Two women holding Pacific clothing Two women holding Pacific clothing Two women holding Pacific clothing

Health, education, and social services provider AvaNiu Pasifika has found a new way to reach the heart of the Pacific community in Tauranga—a retail space with a unique difference.

Niu Nesian, funded both by AvaNiu and the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, stocks traditional Pacific clothing, fabrics and other products, but it also offers a social space for people to come in, sit down and engage with the AvaNiu Pasifika team.

Managing Director and registered nurse Sameli Tongalea says they put a lot of thought into how the space would work. “Not everyone wants to come into a clinical setting, but they feel comfortable coming into the shop.

“Initial conversations lead into other areas. Some people prefer to take our information, mull it over then get back in touch, while others have come into the shop seeking support based on the recommendation of a whānau member or friend.”

The approach is working how it was envisaged to, says Sameli. “A young family came in the other day. Through chatting with them, we found they had recently moved to our area, and were keen to register with a GP service and have their young child vaccinated. As a result, we were able to provide the vaccination and enrol them with our health and Early Childhood Education services. The added bonus was that the father had a small business which suited our needs, so it was a beneficial meeting for all of us!”

Fair prices for products were also an important part of their research. “We looked at what people in our community needed and wanted,” says Sameli, “then focused on setting value-based pricing that’s fair to everyone, our suppliers and our customers.”

And they’re learning all the time. “We’ve started stocking quality used clothing for RSE workers who come in looking to buy warm clothes, and clothing that appeals to younger people too. We offer coconut oil made by a family in KatiKati, and recently supported a family to start making clothing from the fabrics which they purchase from the shop.

“There is strength in all of us together – progress for everyone through reciprocal relationships, and that’s one of our core values.”

Helping people to achieve their aspirations

AvaNiu Pasifika was set up in 2016 as a social enterprise, by Sameli and her family. “We knew that we could help Pacific people to achieve their dreams and aspirations by taking out the layers of bureaucracy and connecting them directly with the services they needed.

“We didn’t just want to dream our dream, so we walked our talk and were fortunate to have our faith and our own resources. We knew there were risks, and we mitigate that by having a strong core network of advisors.”

They were completely self-funded at first— even using their own assets to raise capital. “It’s like, we weren’t getting invited to sit at the table let alone into the tent, so we set up our own tent, and sooner or later people wanted to know what we were doing,” says Sameli. “We believed in ourselves and in our purpose, and we held our space, even when things got difficult.”

In 2020, when COVID-19 hit, Te Whatu Ora Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty (formerly the Bay of Plenty District Health Board) asked AvaNiu if they could help get messages out to Pacific people.

“This was such an opportunity,” says Sameli, “We could pave our own way and do our own thing based on the knowledge, skills and expertise we had.

“We knew what we were doing, and we knew we could do it best. That trust-based model was a big shift for small providers like us.

“We know our community and our community know us – we value the contribution of many and share our successes. By Pacific for Pacific works—we are both clinically responsive and culturally responsive, and that’s hugely important.”