STORIES FROM THE FRONTLINE: Essential workers during COVID-19

We are living in difficult times. COVID-19 has forced children out of schools, elderly into further isolation and most significantly, it has exposed the crippling social inequalities that the most vulnerable in our communities have endured for far too long. While the rest of New Zealand are on lockdown, essential workers are sacrificing time away from their loved ones to ensure that the country runs smoothly and safely. This mini series aims to raise awareness, encourage hope and honour our people working on the frontline during COVID-19. 

Mary Soonaoso Tiumalu is the Private Secretary to the Minister for Pacific Peoples, Honourable Aupito Su'a William Sio. A University of Auckland graduate with a conjoint degree, Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts, Mary is a fierce advocate for her Pacific community. She is the co-founder of the Samoan Professional Women's Collective, 'Taemā ma Tilafaigā', a recipient of the Prime Minister's Youth Award and a fashion designer for Fou Custommade. In addition to the many hats she wears, Mary has built a successful career around ensuring that Pacific people are recognised in New Zealand policy.  As an essential worker, Mary shares with us her journey so far. 

Can you describe what it feels like to work during the lockdown?

Feels a little unsettling. The temptations to nap & eat are real.

How have your loved ones reacted to your decision to work during the lockdown?

They are really supportive especially since I've based myself in Wellington for the lockdown. Obviously my parents are worried and thinking of my health and safety but they understand the need to remain isolated for the greater wellbeing of all.

Why have you made the decision to work during this crisis?

My role requires getting information from A to B in a manner where decisions can be effectively made. I serve many of our Pacific communities through this role and at such a time means they need support, they need clarity, they need leadership, they need comfort and direction. Working means I can bridge the gap between what’s happening on the ground for our communities and those making decisions that impact on them.

From your position, what do you think the wider public can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Stay at home! Don’t be an eye-guy and think visiting family and friends will be ok. Every movement made outside isolation will have a ripple effect and people need to understand how serious this could be.

There will be people reading this from the comfort of their own home. What is your message of hope for them and everyone around you?

E lē sili le ta’i nai lō le tapua’i, those carrying the actions are no more important as those who support. Actions set by our Govt/PM are no good if we don’t do our part and follow. We all have a responsibility to each other and for the wellbeing of our entire country! Our future is really dependent on our collective efforts. That is the hope.



0800REFUGE- Women’s Refuge
0508FAMILY- Oranga Tamariki (Reports of concern for children’s safety)
0508 744 633- SHINE
0800 787 797- Alcohol and drug helpline
0800 543 354 or free text 4357- Lifeline
0800 376 633 - Youthline
0800 111 757 Depression Helpline
0508 828 865 Suicide Prevention Helpline


TSW - Reina Vaai

Talofa lava Loluama,

Thank you for your comment. As this is my blog, I will take full responsibility for the decision to post this piece about the incredible work that people, like Mary, are doing for our communities during this difficult time. I am confused by your phrasing of ‘real’ essential workers. I don’t believe the Prime Minister has made a distinction between ‘real’ essential workers and… ‘not…real?’ essential workers. Every single person that is working during this time is important. There is no doubt that other jobs, such as those working in healthcare, place workers in a position where there is a higher risk. However, to simply dismiss the work of other essential workers by claiming it to be ‘disingenuous and exploitative’ is factually incorrect.

You are correct on one point however; this article, like all other articles on this blog, has been written with good intentions. I will not remove this article and the only apology that could perhaps be considered here is one from you to Mary – a talented, intelligent, hardworking young Pacific woman that deserves to be honoured, not criticised. This blog is about celebrating our people, not placing them against each other in an attempt to drag one of them down. I stand by my words written in this article and my decision to write about Mary.

You may have also noticed, this is a series. There are pieces about a police officer, a nurse, a doctor and others helping people in the community. There is also a future piece about supermarket workers as well. Please feel free to read those if you wish.

Take care and kia kaha,
Reina Vaai


Kia ora, talofa lava,
Thank you for the update on MPP.
But, it’s very disingenuous, exploitative and an insult to those truly Essential Frontline Workers (EFW) for MPP to condone this unfactual article to be printed.

This article diminishes the incredible service real EFW are giving to all of us. Who are actually working on the frontline in hospitals, supermarkets etc whose every second at work places them at risk of this awful disease.

As a proudly Pacific person I’m feel embarrassed about this article.

To whomever wrote and published this article l imagine it was written with good intentions
But, please remove it and write a letter of apology about having allowed it to be aired

Nga mihi
Ia manuia
Loluama Avia

Fa'aulu Tomuli-Afoa

Malo lava le tautau Mary. Love your passion and drive for our pacific communities.
Many Blessings and prayer covering over your work at this time:)

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published