Meet our Team
Behind the work that is demonstrated by Nga Vaka o Kāiga Tapu is an experienced team of people who are passionate about the work they do. Scroll below to find out more.
My name is Akesa Filimoehala-Burling and I spent the first 17 years of my life in the beautiful islands of Tonga. Growing up, my family operated a thriving hospitality business that had been serving the international market for over four decades. Tragically, this legacy was recently devastated by the Tongan tsunami.
My early years were immersed in the family business, where I learned the ropes and developed a strong work ethic. However, my thirst for knowledge led me to pursue further studies abroad, focusing on business and Project Management.
During the early stages of my career, I dedicated myself to serving Pacific communities in the Health sector, driven by a deep sense of responsibility and a desire to make a positive impact. My journey took me overseas for the almost 10 years and in 2016, I returned to New Zealand, determined to contribute to the betterment of my Pacific communities. I took on the role of leading Nga Vaka, a position that allows me to merge my cultural framework with my business professional expertise.
My upbringing, surrounded by my close-knit Tongan family, instilled in me strong faith and family values. These values continue to shape my journey, as I am deeply passionate about serving my Pacific communities. I envision a future where strong Pacific families thrive in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand, preserving their rich cultural heritage while embracing opportunities for growth and empowerment.
Communities of Practice Lead
I’m a first-gen Kiwi-Tongan, proud mom of two, a devoted wife deeply connected to East Auckland, with roots in Tongan villages like Houma, Matamaka, Tatakamotonga, and Folaha. My family’s dedication to culture and community continues to shape the Tongan community in the Maungakiekie area since the ’80s.
I hold an MA (Hons) in Education from UOA (2005) and recently attained the Master of Technological Futures (Emerging Disruptive Technology) at TechFutures/Mindlab in March 2023. I’m a certified NCALE trainer and qualified Food Safety specialist with international experience, and passionate lifelong learner.
With over 25 years of diverse experiences in community development, social justice, advocacy, civil rights, and adult education, I specialize in instructional design, program development, facilitation, research, start-ups. I’m involved in governance, and leadership outside my work at TCC. My expertise is centred in socioeconomics of cross-cultural diaspora identities within global paradigms and constraints, which was the focus of my 2005 master’s degree.
As the Communities of Practice Lead at TCC since April 2021, I oversee 8 community activation movements within the Nga Vaka programs, focusing on addressing family harm in specific Pacific ethnic communities under the Champions of Change initiative.
Beyond my career, my family and faith is my greatest treasure, and always actively contributing to the community. I strongly believe in being a ‘positive’ contributor to society, a principle I’ve inherited from my family and one I hold dear and bring to my role regularly. Faka’apa’atu atu.
As a child of the diaspora, I was born in Dharawal country, Sydney Australia, before my family relocated to Aotearoa when I was 17. My roots trace back to Kolomotu’a and Pukotala, Tonga, and today I call Ōtāhuhu, Tāmaki Makaurau home, where I live with my wife and three boys.
I currently serve as Programme Designer and Educator at The Cause Collective, where I play a role in supporting the Nga Vaka training programmes and the development of our online learning platform. It is a privilege to be part of a team that is dedicated to strengthening the skills of our workforce, aiding Pasifika families affected by family violence.
Throughout my career, I have gained diverse experiences working in alternative and adult education, as well as working in learning and development within the corporate sector. My transition from the corporate world to social change is driven by a profound desire to leverage my expertise to tackle pressing social challenges and contribute to a more equitable and compassionate society.
I am deeply committed to this cause, and I am excited to continue working alongside The Cause Collective in our shared mission to create positive and lasting change within our communities.
My name is Manu Talaloa Sesalina Otutaha – Bennett, I am of Tongan descent, my parents hail from Falaleu Vavau and Ma’ufanga. I was raised in Kingsland in my early years than my parents moved to the North Shore where we continue to reside.
My most cherished roles are those of a devoted mother to four wonderful children and a nana to two precious grandchildren. Being a part of their lives brings me joy, and spending quality time with them is my favourite thing.
In February 2020, I embarked on this journey with The Cause Collective. My role involves supporting and coordinating the Nga Vaka o Kaiga Tapu training programmess and engaging with the community through the Champions of Change initiative. Drawing from my extensive experience working with parishes and implementing church activities and programs within the Catholic Diocese, transitioning into this space felt like a natural evolution.
It allows me to continue my lifelong commitment to serving our people, our families, and our communities.
A Māori proverb that has always resonated deeply with me is, “What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.” This proverb reminds me daily of the significance of our communities and the positive impact we can create together.
Working alongside an incredible, dedicated team who share my passion for promoting positive change has been an absolute privilege.
Kia ora and Talofa, my name is Iulia Leilua and I’m of Samoan (Fusi, Safotulafai) and Māori (Ngāti Hāua, Ngāti Hekeāwai) descent. I was born and bred in Taumarunui and went to boarding school at St Joseph’s Māori Girls’ College in Napier. I first started telling Pacific stories in 1987 as a founding member of the TV show Tagata Pasifika. I later worked as Head of News for Pacific Media Network and had a successful career as a Māori current affairs reporter at Māori Television. I have also run my own Māori and Pacific communications consultancy since 2001.
Today I help Nga Vaka and the Champions of Change tell amazing stories of transformation from eight ethnic Pacific communities. It’s inspiring working with communities who are passionate about changing social conditions for their peoples. My work is done remotely from Taumarunui where I moved back to in 2022 for family reasons. I feel joyful and privileged when I edit the videos and stories for Nga Vaka’s website and the music, cultures, languages and interviews that we’ve recorded fill the house. I look forward to meeting you all when I travel up to our next event.