Growing up in a small Pacific Island nation, Ineleo fell in love with carpentry while helping to build a new school. Now he’s building a future for his family as he earns his qualification in New Zealand.

Leaving the tiny island nation of Tokelau to train as a builder in New Zealand has come with major sacrifices for Ineleo Tefono.

The 25-year-old has not seen his wife and two young sons – nor has he tasted freshly-caught yellowfin tuna – for nearly 10 months.

But Ineleo knows he’s working towards a qualification that will set his family up for life.

“My plan is to train and then get a job as a builder and save enough money to bring my family over. Then, maybe after six years, I will have enough to go home and build my own house in Tokelau,” he says.

“By then my kids will have learned English too.”

Getting schooled

Growing up in Tokelau Fakaofo, one of the country’s three atolls, Ineleo fell in love with carpentry while helping to build a new school.

In fact, he enjoyed that job so much he named his first son after the school.

“Our baby was born on the same day we opened the school so we named him Tialeniu (which means ‘baby coconut’), the same name as the school,” he says.

“After we opened the school I realised it was a good time for me to go and do a course.”

Ineleo is now doing his Level 4 Certificate in Carpentry at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT). His course is funded by a scholarship from Māori and Pasfika Trades Training: Auckland.

Island hopping

Coming to New Zealand in February 2016 was a big eye-opener for Ineleo, whose home island is only about 3km2 and inhabited by around 300 people.

He now lives in MIT’s bustling student village and does most of his shopping at the Otara flea market on Saturdays.

Despite the change in lifestyle, he’s enjoying the chance to gain new building skills.

“Putting the trusses up is my favourite because that’s when you get to see if you’ve done everything right. If the trusses fit, you know you’ve done a good job.”

Once he’s finished Level 4 in November, Ineleo will head home for a few months, before returning to begin an apprenticeship.

Applying his skills

A highlight of his year has been visiting Fiji for two weeks in September/October as part of an MPTT: Auckland team that’s partnered with Habitat for Humanity.

The team is aiming to build two new homes for families made homeless by Cyclone Winston earlier this year.

Ineleo’s trip has been generously sponsored by heating and air-conditioning company Numecon Contracting Ltd.

“I’m so thankful to Numecon for sponsoring me and I’m happy to be part of this team – it’s like we came as a family.

“I want to help the people in Fiji and it’s good for me to share my talents and knowledge as a builder. I feel like I’m representing Tokelau Fakaofo.”

Ineleo came to New Zealand under a scholarship from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). He receives valuable mentoring and pastoral support from The Skills Organisation.

Issac Liava’a, National Manager Pasifika for The Skills Organisation, says it’s a thrill to see Ineleo using his skills to help others.

“We’re really happy that one of our MFAT scholarship awardees is part of the MPTT programme and that he has this opportunity to provide assistance in Fiji.”