#WĀHINEWEDNESDAY: Janelle Augsburg
A young woman with a big heart for serving her communities in Aotearoa and beyond
Janelle Augsburg’s favourite spot in New Zealand is definitely Mangere. She’s lived in the same house her whole life and couldn’t imagine it any other way. The community and culture of Mangere gives it its podium spot and Janelle claims that nothing beats Mangere mountain, Mangere markets on a Saturday, hot chips from Jolly Goods, the bargains at Mangere Town Centre, the theatre and art at Mangere Arts Centre, and so much more!
Beyond the grounds of Mangere and the borders of New Zealand, Janelle also has a great love for Tonga. This beautiful country feels just as much a home to Janelle as Aotearoa, and she has been privileged to be able to visit there often. To be drinking a fresh coconut with her family in Tonga would be Janelle’s dream situation right now.
Janelle has one baby sister who is currently in high school and, due to the 9 year age gap, finds herself playing both a sister and mother-like role to this much loved sibling.
To rejuvenate, Janelle will head out for a walk. If this hobby is paired with good music or good company, she is a very happy person.
It was so lovely to interview Janelle and find out more about this amazing wāhine!
You only get three words to describe yourself - what are they?
Curious, clumsy and caring. The three C’s! I’m a super curious person, when I find something I’ve never heard of before, my google searches go on forever. I’m constantly asking people a thousand questions and love hearing different people’s experiences and opinions.
I’m also super clumsy and uncoordinated. I don’t know anyone else who has broken as many dishes as me, it’s a talent! Lastly, I’ve chosen caring because I have so much love for people. If I have the ability to help someone, I will. This is why I find so much joy in the community work I do.
If you could be any fictional character, who would it be?
Nothing jumps out at me, but I think it would be cool to be someone from Harry Potter with magic. It would make things, like cleaning, so much easier!
New Zealanders are fond of nicknames! What’s the strangest nickname you’ve been called?
My last name was mistakenly written as Augsburger at my family doctors, so I was stuck with that at high school for a little bit. No biggie though, because burgers are so good haha.
As someone who is passionate about the importance of knowing your identity, could you elaborate on this by explaining how you came to have a strong sense of your own identity and how the fruits of this knowledge have been felt and seen in your life?
Identity is really difficult to grapple with, and for me, it is fluid and always changing. I like to think of it as a journey rather than a destination.
My cultural identity is Tongan/European. My Mum came to Aotearoa from Tonga when she was 12. My Dad’s parents moved to Aotearoa from England (Grandma) and Denmark (Grandpa) as young adults and met here.
I grew up with the label, and often self-identified, as half-caste. This term derives from the term caste which comes from the Latin castus meaning pure, ultimately translating to half pure. As a flow on from this, I always felt like I wasn’t enough of any of my cultures and found it really difficult to understand where I fit in.
It took me a long time, many conversations, and much learning to realise that I’m not half anything! I am Tongan, I am English, I am Danish, I am a New Zealander!
It has been so freeing to be so grounded in my cultures!
There is so much more to your identity than just your cultures, and figuring out what the foundation for your identity is, is so important. Right now, the foundations to my identity are my cultures, my village (family and communities), and my faith. Being confident in this has been my main guide to understanding what is important to me and where I feel at home.
You are passionate about Pasifika and general youth programmes. Could you share the purpose behind these programmes and what you hope to achieve through them?
I am a strong believer in the proverb “to lead is to serve.” Much of my work is in the hopes of contributing positive guidance to the youth within my communities.
Mentoring and Tutoring Education Scheme (MATES) is a programme coordinated by the Great Potentials foundation. It is aimed at addressing the underachievement in education of a large minority of disadvantaged youth in Aotearoa. I was a mentor for Year 13 students and met with them to help with school work and planning what life after high school may look like for them.
I have also been a mentor for UniBound (University of Auckland). This is a 5 week academic enrichment programme for Pacific and Māori school leavers who will be transitioning to University. This was an opportunity for me to really equip these students with the self-confidence and perseverance that is needed for University.
For many Pasifika youth, there is a lot of pressure from our families to go to University, as this is often how success is defined in our community. I remember the stress of Year 13 and transitioning into University, so I knew how important my role was to ensure our Pasifika youth felt supported.
Most recently, I have been involved in the Bubblegum project under South Seas Healthcare Trust. This is a youth-developed, youth-led, and youth-driven response project to COVID-19 - based in Otara, South Auckland. We are currently in uncertain times and Bubblegum is working extremely hard to ensure that youth are supported. A snippet of the work they have been doing is creating care packages, running weekly check-ins, creating online COVID-19 content specifically catered for youth, and so much more. Since joining this project, I have been blown away by the passion that has come from the talented youth I have been working beside. Their heart for the work is inspiring!
Another extremely important part of my life has been Edmund Rice Camps Auckland (ERC). We provide week-long camps for children who need a break due to social, financial, or family reasons. Our purpose is to create a culturally enriched environment that allows both children and leaders to grow in confidence, explore leadership and leave camp refreshed. I have been an active camper since 2013 and have volunteered at all levels which has meant I’ve been a leader as well as organising and facilitating the camp programmes. I continue to serve at ERC because I know how deserving our kiddies are of a week of pure fun and joy.
Do you have any words of wisdom or tips for those who are about to complete the transition from student life to full-time working life?
My biggest piece of advice is to take your time, be patient and wait for the opportunity that suits you best. Moving to full-time working life is not only a big change but an even bigger commitment. You are giving your time, talents, and energy to your job so you need to ensure that you are going to be passionate and fulfilled by this work.
You run a podcast with some friends called ‘ Untouched Spaces’. Could you give us a quick pitch on why this podcast is worth tuning in to?
This podcast is perfect for you if you want to feel like you're in a conversation with your Pasifika sisters who have large laughs and even larger hearts. We used Season 1 to navigate what it meant to grow up in South Auckland as Pasifika gals and what a journey that was. If you’re worried that because you aren’t Pasifika you won’t enjoy the podcast, you are wrong! Join us to learn, join us to connect, ask us questions and be a part of the conversation!
Lastly, has anyone guided or supported you so far? Can you share who and how they helped you?
I have grown up knowing the strength women hold because of the village I had surrounding me. My Grandmothers and Mum showed me what “to lead is to serve” truly means. I have watched them sacrifice so much for their families and communities by giving without hesitation, loving with their whole hearts and working extremely hard. I am and always will be grateful for their hand in my life.
I also have to give a special mention to my God Father Jeffrey, otherwise known as Big Jeff. He is my Mum’s older brother and his hard work brought his parents and siblings to Aotearoa from Tonga. He always gave; growing up he would walk me to the dairy every pay day for a treat. He had very humble earnings but that never stopped him from giving to those he loved. He is the cheekiest man I know, but he has the biggest heart.
Their support began before I was born, laying foundations so that I could have the opportunities I do today. Their hearts continue to inspire me to do the best I can. I owe all my achievements to my village.