Graduate aims to build financial literacy in Pacific communities

Victoria Ongolea wants to prevent financial hardship among Pasifika in Aotearoa, encouraging leadership in financial literacy.

Victoria Ongolea graduates with a Master of Social and Community Leadership
Victoria Ongolea graduates with a Master of Social and Community Leadership

From the va of Tonga and Papua New Guinea, Victoria Ongolea (Lapaha, Ma’ufanga, Niuatoputapu, Highlands – Simbu Province) graduated from Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work, with a Master of Social and Community Leadership on 3 May.

Victoria will soon begin her doctorate in philosophy at the University, where she hopes to build financial literacy and leadership among Pasifika in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Her thesis, The Relationship between social well-being and financial well-being of the New Zealand Tongan Community, explores how wealth is measured from a Tongan perspective, and how forms of wealth need to be valued through the lens of cultural imperatives and norms.

It’s aimed to address how Tongans in New Zealand protect and build their social well-being, honouring social norms and the expectations of their families and communities, and how this impacts their financial well-being, security and stability.

The inspiration to do her masters came from her observations as a financial mentor working in east Auckland when she first arrivedfrom Tonga in 2015.

“I worked at Tāmaki Budgeting, a not-for-profit organisation. I witnessed first-hand the struggles my fellow Pasifika people are facing in terms of financial hardship and indebtedness,” she says.

“Most of my clients were of Pasifika background, various islands of the Pacific. One of the common reasons they came to us was because of financial hardship.

“I want to educate people about assets, investments, and debt, because right now our people are being taken advantage of.”

Victoria says that financing and loan companies are often situated in vulnerable areas of East and South Auckland whose main residents are Pacific Islanders.

She is now with Good Shepherd New Zealand, working as a team leader for the ‘DebtSolve’ programme, and working with financial wellbeing coaches to help families on low-income all over the country.

For many Pacific economies, including Tonga, financial wealth is just one aspect of well-being and non-financial factors are equally, if not more important, says Victoria.

“These factors are relationship- oriented and include loyalty and the preservation and honouring of relationships with friends and families, as well as participation in the wider community.”

Victoria says identity and self-worth are strongly anchored to the ritual economy (such as the making and gifting of ngatu) and not the cash economy. The traditional wealth of the Tongan community such as textile wealth (koloa) is a significant form of globally transferred wealth, which might be overlooked if the focus is primarily on the movement of cash and consumer goods.

Victoria’s PhD research and continuation of building financial literacy will involve implementing solutions she’s gained from her masters, and ensuring Tongan cultural values are upheld.

“To me [the masters degree] is a seed that is planted. It will bear enough fruit to feed my village today and tomorrow.”

Victoria Ongolea and her father who she credits all her success to.
Victoria credits all her hard work and success to her father, Maleko Ongolea Lefai.

She credits her hard work to her father, who raised her and three of her sisters on his own.

“Growing up we didn’t have much, our source of income was from his plantation. He went to Papua New Guinea to study agriculture and spent over 20 years there. My mother and our oldest sister remained there, but dad crossed the oceans with four of us to Tonga where he raised us."

She says he didn’t earn much using his degree to work as a teacher, so he became his own boss at the plantation, selling crops to put food on the table.

“His priority for us was to have an education. He pushed and encouraged us. He told us to study and showed us how to be independent.

“After I got my bachelors, I promised myself that I’d get my masters because of his encouragement. This one’s for dad.”

For everyone waiting to cross the finish line, or to those who wish to pursue their studies, Victoria says: “With God, nothing is impossible.”

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