Factoring Faith, Culture and Tradition Into Resiliency
Tualoaina Latu To’omaga can relate to experiencing and witnessing family violence and abuse. The Director of Positive Impact Consultancy Limited, educator for the Brainwave Trust Aotearoa and SKIP Champion for Oranga Tamariki lived through the trauma of an abusive childhood. The Porirua father of three’s experience during childhood resulted in his life dedication to education, helping parents and families maintain healthy relationships, while citing faith, culture and traditions as resiliency factors.
Latu with his three children - Rosa Toomaga 14, Maxwell To'omaga 16 and Levi Toomaga 10.
The proud son of Latu Taefu To’omaga from Siufaga, Falelatai and Aiuli To’omaga from Safa’atoa, Lefaga, Samoa, Tualoaina was raised in Cannons Creek Porirua, Wellington. As a Pasefika leader of Samoan descent born in Aotearoa New Zealand, Tualoaina considers faith, culture and traditions as resilient elements that are protective factors.
“They contributed to overcoming early adversity and helped me on my journey towards reaching my goals in life, namely becoming the director of my own consultancy business.”
While he admits being confused growing up with the parenting he received, one thing is very clear. Tualoaina loves and adores his mother and father.
“It took time to develop the understanding behind why my parents treated me and my siblings in such a violent, abusive yet ‘loving’ way growing up,” he recalls.
Eventually, he came to terms with his upbringing. Now a staunch solo father of “three amazing children”, namely Maxwell, aged 16, Rosa, 14 (going on 21) and Levi 10, he parents the way he has learned, ensuring that his children feel valued, respected and heard- while making sure to stay true to his faith, culture and traditions.
Tualoaina has passion aplenty, especially when alongside with what he describes as is his people - Pasifika and Maori. It’s a natural space where he feels most comfortable, which he attributes to being able to empathise and understand the background and upbringing of Pasifika cultures.
He elaborates on his three key areas of expertise on his website www.latu.ninja(external link).
Education - Tualoaina is a qualified teacher who has taught for 20 years
Wellbeing and Fitness - Tualoaina is an assessor and instructor in Positive Parenting
Neuroscience - A SKIP Champion and brainwave presenter
“The first three years of life are crucial,” Tualoaina explains, "It’s during these crucial years that family harm, violence and maltreatment can affect how a child becomes as an adult.”
“The environmental affects they are exposed to can give the child an understanding of what is safe or not, as well as the importance of love, nurture, care and protection. They’re what we want our children to experience. When this occurs, the child is likely to feel safe, secure and loved by his adults, parents and caregivers.
While Tualoaina believes that all children should be loved, protected, nurtured and cared for, he knows that it’s far from reality.
“There can be a number of reasons children may react in a scared and fearful way when they’re little. This may be due to maltreatment, which comes in different forms, namely physical, emotional and sexual abuse,” he says.
“There is also harsh discipline, punishment, and neglect. Often child victims will experience more than one of these forms of harm.”
While harsh, physical discipline was one example, Tualoaina knows from his own experiences that witnessing family violence was enough to do damage.
"Seeing and hearing violence is as bad as being abused,” he says.
For example, Tualoaina says early adversity experiencing maltreatment time and time again can cause toxic stress to build in the child’s brain, which can interfere with the child’s ability to learn, problem solve, plan and effectively communicate with peers and adults.
Latu with his daughter Rosa and his 85-year-old mum - Aiuli To'omaga.
“This can have a huge effect on the children's developmental stages, which may well further affect their health later in life.”
This all resonates with Tualoaina because his own childhood was filled with memories of abuse, having experienced and witnessed violence in his own home.
“I came from a violent, loud and abusive childhood. It was clear to me that my parents did not hesitate to use physical force by way of any objects lying around the house fists, irons, vacuum cords, jandals, the hose, anything they could get their hands on. I had to witness my mother beating my sister with the belt between her legs. It looked to me like she was sheering sheep.”
Tualoaina’s experience of that moment was horrific for one so young. He describes the bloody scenes and how it fostered an atmosphere of fear that even today he can almost feel.
“When you’ve experienced that sort of abuse, you don’t leave there going ‘I love my family’. You leave there thinking, ‘What is going on?’
“Being only eight years old, experiencing this type of trauma and living in an environment that was constantly hostile and toxic, it is not long before you start planning how to cope.”
Which is exactly what Tualoaina and his siblings did. He explains the three areas in which research indicates to support children developing resilience.
“Faith, culture and traditions is a protective factor that supports one to strengthen their belief in something that is not seen, yet the belief that there is a better place after this life on earth,” he says. Having faith and hope and believing things will get better is helpful. Physically praying in the home and going to church builds strength that one has the support from a higher power to get through difficult situations.
“Having one caring and supportive adult, who is trusting and welcoming, like a mentor, can help to build a child's self-worth, confidence, and executive function. These include problem solving, planning, decision-making, time-management and understanding consequences. If you just have one person that absolutely has your back, that is enough to change your trajectory to help you be strong.”
Tualoaina cites an example when he was nine years old. His school principal knocked on their door at home and said, “I just want to give this to Tualoaina.”
“That principal gave me a calculator,” he recalls.
“Well, from that point on I thought I was the brainiest in maths. I started to think, ‘I’m really good at maths’. And, each year before I got to college, I would go to him and say, ‘Thank you for your help’.”
“Then I got to into Teachers’ College. I went back when I graduated and said ‘I’m a teacher now. Can I be a teacher here?’ And he let me be a teacher at his school.”
From experience Tualoaina says that if you believe in your capabilities, you can overcome hardship and guide your own destiny by further developing the thinking part of your brain. He cites areas such as planning, problem solving, time-management, consequences and self-regulation.
“It helps you to be strong within yourself. When I’m talking about my experiences and trauma, I refer to the research, which I’m lucky to have at my fingertips.”
Despite his traumatic early experiences, Tualoaina says he loves his big family of 13 siblings and he loves his Samoan heritage.
“I always reflect on my faith, the culture and the traditions and the age-old wisdom of my mum, whom I adore. She is turning 86 years old this year and my mother plays a big part in the family, as our dad passed away in 1998.”
As Tualoaina reflects back on his own childhood, he looks forward to holding onto the values of his Samoan culture, faith and traditions, while fostering an environment of healthy relationships according to the research to nurture his own children.
It is also what he carries out when supporting parents in his community as a SKIP Champion.
“If you’re a good communicator, willing to be humble and listen while showing acts of kindness and alofa – things that our parents have taught us - then that is the basis of respectful relationships.”
To maintain a quality relationship, Tualoaina says you have to be responsive, which means that if a child is talking to you, and you’re listening and then responding, it develops the child’s ability to feel worthy, validated and listened to.
“As we do that with our kids from when they’re a baby, right through to when they’re young adults or teenagers, if you’re keeping up that communication, you’re likely to discover they’ll do the same when they become parents and have their own children.”
To see more of Latu’s work visit:
Some brainwave trust resources:
Resilient Rangatahi: https://www.brainwave.org.nz/…/Resilient-Rangatahi_web-25.1…
(external link)Family Violence: Children get hurt: https://www.brainwave.org.nz/…/Brainwave-Review-Autumn-2020…
(external link)www.parentresource.nz(external link)
It is important we continue to keep our families and children safe in our homes. Some Pacific families may be feeling vulnerable. Remember that family violence support services are available. For emergencies please Dial 111.
Pasefika Proud is a Pacific response to focus on community-led solutions that harnesses the transformative power of traditional Pacific cultural values and frameworks to encourage violence-free, respectful relationships that support Pacific peoples to thrive and to build strong resilient families.