about that one action just over twenty years ago is that all my siblings to this day are smokefree, all my nieces and nephews are smoke free and their so are their children. We do not have a single smoker in our immediate whanau and their offspring. We all look out for each other and we make sure that the young people in our aiga know there are no smokers in our family. Role modelling, vigilance and taking the time to explain to our young family members that we are family who doesn’t smoke has been key in keeping our family that way. Their normal is not the normal I grew up with. If every single whanau looked out for their own and created a Smokefree whanau, we would be well on our way to changing the landscape in terms of smoking prevalence in Aotearoa.
I see you have a Samoan matai name, what meaning does that have for you?
Good question - my name Lealilepule is from Vaitele, Faleata district and is from my mothers family. It is from a Samoan proverb, 'o le ala i pule o le tautua' - which means 'the pathway to leadership is through service'. Growing up in Aotearoa we always did things the 'kiwi' way, or so we thought. I was part of the first generation of New Zealand born Samoans who were trying to find our place in New Zealand. My parents like many others, were pioneers and worked extremely hard to put a roof over our heads, food on the table and clothes on our back.
I first went to Samoa when I was 18 after my first year of living in Sydney. I thought it was going to be like Hawaii, ahhhhhh I was so wrong. It so wasn't. It was so hot, I was eaten alive by mosquitos, there were no cafes and I was like ummmmmm, not coming back here again. My how things have changed. Over time, I've changed, Samoa has changed and my knowledge of the fa'a Samoa has grown into a way of life for me. I bow down to my parents and the many Pacific people of the great migration to New Zealand almost seven decades ago. They left warm tropical isles of paradise to seek out better fortunes for themselves and their families. My parents arrived by boat from the hot tropics of Apia to freezing cold of an Auckland in winter. I can't begin to fathom what that would have been like. Arriving into a foreign city which would have been gigantic in comparison to where they had come from. Having to learn to speak english, find work in factories and to the hard yards in order to survive and prosper.
Do you think Pacific peoples are prospering?
Well we are most certainly surviving and growing in number, but surviving is not prospering. I think if we look at the health of Pacific peoples in Aotearoa we do indeed have an extremely long way to go. Pacific peoples are taking the gold medal for poor health.
I've often heard the question, what is happening to help reduce Pacific smoking rates? I think the answers need to be much wider than Pacific tobacco control, or the tobacco control sector. Our solution lies in a collective Pacific response. We are traditionally a collective people, we are about the 'us' as opposed to the 'I'. So too should our answers lie within the 'us'.
Recently someone I know messaged me to say they couldn't attend a smokefree fono because they now didn't have a smokefree contract. My reply was "you work for a health provider, regardless of if you have a contract or not, you are in the business of supporting health, you may not have a smokefree contract, but you have an obligation to health. We all know if you supported your smokers to become smokefree then their all round health would improve for sure and they would be healthier in the long term, right? " she replied "right". It got me thinking, in order for Pacific people to prosper we need a collective voice based on a holistic models of health. Pacific people have a stronger voice when we are together. We need a platform to be able talanoa from and present our view. Currently we are all trying to work hard to get our points across and it's taking up all our energy. Having a collective voice and platform where we can share, create allies and learn from each other is something we should consider. We can not do it on our own, or we would have a long time ago, a lot can be learnt from our traditional Pacific ways of doing things, a gentler reminder now and then is a good thing.
Stopping smoking and creating good health overall should be everyones business, people often think it doesn't concern them, but actually it does. Everyone who smokes is someone mother, father, brother, sister, grand parent, work colleague, cousin, son, daughter, friend. How do we harness the voice of all our non-smoking aiga to be the voice of support for those members and loved ones who smoke. Everyone has a part to play in the support of long term health for those we care about. We need to make smoking everyones business, not just the business of those working in tobacco control. I challenge you to think about how we can harness the support of everyone to help us with our work.