Taranaki’s Man of the Moment
New Plymouth’s Pacific community may be small in number, but their sense of pride is huge. For local Policeman and Taranaki Daily News Person of the Year 2014 Nelson Pulotu, strong links with community make all the difference in changing their outcomes for the better.
Nelson admits the relationship between locals and the police hasn’t always been a positive one. But he says being Samoan helps the community to relate to him.
“There are genuine job opportunities in Taranaki which have attracted people from the Pacific, including some from Samoa on work visas, who have settled in well,” he says.
“The key is connecting them with support services that are available. That’s why linking up with organisations like Vaimoana (Aere Tai’s provider Taranaki Vaimoana Pasifika Charitable Trust) is a huge help to them.”
Having been with the police for almost a decade, Nelson has seen a noticeable shift in his profession – a shift which he says can only be for the betterment of Taranaki’s Pacific community.
“Working closer with community through various projects has helped the police in understanding and respecting cultural diversity and how other people see the world. That can only be a good thing.”
One of those projects was setting up a youth academy in the New Plymouth suburb of Marfell, which has a predominantly Maori and Pacific population.
“Marfell is the poorest area in New Plymouth. Approximately half the population is Maori with about 12% Pacific and the families are predominantly single-parents,” he says.
But setting up the academy at Box Office Boxing with Jacob Rapira has gone a long way to changing that. For his work, Nelson was named 2014 Taranaki Daily News Person of the Year at the beginning of the year.
“Our programme in Marfell was beneficial because locals didn’t just see us in a punitive role when something bad was happening,” he says.
The children, aged from five to 13 years, attended three boxing sessions a week. Pulotu, who is often the main transport provider, says boxing is merely the vehicle for exposing them to positive role models and developing healthy routines and behaviour.
“Boxing is what we offer to get them here. If we promoted it as a homework centre we’d struggle to get the kids to come,” he says.
But he adds that the kids are taking in key messages. School attendances increased dramatically, with a couple winning academic prizes at school, which makes the effort all the more worthwhile.
A highlight for the children came when Nelson took a group of 20 children to Rainbow’s End Theme Park in Auckland for a day.
Nelson also started the Mothers of Marfell programme to help the parents of the children, with many having gang affiliations. Various local businesses have contributed by cooking for the families and donating t-shirts.
Samoa has benefited from his desire to help, having teamed up with others to donate a water treatment plant that enabled pupils at Siumu College to have access to fresh, clean water, earning him a matai title from the district of Falealili.
He’s quick to say he was lucky with his own upbringing.
“Mum and Dad were born and raised in Samoa, moved to Auckland then came here in 1979 for work,” he says.
“They were community focused and genuine leaders in wanting to help other Pacific families settle when they came to the Taranaki for work.”
His parents helped set up the Fitzroy Samoan Methodist Church and became valued and respected members of the community. They helped organise and run Pacific language classes and were also involved in assisting Pacific people new to the region to settle.
Although the Pacific population was small, it was growing enough for Vaimoana Pasifika Charitable Trust to be set up in 2001.
Nelson’s own career has been a varied and fulfilling one, since leaving New Plymouth Boys High where he was Deputy Head. His first job was as a cinema projectionist which he did for seven years before being offered a role at Panasonic. It enabled him to work at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 followed by the Athens Olympics four years later.
When his father became ill, he decided to return to New Plymouth in 2006, joining the police force.
His wife Hannah is also in the force and after almost a decade on the job he’s enjoying the role of serving the community more than ever.
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