Solution finding for Tonga: My sit down talk with Ana Saulala

As I walked into the cafe one that sold second hand books. It was a vintage lover's dream, I noticed that Ana was already comfortable in this surrounding holding a book in her hand with a hot chocolate in the other. As she noticed that I was there we went to the side of the cafe/secondhand bookstore and she could not contain the excitement in discovering this so close to her house. We got down to business fairly quickly and as she nervously pretended to look at books while I held my giant camera to capture the moment. We talked about the decor in the store the old typewriter, lighting fixtures that added a touch of modern and the couches that made you believe you were at your grandma's house. Our conversation shifted back to her positioning so I could find the better lighting. We found two couches on the other side of the cafe and finally when I was satisfied that we had enough photos we took a seat.

As I sat across from her I realised our paths had crossed many times at various church activities and through mutual friends. That being said this was the first time we had spoken to each other properly. She caught me up on where she was at and she had let me know she had just graduated with her bachelors of arts majoring in film and media and her bachelors of commerce majoring in supply chain management and marketing. As our conversation progressed I saw the passion and love for our pacific people. In 2016 she was encouraged even though she initially was not interested to apply for the Westpac Pacific Business Student of the Year Award. However, after overcoming many self-doubts she had ended up winning the scholarship. There came a portion of the award that required each finalist to say a speech and even though she looked at other finalist’s achievements and thought they had seemed greater than her own, she remained true to herself during the presentation. Later, one of the judges explained to her why she had won and it was simply because the same person they had seen in the interviews as she was saying her speech. This lesson stuck with her and helped shape the authentic person she is. She discovered at uni during an assignment that she needed to figure out a nation that could trade with New Zealand and she instantly thought of Tonga. She talked about sustainable packaging and even though it’s a concept that she may not know everything about she is making small strides to get a little bit closer each day. Earlier this year she went to Tonga and talked with mostly friends and family using her networks to discover what resources Tonga already had. She surprised me with the fact that there is a lack of two way trading between Tonga and New Zealand. She started exploring sustainable packaging to help market Tonga to New Zealand. Her ultimate goal is to give back to a country that is her heritage and people. She wants to make her mark on the world and help them change the way they see business, rethink how they market products and ultimately share Tonga’s potential with the rest of the world. As I watch her talk I’m in no doubt that she is definitely doing this already. 

She expresses her desire for young Tongan students to have an interest in science as she knows this is the way forward. She met a doctor on her flight to Tonga who was pursuing his studies in Fiji but was coming back to Tonga. He wanted to come back to Tonga and help the people, he told her of the unfulfilled potential that he had seen in Tonga. This helped solidify what she already knew but she knows that there is so much that is unknown and that for her is scary. Her parents have also helped influence how she sees the world her mother representing the optimism and her dad the realism. I asked which side of the coin she was on, already knowing from our conversation that she was on the side of optimism. She did say that even though she is more optimistic she is realising that there is a need for realism but she will always be more optimistic. 

I looked at Ana and wondered what made her so motivated to help people and as I listened to her speak her faith playing a large part of it. For her she couldn't see a life where helping people wasn't in it. She talked of the hardships she saw when she served as a missionary. That helped her have a greater desire to serve the people around her. There was an experience of walking past a homeless man, she handed five dollars to him. She said if she were being honest with herself she found herself thinking that she didn't know what the man was going to spend it on but she knew his need was greater than hers. This helped birth the idea of GO short for Gift One. This was something she wanted to do to connect those in need with those who would prefer to give tangible goods. She admits that even though the idea is still early stages, it's something that she's working on and passionate about. 

Before she left I asked her if there was a message for young islanders and she said the best thing she could say was to be yourself, don't doubt yourself and allow yourself to try new things and to be curious.  She said that sometimes even parents may not understand but they will one day and to stay true to who we are.  It was so simple but it was the key to success in Ana’s life. 

After an hour of talking to her I knew that I had exhausted our time but I still wanted to talk to her a little bit more. I'm sure she had a lot more to share with me but maybe that will take a couple of trips to the place where the smell of old books and coffee meet.