Read interviews from VSA staff.
Published on 26th April 2012
New Zealand-born, Samoan-raised in Auckland, Junior Ulu, was VSA’s Pacific Programme Officer from 2003-2011 and is now the Country Programme Manager for Polynesia. Originally a secondary school history teacher, Junior has swapped his classroom for a life working in development with VSA volunteers.
Since June 2003.
I manage the VSA programmes in Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau and Kiribati. Unlike other VSA Country Programme Managers who live and work in their countries, I am based in Wellington.
I develop VSA’s Polynesia programme strategy and work closely with our major funders, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) to develop assignments. I ensure these fit in with the country plans of Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau and Kiribati, VSA strategy and compliment the work of MFAT. I then help to develop assignments with local partner organisations.
I visit Samoa and Tonga, the main part of the Polynesia programme, at least two to three times a year and I visit Kiribati and Tokelau every year.
As I am based in Wellington, the first point of contact for volunteers is their partner organisation. Good communications in each country mean that I am in regular email and mobile contact volunteers. I also visit the volunteers when I am in-country and in the event of an emergency, the NZ High Commission provides support.
I try to visit volunteers at least once while they are on assignment but as I frequently travel, I often see them more than once during their assignment.
VSA is really the only expat community in Tokelau. Samoa and Tonga have huge volunteer communities represented by Australian volunteers, Peace Corps and JICA. Our volunteers in Kiribati are based in Tarawa along with expats from the diplomatic corps, other volunteers, mission representatives and contract workers.
I have a lot of favourite places in Polynesia but in Tokelau it would be a little island called Fanualoa in Fakaofo. I was taken there by staff of the local school. The sun was shining as I swam in a beautiful lagoon and the staff brought me a baby coconut to drink. It is a very demanding role travelling in my job!
As I don’t have an office space in any of the countries I manage, cafes (if they exist) become my substitute office. In Tonga for example, I move between the popular ‘Friends Café’ and ‘Escape café’. I love it that both these cafes are locally owned and operated with friendly staff who provide a professional service.
I make no apologies for saying that Samoa is the centre of the universe. The local people are both intelligent and stunning if I do say so myself! If you ever want an assignment while still enjoying the luxury of living on a tropical paradise look no further than the independent state of Samoa, just a short three-hour flight from Auckland.