Celebrating International Women’s Day 2017 with the Pacific Women’s Professional and Business Network in New South Wales, Australia

The inaugural “Celebrate Brilliance” event was hosted by the Pacific Women’s Professional and Business Network (PWPBN) in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on Saturday 25th March 2017 in association with International Women’s Day 2017. PWPBN inspired a commitment of over 100 women who attended the event in celebration and recognition of the achievements of Pacific women within the field of business and other professions in New South Wales, Australia.

Melissa Malu Baleilekutu (Manager of ADRA Community Centre) and I had travelled to Castle Hill where this event took place and we arrived at the venue that morning with great enthusiasm. We were greeted by the young executives of PWPBN who then led us into the function room. The tables were adorned with Pacific accents and each table was labelled with a name which reaffirmed the various attributes women possess. We knew that we were going to have a positive experience and indeed we did.

IMG_9119The “Celebrate Brilliance” event program included an inspiring line up of Pacific women who shared their experiences, gifts of song and poetry, including words of encouragement. The event began with an opening prayer led by Margaret Nekaere-Cowan (President of the Australian Cook Island Council) in her native tongue which was accompanied with an English translator. Next the Master of Ceremony for the event, Robyn Loau (Artist/SingerActress), was introduced onto the stage where she led the event program with poise and eloquence.


What took place next had me welling up with tears. Four young executives of PWPBN, Rosaline Chantaè Parker, Winnie Dunn, Tiana Echegaray and Selai Rokotuiwai, each walked from the back of the room, weaving in between the tables at which all the guests were seated at, towards the stage reciting a stanza each from my poem “A Woman of Strength”. Once the young executives arrived at the stage, the Founder and Lead Executive Donina Va’a recited the final stanza of the poem. “A Woman of Strength” was a piece that I had written which was inspired by Mother. Although my Mother is in New Zealand; in that particular moment, it felt as if she too was in the room. I felt truly honoured.

IMG_9118In following, a heart-warming tribute was made to the late Dr. Teresia Teaiwa as she was recognised by the PWBPN as a Pacific woman of global influence. Earlier that week, the news that Dr. Teresia Teaiwa had passed away saddened many around the world and this was reflected by the numerous tributes shared in the media and on social media about the impact that her life has had on others. She was a trailblazer whom I greatly admired and I appreciate her for the support that she had shown me. She will be sorely missed. May she rest in peace.


I was then introduced onto the stage by Robyn Loau. Teary-eyed, I approached the stage and placed my speech on the lectern. I took a deep breath in and as I exhaled, I looked out into the room filled with Grandmothers, Mothers, Aunties, sisters, daughters and nieces, and an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude came over me. I was honoured and truly humbled to have received an invitation to be the Chief Guest Speaker for this event. In my speech, I reflected on parts of my journey and I shared that sometimes obstacles or challenges arise, whether we had expected it to or not and when they do it can become quite discouraging. However, it is in these moments we are always presented with two options 1) to give up and walk away or 2) to trust the process and keep moving forward. More often than not, I would choose the latter and in doing so, I have kept in prayer trusting that God will continue to lead the way. I hope that my experiences had positively impacted those who were in attendance.


Kittu Rhandawa (an Independent Candidate for the Blacktown City Council) was also a special guest speaker for this event and she shared her experiences within her field of work which were both inspiring and thought-provoking. She is a fierce woman armed with a lot of passion. The guest performers included Rosie Gibbons (Singer/Writer/Actress), ‘Ana Fifita (Mezzo Soprano Singer) and Kiarateuila Mckibbins (Artist/Singer/Actress). These women blew us away. Each of their performances filled the room including all of our hearts with their beautiful gifts and talents. Their contributions were a blessing indeed.


The panelists were Lesley Ieremia (Director of InterContinental Hotels Group), Maryjane McKibbins-Schewenke (Founder/Director of Matavai Cultural Arts) and Paulina Fusitu’a (Senior Lawyer with the Australian Government Solicitors). These women are extraordinary. They shared their narratives including their successes and the various challenges that they have overcome within their respective fields. At this point of the program, I could not hold back my tears. Particularly when Maryjane McKibbins-Schewenke shared her most challenging moments, it resonated with me. The cultural performances were by Matavai Cultural Arts and while this was not the first time I have seen the young children and youth perform, they continue to captivate the room with such grace, passion and love for their/our culture from around the South Pacific. Their performances were absolutely beautiful.


The “Celebrate Brilliance” event program concluded with an awards presentation which saw the following women who were recognised for their achievements and contributions either to their peers, or a women’s movement, or their chosen field or a local Pacific community:
· Elianna Walton – Pacific International Runway Award
· Lani Tuitavake – Outstanding Mother Award
· Jasmine Samuel Mata – IMG Pacific Young Woman
· Selena Short-Afeaki – Pacific Business Woman 2017
· Fatai Slender – Hall of Fame Award
· MaryJane McKibbins-Schewenke – Pacific Woman 2017 Award


Congratulations to all the award winners. Thank you for being trailblazers so that my generation and the next have brilliant examples to follow.

I came away from this event feeling positive, encouraged and blessed. The key messages that resonated with me centres on determination, resilience and passion. What I have gained as a result of this event is a wonderful and an empowering community of supportive women here in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. A sisterhood that I am grateful and honoured to have. I applaud Donina Va’a for having the courage to act on the vision that she had of bringing Pacific women together, to connect, engage and inspire. I am also grateful for Seini Afeaki, Alisa Peacock and Fatai Slender, who continue to provide their support and guidance for the next generation of Pacific women professionals here in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The PWPBN NSW “Celebrate Brilliance” breakfast was a marvellous event in association with International Women’s Day 2017.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you have enquiries about this blog please use the contact tab on the homepage to send in your message or feel free to comment below. Kind regards, Dr. Maryanne Pale.


For more information about PWPBN, please contact the Lead Executive/Founder Donina Va’a on:
Email: pacificwomenpbn@gmail.com
Mobile: (+61) 0470 582 415

For more photos from the event, please visit Silent Kay Photography’s Facebook page using this link here: https://www.facebook.com/silentkayphotography/

“We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood.”

– Dr. Teresia Teaiwa

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