When 14-year-old Alofia moved with her family from Samoa to Auckland, she thought it was the start of a great adventure.
“I was worried about leaving my family and my friends, but my parents said New Zealand was a land of great opportunities and I would grow up to be strong and prosperous,” she says.
Excited and scared, Alofia was only in New Zealand for two weeks before she started at her new school – one of the biggest in the country.
“I quickly realised I was very different,” she says. “I did well at my school in Samoa, but a small country school in Samoa is not the same as a big city school in New Zealand.”
Alofia found it hard to make friends
Falling behind in her school work, Alofia found it hard to make friends and started to get teased by some of the other students in her classes.
“They made fun of the way I talked, the way I counted on my fingers, and, especially, the way I prayed before I had my morning tea or lunch. They didn’t understand my customs and I was very hurt.”
While school continued to be a challenge, Alofia was lucky, because she had somewhere else she belonged.
“My family and I joined a local Samoan church, and there were a lot of brown faces just like mine!” she laughs.
“But no, it wasn’t about their skin colour. They talked like me and we believed the same things. I realised my faith could give me strength, it was not just a reason to tear me down.”
Alofia gradually rebuilt her confidence
Finding comfort in her prayers and the classes at her church, Alofia gradually rebuilt her confidence.
“One of the other girls from my church began to tutor me in maths and English. I studied hard and began to catch up and this made me feel better about myself. I started walking to school with some of the girls who live near me and it wasn’t long before they were my true friends.”
Two years on, Alofia has a group of friends who understand what it’s like to live in two cultures and support her when she’s having a bad day.
“I know I am a lucky girl, I have my family, my faith and now my friends. Coming to New Zealand was a blessing, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. Being bullied and teased didn’t just make me sad; I began to feel that I was a stupid person or that my beliefs were wrong. I found strength in my community and in realising that I have a place with them.
“I know also that I had something to teach the other kids at my school. They learned I was not so different and maybe I made it easier for the next kid who came along from a different country.
"Now, they are just curious – ‘What’s that you’re eating?’ ‘Why does your dad wear a skirt to church?’ – these are good questions, they help us to learn about each other. I know there is no unkindness behind it.”
Alofia’s top tips for someone who is being bullied are:
- Find people who are like you and confide in them. Even if they can’t help, it’s good to talk.
- If you are a religious person, go to your church, or place of worship, and take comfort in being part of that community.
- Have faith that it will get better, nothing is ever hopeless.