May 31, 2024

Serving in love: Celebrating Samoan Language Week with our Senior Pacific Advisor

Cartoon image of a man showing his arm where he received a vaccination

Meet our Senior Pacific Advisor, Dr Ellaine Ete-Rasch

As Samoan Language Week comes to a close, we talk to IMAC's Senior Pacific Advisor Dr Ellaine Ete-Rasch, who grew up in Samoa and moved to New Zealand in the mid-1990s.

She started her nursing schooling in Samoa and completed post-graduate nursing studies in NZ. She was a COVID-19 nursing educator with IMAC before being appointed to the role of IMAC Senior Pacific Advisor.

Here, she celebrates Samoan Language Week (26 May to 1 June) and its the theme of 'serve in love'; and talks about the challenges and achievements in immunisation in the NZ Samoan community.


Please tell us about your role with IMAC

Talofa lava. My role provides Pacific strategic advice and expertise, cultural advice, and support to IMAC as well as engagement with Pacific providers and the wider Pacific vaccinator workforce. Prior to this role, I was the nurse educator for the Pacific Health Corridor project, supporting Pacific vaccinators in Pacific realm countries plus Tonga, Samoa and Fiji during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Why is it important for us to maintain and grow the Samoan language?

Gagana Samoa is the third most spoken language in Aotearoa, following English and Te Reo Māori, and the second most spoken language in Auckland after English. With the growth of the Samoan population in New Zealand, it is even more important to support the next Samoan generations to speak their Samoan language confidently and with pride.

Health literacy is an important factor for poor health. It is a broader topic than just speaking the language. However, good understanding of the language helps us serve our communities effectively. Using basic Samoan words can help build relationships. It shows that a person is making an effort to learn and build a relationship.


What have been some of the challenges and achievements you have seen in immunisation in the NZ Samoan community in recent years?

With the support from the health sector, Samoan communities were active and worked hard during COVID-19 to ensure their families and communities were well protected through vaccination. It’s that Samoan spirit and determination you can count on during difficult times.

We know that Samoan people are the largest ethnic Pacific group in New Zealand, accounting for almost half (48.7%) of the Pacific population here.

In the early 1900s, immunisation rates for Pacific children in New Zealand were very low. However substantial improvements were noticed in the 2007/2009 immunisation rates where Pacific children aged 2 years achieved 85% of those who were fully immunised.

Childhood immunisation coverage in general has deteriorated post-COVID and is well below the target of 95% - this is the same for Pacific children and is very concerning. It’s a challenge I believe can be remedied by regaining the trust of communities and working closely with them.


What are three Samoan words that would be helpful for people working immunisation to start out with?

  • Immunisation/vaccination – Tui puipui
  • Measles – Misela
  • Protect – Puipui

How do you think we can apply this year’s Samoan Language Week theme ('Tautua i le alofa, manuia le lumana’i – Serve in love for a blessed future) to the work we do in immunisation?

Nursing and vaccination work is all about serving our communities to protect them from vaccine preventable illnesses and infectious diseases. The theme for the Samoan Language Week for this year aligns with the core of the nursing profession, which is service. We serve with love with the intention of nurturing or improving something. Improving immunisation rates is a priority for all communities in New Zealand.

During COVID-19, despite the difficult situations and long working hours nurses and vaccinators found themselves in, I believe that ‘sense of love’ was the driving force to continue working to ensure New Zealanders are protected. I helped out in one or two COVID-19community vaccination events and I had never felt so tired in many years.

With the challenging low immunisation coverage New Zealand is facing, the Samoan language theme of 'Tautua i le alofa, manuia le lumana’i – Serve in love for a blessed future’ is a good reminder to all of us to serve our communities well and aim for improved coverage. A healthy community is a blessed community.


Ia manuiale vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa 2024 (Happy Samoan Language Week 2024)