Pau Tato put his dream of being a builder on hold for 20 years to support his family. Now he’s well on his way to being qualified, and has recently helped build homes for low-income families in Fiji.

From the day he left school, Pau Tato knew he wanted to be a builder.

But he put that dream on hold for nearly 20 years to support his family – first his parents, then his own children – by doing everything from selling beds to packaging raw chicken.

“I’ve always wanted to be a builder but I hadn’t taken the leap because if I went to study, I wouldn’t have been able to provide for my family.”

Pau finally saw his chance last year after leaving his joinery job in Brisbane, where he’d been living for 11 years.

“The building industry went though a recession and that made me look at coming home to get qualified,” he says.

Building skills

The 35-year-old Samoan Kiwi returned to Auckland with his family and began a Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4) at Unitec in February.

“It’s been awesome. I’ve only got one more paper to do. My tutors have been amazing.

“I work on my days off and there are things we’re doing on site that I don’t understand but when I come to school the tutors explain it.”

Pau’s wife Nicky has a good career at Auckland Council so could help support the family, but he still wasn’t sure how he’d pay the course fees – until he learned about the MPTT Auckland scholarship.

“I really wanted the scholarship because I knew I couldn’t afford the course without it. My wife works but we wouldn’t be able to live on one income with four kids.”

Pau applied for the scholarship but didn’t expect to get it.

“When I got the letter, I was over the moon. I was thrilled. I was like, ‘That’s one less debt I have to worry about’.”

Family time

Apart from a love of building, Pau also wanted a formal tertiary education to set an example to his four children, aged between 3 and 12.

“I always used to tell my kids ‘education, education, education’. I thought if I could go back to school it would help me set the example.”

“My wife Nicky played a big part in the decision too. She was the one driving it, telling me, ‘Go back to school and do what you want’.”

Opportunity knocks

Pau got another surprise this year when he was accepted to join a team of MPTT Auckland trainees who volunteered to build cyclone-resistant homes in Fiji.

Devastated by Cyclone Winston earlier this year, many parts of Fiji are still in ruin. The MPTT team partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for two low-income families in a village near Nadi.

“When I heard about the trip I thought I had no chance. To get that letter, I was grateful and humbled,” he says.

“I’m really grateful to Marin Construction, who sponsored me to come on this trip. I’d really like to thank them for allowing me to have this experience of a lifetime.”

It’s Pau’s first time in Fiji, and he says it’s given him the chance to make some good friends from different trades.

“I’m here to do a job though,” he says.

Next year, he’ll begin an apprenticeship and a Diploma in Carpentry.

“I’m really enjoying this journey in the building industry. I’m going to chase the papers because I’m 35 and not planning to stay on the hammer too long. If I carry on with the diploma, I can maybe become a site manager one day.”

It may have taken nearly two decades, but Pau is finally living his dream.