March 29, 2013

Standing Up for New Zealand’s Marginalized Communities

As a participant in the 2011 Community Activism and Minority Rights International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), Reverend Uesifili Unasa of New Zealand was invited to stand on the exact spot at the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. “I was moved,” says Rev. Unasa, “by the audacity of the speaker and by the people who marched to Washington on that day – who dared to dream of a different America where all people are equal.”

Inspired by Dr. King’s example, Rev. Unasa returned to New Zealand and mobilized New Zealand’s various Pacific Island - or Pasifika - communities to make their social, economic, political, and cultural concerns known. The outcome was “The Advance Pasifika March for Our Future” in June 2012, the first ever Pan-Pacific march in New Zealand to raise awareness on issues such as poverty, education, underachievement, discrimination, unemployment, and the marginalization felt by some Pasifika people in New Zealand.

In 2011, Rev. Unasa was appointed the Chairperson of the Auckland Mayor’s Pacific People’s Advisory Panel, a prominent role in the world’s largest Pasifika city. Through this role, he continues to support many of New Zealand’s marginalized communities, applying concepts he explored during his IVLP. In this role, Rev. Unasa organized a dialogue that brought together Pasifika church leaders, politicians, community groups, and members of New Zealand’s LGBT communities to learn from each other and share their often-divided perspectives on gay marriage. He is also active in the Living Wage campaign, which seeks fair wages for unskilled and manual laborers. He organized Pasifika community consultations on the government’s constitutional review that is currently underway. Working with a Maori Anglican vicar, a Fijian Indian Muslim academic, and New Zealand’s Children’s Commissioner, Rev. Unasa drafted and launched the Interfaith National Settlement against Violence campaign for women and children, which was signed by more than 40 faith-based organizations and national leaders.

Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Throughout April, Rev. Unasa’s work will be recognized on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official website for the more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.