Start small, dream big!

Start small, dream big!

Kilisi Palu
  • Full-time teacher, Pīwaka Early Learning Centre

After arriving in New Zealand in 2012 from Tonga, Kilisi Palu knew she wanted to start a new career and further her education by gaining a qualification.

Seeking out distance study options, Kilisi came across Open Polytechnic’s early childhood programmes. She now works full-time with the Auckland-based centre where she completed her practicum.

Fresh start

Kilisi arrived in New Zealand as a 34-year-old with her husband looking for a new life.

“When I left Tonga I knew I wanted to leave my job as a police officer and start a new career. After high school I wanted to get a higher education but due to financial and family commitments, I didn’t have the time and I had to go to work to look after my family. That was my life in the islands.”

Kilisi knew that she wanted to begin a career in early childhood, saying “I loved being around kids and being a babysitter for my family’s children. I was good with kids so I knew I wanted to work with them.”


Hungry for knowledge

Keen to get her career underway, she looked at tertiary study options. “New Zealand opened doors for me, but in my first few years I wasn’t eligible to apply for a student loan.”

Motivated to undertake some form of education in the meantime, Kilisi sought out the available options. “I knew I had to start small, so I enrolled with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in their fees free courses. I got a Level 3 NZ Certificate in Computing and a Level 3 Certificate in Business, hoping it would help me while I wait until I can do further study,” Kilisi says.

After completing the courses, Kilisi started working as a home-based early childhood provider in 2015. “I wanted to be able to work from home and do something for my family. But even with my experience, I wanted a professional qualification that taught me how to look after children. That’s when I came across the Open Polytechnic and read the graduate stories. They provided everything I wanted,” she says.

Kilisi enjoyed the learning materials from Open Polytechnic for the New Zealand Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Care, finding them very helpful for her studies. “It helped me with English as a second language, so I loved reading the materials they provided.”


Motivation to continue

During times of difficulty, it was Kilisi’s faith that motivated her to continue. “I had an experience where there was a subject I was stuck on. I continued reading and reading, but I wasn’t getting it and I felt like I wanted to quit and give up. It’s late at night and I’m looking at my screen and I feel like I’m starting to cry.”

“I go to sleep and I have a dream. A man whispered into my ear a scripture from the bible, John 14:1 [Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me]. I kept repeating the verse in my head so I’ll remember it. When he started to depart, he whispered another verse from that chapter. I woke up straight away and I found my bible and the verse, John 14:6 – “Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man come unto the Father, but by me.”

“That verse answered all my questions. From that day forward everything fell into place and I completed the diploma. That verse helps me in whatever I’m doing in life. When I feel struggle, I remember these verses. It keeps me going and strengthens me in everything I do.” 

Living her dream

As part of her diploma studies, Kilisi undertook her practicum at the Pīwaka Early Childhood Centre in Auckland. It was her first time working with others in an early childhood learning environment.

“They welcomed me to their family and looked after me very well, and that helped me to complete my practicum. I thought if I have a chance to work in early childhood education, I want to work in that centre.”

After completing her final trimester with Open Polytechnic in July 2019, Kilisi approached Pīwaka to see if she could join the centre as a relief teacher which they were happy to agree to. She was excited, commenting, “I grew up in a strong cultural and spiritual background, so I can feel where I belong. I knew this is the place for me, this is where I want to work.” During 2020 Kilisi was hired at the centre as a full-time teacher.


Support network

 Kilisi’s husband and aunty have been her number one supporters during her studies. Her family is excited for her graduation, with family in Tonga and Australia planning to attend.

“Every day my family connects over group chat. They encourage me in my study but also remind me to have a break, get some fresh air, and don’t sit too long. They’re always giving me different advice that encourages me in what I’m doing,” she says.

Kilisi also found great support in Open Polytechnic’s early childhood education regional lecturers Fleur Hohaia-Rollinson and Mary-Liz Broadley.

“Fleur and Mary-Liz have been very great teachers. I admire them and what they’re doing – they always encouraged and supported me with my studies. They motivated me to complete my diploma and work towards the degree.


“Start small, dream big”

Commenting on her earlier years back home in Tonga, Kilisi says half of her siblings moved to Nuku'alofa to continue their studies, while the other half stayed at home.

“Losing loved ones and sickness in the family makes us children sacrifice to support one another. Some of my siblings were able to earn a degree and I always dreamt of having a higher qualification like them.

After gaining her diploma, she’s motivated to get her degree next. “I look at a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt ‘the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams’ and I think of that girl on a small island. I think of the journey of an island girl in the South Pacific all the way to New Zealand, where I have been able to fulfil my dreams.”

For others looking to study, Kilisi says, “Start with what you’re capable of then see how that works for you. You can build on it one step at a time. It depends on your circumstances but I truly believe if you start small and dream big it will happen.”

I look at a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt ‘the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams’ and… I think of the journey of an island girl in the South Pacific all the way to New Zealand, where I have been able to fulfil my dreams.