It was early in her medical career in Wellington when psychiatric nurse, Sailosa Kabireira, was able to speak to one of her patients in her native language of Kiribati. It was a memorable moment for Sailosa because she saw how the familiarity of the language they shared helped break down her patient’s barriers.
“I felt very proud to be able to help my people where I work. It was a great honour and rewarding to help someone who was vulnerable and needed a lot of help.”
Sailosa, a member of the Pasifika Medical Association, recalls the incident in celebration of Kiribati Language Week. This year’s theme is 'Ribanan te Taetae ni Kiribati e Kateimatoa ara Katei ao Kinakira' which in English means 'Nurturing Kiribati language promotes our Cultural Identity and Heritage'.
Sailosa is a nurse at a mental health regional forensic and rehabilitation unit in Wellington. She’s so passionate about her culture that she took this entire week off work just so she could promote the Kiribati language within her community.
“We started the week celebrating at mass by singing hymns in Kiribati. I was also involved in a flag raising ceremony of the Kiribati flag at the Porirua council. I’ve also helped with workshops and storytelling sessions in the language. So it’s been very busy.”
Sailosa came to New Zealand in 2004 to study and eventuality moved here with her husband and their six children.
“We decided that New Zealand is a good place for our family, in terms of education, good health systems and the clean environment.”
But like many Pacific families who move to New Zealand, she had to sacrifice being away from their homeland and its culture. That is why it’s important to celebrate the language, in order to retain their traditions here in New Zealand, she says. The dedicated nurse and mother has also kept her culture alive in the home by speaking the Kiribati language to her children.
“We encourage this at home just so our children understand where they come from. I love the Kiribati language. It’s simple and very beautiful.”
Another Pasifika Medical Association member - Dr Celine Sinclair, was born in Kiribati and works at the emergency department at Dunedin Hospital. Although she’s lived in many countries from a young age, she’s proud to speak her language of Kiribati fluently.
“It helps us to connect to our land and our people. I thank my mum for teaching me and maintaining the language at home.”