HIPPY Coordinator, Otara 2009-2011

Marietta and Paselio Ulugia

Marietta Ulugia is living proof of the success of HIPPY.

A New Zealand-born woman of Samoan descent, Marietta was raised in Otara by her solo mother. She didn’t enjoy school, she was in a special reading class and “felt dumb”, especially after she was told by a teacher that she would be just another statistic on the unemployment benefit.

“So that’s what I did,” she says.

Marietta dropped out of school at 15, went on the dole and by age 17 she had a baby daughter, Rose.

Marietta’s life at the time was rough. When she became a mum, she was involved in the Otara gang scene and had little time for or interest in her baby.

However, when she met her husband Paselio, Marietta’s life began to change for the better.

After having two more children together, the Ulugia family moved to Porirua to get some distance from the old negative lifestyle, and it was there that Marietta heard about HIPPY through a friend.

"At first I resisted which, I guess, came from my own background,'' she said in an interview with the Herald in 2009.

Marietta with JIPPY Otara families 2009

Although she wasn’t keen at first, Marietta enrolled in the programme with her son anyway and quickly came to love being a part of HIPPY.

“It taught me the responsibilities of being a parent.”

Five months into the programme, the family returned to Otara and Marietta transferred to HIPPY in Mangere East to continue the programme there. She ended up becoming a HIPPY tutor the following year while working through the programme with her youngest daughter.

By the time she reached her daughter’s final year with HIPPY, Marietta had decided she wanted to be a teacher.

Although Marietta had doubts - she had no qualifications and “had always believed she was dumb”- her experiences with HIPPY gave her the confidence to pursue her ambition.

Back to school she went, attending Hillary College as an adult student and passing her exams with merit. It was such a good feeling that Marietta realised: “If I can do this, I can do anything”.

"For so many years I had a voice in the back of my head saying that I was dumb. Now I knew I wasn't.” - The Herald

After completing a Certificate in Foundation Studies, Marietta enrolled at teachers’ college and by 2006 had graduated with her Bachelor of Education.

Marietta with former National HIPPY Manager JaneAt the end of her first year as a classroom teacher, Marietta saw the HIPPY Otara Coordinator role advertised and knew she had everything she needed for the job: she had been a HIPPY parent and tutor, she was now a qualified teacher – and she was passionate about bringing HIPPY to the Otara community.

Of course, she got the job, and brought her unique inside knowledge, passion and skills to the role.

“I never asked questions at school because I didn’t want to feel dumb but I’ve learnt through HIPPY that asking questions is OK. Now I say to my kids: ‘Don’t be scared to ask questions, you’re not dumb, you just want to know,’” she says.

During her time as HIPPY Coordinator for Otara, Marietta provided encouragement and guidance to other mothers in her community. She has no doubt what provided the impetus for change in her own life:

“HIPPY made me realise I could teach. It helped me see my talents and potential.”

 Story adapted from Great Potentials Annual Report 2008-2009