Every Sunday, men from Spring Hill’s Vaka Fa’aola (Pacific Focus Unit) and unit staff gather in the fale to break bread together.
The To’ona’i (Sunday lunch), prepared in the fale kitchen, has become a weekly tradition enjoyed by both the men and staff. Everyone sits down together, they bless the food, thank everyone for the week that has just passed and eat together as one aiga (family). After the meal the men talanoa (talk) about the week ahead, things that are going well and things they’re struggling with.
Corrections Officer Rhys Channon recently had the opportunity to be a part of To’ona’i for the first time. “It was a privilege and a beautiful experience," says Rhys.
“Seeing the men talanoa with officers in such a relaxed environment, laughing and joking together is not something I expected to see when I started with Ara Poutama Aotearoa two years ago. To me, this is Hōkai Rangi in action.”
The To’ona’i (Sunday lunch), prepared in the fale kitchen, has become a weekly tradition.
One of the men in Vaka Fa’aola explains what being able to gather on Sundays to share a meal means to him.
“In Samoan, ‘sa’ means sacred, hence Sunday is ‘aso sa’, sacred day. This is a big part of our culture, every Sunday we do nothing but go to church and spend time with aiga.”
“You don’t break that rule, it’s part of who we are. To be able to continue this tradition here in prison is a massive privilege and we are extremely thankful for the staff allowing us to continue doing this.”
For Rhys, working in Vaka Fa’aola for the past year has been a cultural experience that has helped him grow both personally and professionally.
“I come from a completely different cultural background from the men in Vaka Fa’aola, so being a part of, and learning about, the Pacific culture has been a big thing for me.”
“The men have taught me so much. I’ve been able to gain another cultural perspective, and because of our mutual respect and understanding we are able to facilitate things like To’ona’i.”
The following Samoan concept is applied to this initiative:
The To’ona’i is the harvesting/preparation of food to share with the aiga (family) during the ‘aso sa’ (Sabbath day).
The To’ona’i, the gathering/harvesting/ can only take place before the Sabbath day, Sunday.
The actual To’ona’i takes place on a Sunday, not any other day. It is the opportunity for the aiga to break bread together to reflect/support/share/give thanks to God and plan for the future.
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