In conversation with Contestable Fund grant recipient Dahlia Malaeulu

In late 2020, Dahlia Malaeulu received one of our Contestable Fund grants to contribute towards the creation of Mila’s My Aganu’u Series. Created by an all-Pasifka team the series is focused on developing understanding and knowledge of Samoan culture.

We caught up with Dahlia, now that the books are out in the world, to find out more about them, how the Contestable Fund grant contributed to the project, and how the Mila’s My Aganu’u Series is being received. These are her words...

Often, when I go into schools or on library visits to read my books or to talk about writing, Samoan students will proudly jump up to say, ’I’m Samoan too!’ After releasing our first books, Mila’s My Gagana Series, we received so much positive feedback from tamaiti, their families and educators, that we knew we needed to build on the momentum. We came up with the idea for Mila’s My Aganu’u Series, picture books focusing on aspects of Samoan culture, to help our tamaiti to safely engage with our culture and to develop cultural understanding around who we are as Pasifika.

Dahlia Malaeulu, 2020 CLNZ Contestable Fund Grant recipient
Dahlia Malaeulu, 2020 CLNZ Contestable Fund Grant recipient

It definitely takes a village to create Pasifika stories and I am so proud that Mila’s My Aganu’u Series is the first picture book series created by an all-Pasifika team. Managing an amazing group of Pasifika creatives was a dream come true: we all were set on making something unique and special for our tamaiti. The team – Emeli, Liz and Darcy, are all experts in their own areas, so, as well as building on each other’s strengths, we were able to learn from each other too. And we followed processes based on Pasifika values which helped to make it a true Pasifika collaboration, something that is very evident in Mila’s My Aganu’u Series, which has sold over 500 copies across six months.

We have had such great feedback around the need for our books and we are so grateful to all the organisations who have actively supported our journey so far, including Copyright Licensing New Zealand, the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, Creative New Zealand and my own publishers, One Tree House.

At Mila’s Books we believe in the power of our stories as Pasifika and the importance of providing spaces for our stories to be told to help our tamaiti succeed as Pasifika. There have been many moments where we’ve been reminded of this mission. Onan author visit to a school recently, a junior student spontaneously jumped up to help read Fale Sāmoa with me to her class. She explained the different elements in the pictures and said that the chief on one of the pages looked like her papa. I asked her to help me further, by being the student lead on a writing task I had set her class. Weeks later, the class teacher emailed me. She explained that the student had recently lost her father, was new to the school, and had not been talking to anyone up until the moment she read our story with me. Reading Fale Sāmoa and leading the writing task had, the teacher told me, helped this student to connect with her class and to read and write more too.

- Dahlia Malaeulu, 2020 CLNZ Contestable Fund Grant recipient.

Learn more about our Contestable Fund Grants here.

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