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Pregnancy and distance from home no barrier for Automotive Engineering student

  • Letava (Tava) Taeleipu

Courage and determination, along with wonderful support from the people around her at Unitec, helped pregnant Samoan student Letava Taeleipu complete her studies. We caught up with Letava on the final day of her course.

Letava (Tava) Taeleipu has grown up in a family of mechanics in the islands of Samoa. Her dad owns a business that imports commercial vehicles and heavy machinery, and sells truck and auto parts.

Tava has always been interested in contributing to the family business, leading her to enrol in Unitec’s one-year New Zealand Certificate in Automotive Engineering. She wants to take what she learns back to Samoa.

Tava says she enjoys working with her hands and doesn’t like sitting still. 

“I like working in the Mataaho environment. I’m not into office work – I like to keep moving and work outdoors!”

While Tava was the only woman in her class, that’s not the only thing that set her apart. A few weeks into the course, she found out she was pregnant. It was a challenging time, having to decide whether to continue with her studies or move back to Samoa. With her baby being due just a few days after her final class, Tava was unsure if she could continue.

“I think the mentality for us girls is that when we fall pregnant, we automatically just want to drop out and not finish our tertiary studies and that it’s over for us in the real world, but what motivated me was the fact that I had a good, solid support system – my family back home, especially my dad! He believed in me, constantly reminding me of how far I’ve come and saying it’s too late to quit now!”

Once she’d decided she wanted to push through with finishing the second semester, Tava spoke with her lecturers to make sure they were happy for her to continue, which they were.

“My lecturers have been nothing but supportive, they haven’t held me back or been negative.”

Tava also appreciated the support from other staff members and her classmates.

“Diane Lorigan (Health and Safety Advisor) provided a room where I could lie down if I didn’t feel well and gave me her number so she could organise a nurse to come straight away if I needed it”.

“I’m close with the boys in my course. They have been good to me and looked out for me like a sister. My lecturer asked if I needed a female support person but I turned that down.”

Automotive Engineering Lecturer Prem Chandra said Tava was a good student and an asset to the class.

“She is attentive, thoughtful, courteous and cheerful in class.” said Prem.

The course has been a valuable learning experience for Tava; she’s gained a lot of knowledge and ideas that she’ll take back home.

“I’ve really enjoyed the learning process; it’s opened up things I never thought I would learn. Being here has given me ideas for improving our business, for example using a proper electronic hoist in the workshop. Even though it would be expensive to freight the equipment over, the updated technology would be really useful.”

While her experience at Unitec has been a good one, being away from home with limited money hasn’t always been easy.

“It’s hard! Everything is money over here. The lifestyle is hard, I’ve had to adapt and be independent without help from my family, but I’m glad I went through this tough experience. I worked for a pick-a-part (car parts) business for a while to gain more automotive experience and earn income to help me with the cost of living here in New Zealand, but a few weeks into my pregnancy I had to resign due to the amount of outdoor work and heavy lifting.” said Tava.

Tava was initially driving to Unitec every day from Takanini where she lived with her cousin, but stopped once her belly was hitting the steering wheel.

“I’ve been catching the bus and train in the last two weeks of my pregnancy, while I’ve been finishing my course. People were worried I’d give birth on public transport or even at Unitec!”

“I’m happy to hear I’ve been an inspiration to others! I want to say to any girls who are worried about studying – even if you’re pregnant – if you are in the right mind-set and are determined to face and overcome your goals, you can do it! I did it, so anyone can.”

Tava successfully completed her course with just a few days to go until her due date. She has since had a beautiful baby girl – they’re both doing well and will head back to Samoa in a few weeks. She plans to return to Auckland with her Dad for Spring graduation.

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