One big step for the migrant dream

On a proud day for Lupe Kaufusi's parents, they got to see their daughter graduate from the same business school they both clean at 

It’s the migrant tale familiar to so many Pacifica kids: leaving the islands for a better education and life in New Zealand.

If it’s not your parents, or grandparents, it’s another relative, or an aunt and uncle of a friend who has moved south in search of greener pastures for the next generation.

For 22-year-old Lupe Kaufusi, last week marked a significant milestone in that journey - for her and her parents Mele and Kolini.

The Kaufusis, originally from Tonga, moved to Auckland 10 years ago. The shift took place when Lupe was 12 years old, and her older brother Sateki was 19.

“We really wanted to come over here for the education, for our children, especially Lupe,” Mele said.

It wasn’t an easy transition, and resulted in both Mele and Kolini taking up jobs as cleaners to provide for their kids. Before leaving Tonga, Kolini worked for the government while Mele ran her family’s dairy.

“It was a hard time for us because we left everything and everyone behind - my parents, and my sisters and brothers. Our life in Tonga was also very simple. We had our own four-bedroom house... and we would grow our own crops [like] taro, banana, and we had a little shop at home.”

The couple’s first jobs were in housekeeping at a hotel, and after three years of that, they took up work as cleaners at the University of Auckland Business School.

Watching their daughter cross the stage as a graduate of that school showed how much their leap of faith had paid off.

“We used to bring her with us at 5am and she’d use one of the rooms to study while we cleaned,” Mele said. “We couldn’t leave her at home [at the time] because there was no one there to look after her.”

Lupe, who graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting and Economics, also went to central city school Auckland Girls’ Grammar. It was far more practical to bring her into town early  than leave her at the family’s home in Manurewa for those early cleaning shifts, Mele said.

“We’re very proud of her, and the graduation is a first-time for us - our hearts are full of joy.”

The big week began with the official university graduation ceremony on the Monday. The Pacific graduation was on Wednesday, and it finished with a booming family party on Saturday,” Mele said.

Lupe, who is now looking for a job, said it was extra special to have her mother’s parents fly over from Tonga for the week. Her paternal grandparents live in Auckland, and have watched her progress over the years.

“It’s something that I’ve always dreamed of. Now, that it’s happened, it’s a really good feeling,” she said.

Seeing her parents in their jobs while she was a student was “a daily reminder” of how much her education meant to them, Lupe said.

“My aunty also works there [at the Business School]….and every now and then we’d [all] have breakfast or brunch together.

“To me, that all felt really normal - but last week, it was kind of surreal. Thinking that we moved all the way here and they did it for me and my brother, so that we could get a better life. To be able to fulfill that purpose was very emotional.”

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