Getting to Know Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban

May 28th 2020

This week is Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa / Samoan Language Week and we were lucky enough to catch up over a caffe latte with Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban, Assistant Vice Chancellor (Pasifika) here at the University. Former Member of Parliament and Labour Party spokesperson for Pacific Island Affairs, we chatted to Dame Winnie about her future plans for Pasifika students here at VUW, her passion for education and the benefits of bilingual reading. 

What’s your day job?

Assistant Vice Chancellor (Pasifika). My job is to build Pasifika student and staff success.

What's your connection to Vic Books?

I buy books, I drink the coffee and I meet lots of people for breakfast at Vic Books.

Tell us a little about the project you're currently working on.

The Fale Malae, a 21st Century Pasifika meeting house, is my ‘big’ project. It will be a place of belonging for Pacific peoples and all New Zealanders. Watch this space!

Tell us a little about your favourite project so far. 

Education is my passion. I love to see the joy of Pasifika students and their families at VUW's Pasifika Graduation Celebrations.

The theme for this year's Samoan Language Week is 'Tapena sou ōso mo lau malaga'. What's the significance of travel in this year's theme?

Ole foa’i fa’aSamoa e ta’amilo ma fetalia’i e foa’i atu ae tali mai. (Giving is reciprocal.)

How important are language weeks now? Shouldn't the celebration and support of Pacific language be an everyday thing?

We celebrate our Samoan language every day. 

What are the benefits of bilingualism?

Linguist Bernard Spolsky’s research demonstrates that bilingualism has clear cognitive advantages for children and for older adults. Language and identity are closely linked.

This year's budget has a $195m package dedicated to the Pasifika community. $80.2m has yet to be allocated to education projects. Where should language feature in this?

Language is key, but Pasifika tertiary students also need support.

What are you reading at the moment?

Hell and Other Destinations by Madeleine Albright.

Are you enjoying it? Why?

Yes. Madeline Albright has a clear moral compass that has steered her actions in tough situations throughout a long life of public service.

What are your Samoan reading recommendations?

Everything by Albert Wendt. Tusiata Avia’s poetry and short stories.

Which literary character do you most identify with and why?

The ‘sisters’ in the work of Audre Lorde. Bell Hooks and Maya Angelou.

Hardback or paperback?

Hardback.

Best thing about working from home?

The food.

Black or white coffee? What kind of milk?

Caffe latte.