Dr. Taumoefolau’s journey from broken home to academic excellence

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A young Tongan academic shares his story of growing up, raised by a single mother, yet despite the obstacles he faced in life, he persevered to reach an academic milestone of earning his PhD degree, which he is now officially, Dr. Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau.

“My story isn’t unique or the first of its kind. Me sharing today and my academic achievement is with humility. Those of you who know me, know that where I am now has been a long journey,” he states.

“I remember the sacrifices my mother made for us, a single mother making sure I lived up to my responsibilities being the eldest. We grew up humble, one meal a day almost but she made the most out of it for me and my siblings. She raised us on her own, two jobs cleaning bathrooms, picking fruits, and delivering mail. When she fell ill, I remember taking turns with my little brother walking to the hospital to look after her. I remember she never showed us what she was going through but always teaching us about how to survive in life. That she wasn’t always going to be around, and we have to learn how to stand on our own. This achievement today means more to her than anyone else.”

When Dr. Taumoefolau’s mother died, his aunt, Dr Netatua Pelesikoti Taufatofua took him under her wing, while his siblings were taken to New Zealand.

Dr. Netatua Taufatofua, Heleni Tapealava, and Faka’iloanga Taumoefolau as an infant

Dr. Taumoefolau recalls how his aunt, Dr. Natatua, promised her sister she would make sure he will finish his education.  “She sat me down after my mother’s funeral, looked me straight in the eye and told me life is about progress. You have a lot of responsibility and I will teach you how to fulfill them. She paid for all my tuition for my Undergrad, all of it! Dr. Netatua gave me no pity, only tough love which is exactly what a troubled young man with potential needed. Values were important to her and she made sure I remembered. I look back now being grateful of the many life lessons she taught me. I am a better person, and I am where I am now because she instilled in me how to be resilient. I am not afraid of anyone but her. I miss her wisdom and decisiveness, like many I wish she were here today.”

“Despite what happened to our family and how things turned out between him and my mother I still love and respect my father. My mother and Dr. Netatua always ‘akonaki’ me he is my father at the end of the day and my responsibility is to look after him. It was hard growing up in Tonga without him. As a man now, I understand the difficulties and challenges he went through,” writes Dr. Taumoefolau.

“He is a special and intellectual man, what many don’t know is that he actually has two degrees. A Bachelor of Science from USP and a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (Australia). I find it rewarding getting to know him better because he keeps me grounded with his views on life and being content. He has never said he is proud of me, the closest is one day we were talking, and he became silent. He then said, and I could see in his eyes a calmness, you are a very ambitious man. I only smiled back but didn’t say anything. I honour who he was supposed to be for our family and I as a son honour him first and foremost as my father. The title of my PhD thesis is his name and I have etched now in academia for generations to come.”

Dr. Taumoefolau encourages those who come from broken homes or raised by single mothers to keep pursuing their dreams and goals even if the path ahead feels unsurmountable, “If you’re reading this and life is difficult, I hope I inspire you to hold on to hope. I promise there are better days ahead. I look back on my life and I have nothing but gratitude. Broken family, raised by a single mother, and kicked out of school yet here I am today. Today, I am now officially (Dr. Taumoefolau), but I am more the son of Heleni Taiana Tapealava and I carry the values that Dr Netatua Prescott Taufatofua instilled in me.”

Dr Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau has worked at the Ministry of Justice and the Australia High Commission in Tonga. During his PhD studies in New Zealand, he managed small community projects by the Canada Fund to Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. He is currently leading the Tonga Parliament project in Tonga. He attended Tupou College, and he is the eldest son of Heleni Taiana Tapealava and Siutakaheahoafa Taumoefolau.

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