Mary Ama and the Pacifica Mamas recognised for work with prisoners

3 July 2015
Mary Ama and the Pacifica Mamas are well-respected Pacific artists, mentors and cultural leaders. Their experience, knowledge and passion for Pacific arts and culture are at the heart of the Polynesian Creations programme at Spring Hill Corrections Facility, near Huntly.

Their work with the prisoners was acknowledged when they received the Arts Access Corrections Community Award 2015, presented in Parliament by Corrections Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga.

“Your example of leadership is a demonstration of profound strength, of deep commitment to community service where you bring forward the cultural knowledge of our ancestors and I am personally very proud to give you this award,” Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga said.

Mary Ama and the Pacifica Mamas make the hour long drive to the prison’s Pacific Focus Unit (Vaka Fa’aola) once a week. They come together to share stories and their skills of weaving, lei and tapa making.

“We are both humbled and honoured to be receiving the Arts Access Corrections Community Award. It’s an award we share with the men of the Vaka Fa’aola Pacific Focus Unit, who each and every week learn, share and connect with their Pacific cultural roots,” Pacific Artist and Programme Leader tutor, Mary Ama says.

Their humble, grassroots style of teaching has resonated with offenders, who in turn have created high-quality Pacific artworks and taken positive steps in personal development.

“I think for any programme to be successful there must be a connection and mutual respect between the teacher and student, regardless of either side’s past history or background,” Mary Ama says.

The vision of the Mamas is to create a sense of value, within the offenders themselves.   The judging panel of the Arts Access Community Award commended this vision and their commitment to the Pacific community. They were impressed by the quality of weaving work produced by the projects and commented on how “this initiative succeeds in reconnecting the prisoners with their cultural heritage as well as their wider community”.

“The award is a wonderful way to formally honour and celebrate the hard work of the Pacifica Mamas. It’s also a great achievement for the wider Pacific community, as they are the first-ever Pacific recipients of an Arts Access Corrections Award,” says Pacifica Arts Centre Director Jarcinda Stowers-Ama.

Jarcinda says for many of the offenders this is their first feeling of positive achievement and being a valued member of a community.

Value is also what personally motivates and inspires the Mamas, who are aged between 60 and 80.

Tiana Epati, Samoan artist and longstanding member of the Pacifica Mamas, like the other mamas, view this "retirement age" as a prime time to give back to the community by passing on their Pacific arts skills and knowledge to offenders.

They too benefit from the programme and like the offenders feel a sense of value, belonging, purpose and pride in their identity as Pacific people.

“What makes the Pacifica Mamas programme special is their authentic style of teaching. Based on the Pacific art, culture and knowledge of their ancestors, what they teach can’t be learned from a text book or on the internet,” Jarcinda Stowers-Ama says.

Mary Ama and the Pacifica Mamas recognised for their longstanding work with prisoners


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