Local elections are being held via postal vote all over New Zealand from September 20 until October 12. Lei Shi has profiled four Pasifika candidates in the Auckland elections. Today’s candidate is Kayla Filimoehala from the Mana Party, who is standing for the Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board election, which coincides with the mayoral, council and the district health board elections.
Report – By Lei Shi
She thought she would never be interested in politics, because it seemed so remote from her reality.
However this year, 19-year-old Kayla Filimoehala becomes the youngest Mana Party candidate.
The teen candidate for the Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board says she wants to change the policies that have affected her and many other young people in the neighbourhood so adversely.
We meet at her parental home in Mangere. This neighbourhood is quite a change of scene if you come from Auckland’s CBD, where high-rise buildings and modern villas are replaced by a carpet of bungalows.
At the end of the drive-way, a lime tree loaded with small green fruits tells people that spring has come. Never judge a citrus by its size – it can be just as telling.
Political life begins
Filimoehala is dressed as if she is ready for a run, only without shoes on.
Talking about her neighbourhood she says she is “not happy with how things are going round here”.
“There needs to be a lot of changes made for us to progress as a community, and we deserve more than what we are getting now.”
The 19-year-old was approached by another Pasifika candidate to stand for this election, namely James Papali’i. He told her about the possibility to stand for the Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board, which she gladly accepted.
“A lot of people are quite interested in why I got into politics, but really I just wanted more opportunities for the youths round here.”
Housing and youth
She thinks that more jobs, facilities, and affordable housing are urgently needed in her community.
Filimoehala also says she wants more money to be invested by the Council in youth communities in poorer suburbs.
“The voters will look for stability and what benefit them most. People should look into policies instead of looking for what they know.
“I never used to look into politics, but now I realise that it affects everyone, not just older generations but the young ones as well,” the young candidate says.
Filimoehala says she does not expect to be looked after just because she is the youngest candidate.
On the contrary, she expects a “bumpy ride”.
“Some people don’t take me seriously because I’m young, and it’s quite hard being the youngest, but I’m different and I have a lot of support from Mana and my family.”
From politics to home
She may be the youngest Mana Party candidate, but in her house she is the second oldest girl – second only to mum.
“I come from a big family. There are seven of us and I’m the oldest girl. This is our family home. It’s a 5-bedroom house, so it’s not too crowded as some you see on TV.”
Filimoehala is half Tongan and half Pākehā.
“It’s good for me to do something for the Tongan community, but also for other ethnic communities as well. I think we have to look at our community as one, not separate ethnic groups.”
She studied at her local Southern Cross School and subsequently did a two-year hairdressing course.
“It’s quite hard to break into the industry. I’m still doing my hairdressing, and I was recently working in Manukau as a receptionist. But that business didn’t go well so I came back. I am still looking for work,” she tells Pacific Scoop.
When she is at home she says she loves to cook for her family. Roast chicken Kayla-style is not an uncommon Sunday dinner in the Filimoehala family.
No drivers licence
It might be hard for Kayla Filimoehala to get to the supermarket though, especially if she is going far away as the Mana Party candidate does not have a car.
“I don’t drive and don’t have a car. It’s quite hard not to have a stable income.
“I want to get full-time work, get a car, and possibly look at flatting instead of living in family home. I want to become more independent.”
It seems changes and more independence is imminent in Kayla’s personal life. However, Kayla also thinks she has some good ideas on positive change in her community.
There haven’t been a lot of changes here apart from more fast-food restaurants, and we haven’t even got a gym around here.
We need things to get people active, places where people can go and facilities to hang out and meet their needs.
I know it’s gonna take a long time, but it would be good to see changes happen sooner rather than later.
Speaking in public
Talking about her personal changes during the campaign, she says the hardest thing for her has been standing up to speak in public, because she had been shy.
“But it’s opened me up a lot, to get over that barrier. Now I really enjoy listening to others and also getting everyone to listen to me.”
Filimoehala recently featured on TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika programme, something she says she did not look forward to watching.
“At first I didn’t wanna watch it, because it was the first time seeing myself on video, and I was quite nervous.
“But after I watched it, I was quite happy about myself because I said what I wanted to say and I was being myself. I thought my brothers and sisters would make fun of me, but they didn’t. They are quite supportive.”
She says she also wants to see the stereotype of South Auckland change.
“There are lots of talents around here, but many of them are unseen.
“The communities just need a push to the right direction, so if we got facilities there would be no excuses for people to slack off.”
These words are simple, but come from a 19-year-old girl who is determined to make a difference for herself and her community.
Lei Shi is a Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism student at AUT University writing for Pacific Scoop.