Temalesi Lutu, or Tema as she is known, was only 14 when she decided she was going to be a teacher but it took her 26 years to turn that dream into reality. Today, she is the Australia Pacific Training Coalition’s (APTC) first Pacific Island female trainer in her current role as Trainer for Hospitality in Fiji.
Raised by her grandmother and coming from a challenging, disadvantaged background, Temalesi had big dreams of becoming a vocational teacher. However, she had to take many detours before she finally landed on her dream job.
Keeping her dream alive in spite of the many obstacles she encountered, Tema enrolled in a double degree program in Accounting and Information Systems at a university in Melbourne. During this time she also worked part-time in the café of the Arts Centre (formerly known as the Victorian Arts Centre). Though she did not realise it at the time, Tema recalls how working at the café kept her dream alive by providing a solid foundation for her current career.
“For others, it was working for an ordinary café but for me, I was building my employability skills. That job took me to the current career I have today,” Tema said.
“Upon returning to Fiji, I taught as a vocational education teacher for five years at Ratu Navula College in Nadi before joining APTC in 2010. Teaching vocational students at Ratu Navula College was challenging, as my students were from different age groups and had varied levels of learning abilities. However, I never regretted one moment of it. I had mothers coming in and thanking me for teaching their children to make their beds and cook their dinner.
“From there I knew I had partially fulfilled my dream but I wanted to do more. I had set a goal that within the next five years I want to join a training institution and reach the next level of my dream.”
In 2009, under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Australian-funded APTC and the Fijian Government’s Ministry of Education, vocational teachers undertook upskilling at a Certificate IV level in training and assessment. As a member of that cluster of teachers, Tema faced much dissuasion but it only served to make her even more determined.
“In my class I was surrounded by boys and I had to work twice as hard as the other teachers. They told me that I was just a vocational teacher and that APTC would never take me. I told them, ‘just watch me’.”
“A year later, I took my first step into the APTC office and I was so excited to meet the boys. I could even ‘taste the taste of success.’ When they saw me they couldn’t believe their eyes that I had joined APTC and I said to them, ‘like this last year you didn’t believe I could even be here and here I am’,” she said.
Tema shared that after landing her dream job, she faced challenges in the teaching environment.
“I had mature students in my class and they had a ‘laid back’ way of carrying themselves. I tried finding a way to get through to them. One of the Pacific trainers back then told me, ‘when you teach in a classroom and especially when there are more men or older than you, just know that what you know, they don’t know, and that is the reason why you are here,’ and that for me was challenging,” she shared.
Tema has since progressed from being a tutor to becoming an accredited National Trainer with APTC. She has been delivering Australian hospitality qualifications to Pacific Islanders across the region for the last six years. As her own story demonstrates, Tema believes that determination to convert obstacles into growth opportunities can drive people beyond boundaries and challenges.
Tema is one of 18 women trainers at APTC, including 3 women who are trainers in non-traditional trades such as carpentry, light vehicle automotive, and metal fabrication.