Easter Isara and Elizabeth Westerlund studied Furniture and Cabinet Making together, and clicked instantly. They’re now best friends and encourage each other to use their practical skills to do good in the world.

They’re both Samoan and share a passion for hands-on work, but it’s something bigger that unites two women from Auckland.

When Elizabeth Westerlund and Easter Isara began studying Furniture and Cabinet Making (Level 4) at Unitec earlier this year, they clicked instantly. 

“We’ve pretty much been best friends ever since,” says Easter, aged 25. “We do everything together – in and out of school.”

Giving back

Strongly independent and proud of their Samoan heritage, the two women quickly discovered they also share a dream of being able to help others.  

“My heart is to give to the people,” says Elizabeth, a 26-year-old devout Christian.

“I want to use my skills to equip the poor. It’s about teaching them to fish rather than giving them the fish. I want to go wherever I’m needed in the world.”

Easter sums it up slightly differently.

“We both want to make a difference so I said to her, ‘Let’s do some damage for good in the world’.”

Building their skills

Both women grew up in Samoa but moved to New Zealand as teenagers to continue their education. 

They took various work and study paths before deciding to train as furniture- and cabinet-makers this year.

“I wanted a really solid job and I wanted to be better than I was so I thought I’d go back to school,” says Easter.

“I can draw, but to know that my hands can build something bigger than a drawing is awesome. I never knew how far my hands could go as far as being delicate or rough.”

Elizabeth, who’d already trained as an artist and wants to become an architect in the future, says learning a new skillset has stretched her.  

“It’s really different from art because with art you can just express yourself and do what you want. With cabinet making you have to be precise and your observation and listening skills have to be excellent, because you’re taking instructions.”

The two friends are constantly driving each other, says Easter.

“We push each other with everything. She talks to me about her goals and I push her to be what she wants to be, and she does the same for me.”

Easter and Elizabeth are both grateful to have their fees covered by a scholarship from Māori and Pasifika Trades Training Auckland.

“It’s great because when I studied last time it took four years to pay off that student loan. I know how it feels to be in debt so I was grateful and so happy to get this scholarship,” says Easter.

Hands-on experience

In September this year, the two got their first chance to ‘do some damage’ together by joining an MPTT Auckland team building cyclone-resistant homes for low-income families in Fiji.

Easter discovered that working on a building site is completely different to building furniture.

“Up here we’re using bigger hammers and bigger nails and the measurements don’t have to be so precise. But I’m loving it and now I want to do a building apprenticeship next year.”

Construction company Hadyn + Rollet kindly sponsored Elizabeth’s trip to Fiji.

“Thank you for your hearts, for giving me this opportunity to come here and give to other people,” she says.

Easter’s mission to Fiji was made possible by Unitec.  

“Thank you,” she says. “I really wasn’t expecting it but for them to sponsor me, I’m grateful and I’ll try my best not to let them down.”