Thursday, June 13, 2024

Queen Shirl’e shines at Pacific Peoples Awards

Shirl’e Fruean’s life revolves around her aiga and her South Auckland community, and she would not have it any other way.

Of Samoan descent, Shirl’e is one of this year’s recipients of the Community Leadership category at the annual SunPix Pacific Peoples Awards, along with Lemalu Siliao Sefo of Southseas Healthcare.

Sponsored by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, the award recognises often-unsung community heroes, whose leadership and mahi strengthens Pacific communities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

For Shirl’e (aka Queen Shirl’e) the award is recognition of the tireless work she does to address the needs of her South Auckland community, including leading the Queen Shirl’e Academy. 

“I started this initiative out of a genuine concern for the youth in our community, facing challenges and pressures of joining gangs, drugs, and alcohol,” Shirl’e says.

“I’m dedicated to crafting distinctive, enjoyable, and transformative programmes, including launching the first community youth podcast classes in South Auckland and Glen Innes East Auckland, and I also teach podcasting at Bader Intermediate School.   

“Witnessing youth build confidence in speaking, communication, and finding a form of therapeutic expression is truly fulfilling.” 

While she feels blessed to receive this acknowledgment, Shirl’e hopes it inspires support for the Queen Shirl’e Academy programmes. 

“I envision taking the Queen Shirl’e Academy to the next level, creating an NZQA performing arts school in South Auckland. 

“With the closure of MAINZ at Te Wananga o Aotearoa in Mangere, I aim to reignite the opportunity for aspiring artists to have a safe space to grow, access proper creative education, and build careers. 

“Financial backing from government will be crucial for the success and sustainability of these initiatives, so I hope we get support as soon as possible.”

With three children of her own, including one diagnosed with autism and ADHD, supporting Pacific youth is a priority for Shirl’e.

“The Queen Shirl’e Academy, while open to all cultures, has special initiatives like performing arts programmes and youth podcast classes designed to provide positive outlets for Pacific youth after school. 

“I also contribute as an MC, hosting events and festivals where I offer support to Pacific musicians both backstage and onstage. 

“In my past role as a nutrition consultant, I provided free BMI services and assistance in libraries, particularly aiding older Pacific people in South Auckland who were dealing with obesity and health concerns. 

“Witnessing positive changes in their diet and exercise habits was so rewarding for them.” 

She adds that her first-hand involvement in community support work and volunteering, particularly in Mangere, has shaped her perspectives and provides focus for all she does to help others. 

Inspired by her late great-grandmother Lakena Fruean, who raised her in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Samoa, Shirl’e says the importance of others has been instilled in her from a young age. 

“Throughout my life, despite my heavy struggles, I have remained committed to being helpful whenever someone needed me. 

“My own experiences growing up as a creative and facing challenges to access performing arts programmes inspired me to take action. 

“Seeing today’s youth facing similar struggles, I wanted to make a positive impact by providing them with alternative pathways, rather than joining gangs, drugs, and alcohol. 

“As an established artist here in Aotearoa, I can connect with Pacific youth, becoming a mentor they trust and feel comfortable seeking help or sharing their thoughts and struggles with.” 

Shirl’e says she did not set out to be a role model and does not consider herself of “great significance” however, she is driven by the community’s needs. 

“I aim to inspire our people to believe in the positive impact I’m making on the lives of our young ones. 

“Today’s youth are different, a lot smarter and sometimes entitled, and we must trust those who can connect with them. 

“My vision to impact Pacific Aotearoa involves opening an NZQA-accredited performing arts school, recognising, and elevating our knowledge and education globally.”

It is becoming necessary for government agencies to liaise and collaborate to establish a performing arts school for Pacific creatives, she adds.   

“This initiative is vital to address the pressing need for our own creative youth hub particularly in Mangere, South Auckland.” 

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