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Creating community
in change

“It’s hard to be what you can’t see. When you’re starting out on a new path, having someone you can relate to who has already been on that same journey can make all the difference.”

Dr. Gemma Pugh, First Foundation Mentor


Leni Leota and Anne Tupou, both from Auckland, are two First Foundation Scholars studying health sciences and medicine at Otago. They’re ambitious about their academic success and passionate to contribute to the health of their communities. However, they’ve had to leave their close-knit families and almost everything they know to realise their dreams. Connecting with each other has been life-changing.

Anne and Gemma at a First Foundation networking event 

Anne Tupou, 2020 Cariad Charitable Trust Scholar with her Mentor Gemma Pugh at a First Foundation networking event

Culture shock can be soothed

“When I first arrived in Otago, I didn’t expect such a culture shock. But meeting up with Leni was really cool. I was missing home, and seeing a familiar face was so welcome,” said Anne Tupou, 2020 Cariad Charitable Trust Scholar.

Anne said the thought of heading away to university was daunting. She was fortunate to be paired with a mentor, Gemma, who has successfully made her way in health research and also experienced moving to a completely new environment. But it was Isaac at First Foundation who saw an opportunity to put Anne in touch with another scholar. He connected Anne with Leni Leota, 2017 Rutherford Rede Scholar, over the 2021 summer.

“It was encouraging to be reassured by someone else who has already walked the path ahead of me,“ said Anne.


Leni Leota, 2017 Rutherford Rede Scholar

There’s a feel good factor

Leni found the experience valuable too. “I think just being able to connect with someone and being able to help them with the experience that you have feels really, really good. You know you’re doing something worthwhile.”

Leni said that in the tough environment of med. school, she’s grown an appreciation for the value of supportive peer relationships. This and getting to know Anne has inspired her to do more.

“I find it really helpful to be able to get advice from my seniors. And so eventually, I would like to do that for students in the years below me.”

Gemma says that First Foundation is doing something unique by combining the pillars of financial assistance, mentoring, and work experience with the additional strength of a close, supportive community. She says it’s especially important following the pandemic.


This normal is new to all of us

“Hearing from somebody who is close in age and is actually going through the same things is powerful. And if you think about the last two years of being in high school, it’s so different from what other generations have faced. Many of the ‘rites of passage’ and social connection points were lost. Whatsmore, those new to university had no reference points for what’s normal because it’s all been different.”


Looking forward is now fun!

First Foundation has loved seeing these bright young women develop a sense of community so far from home. Not only has it built their confidence, but it has also freed them up to get excited about their futures.

For Anne, studying cells is fascinating. And it’s meaningful because she can connect it to health issues she’s seen impact her whānau. Leni is looking forward to her clinical years exploring the various medical specialties, from acute care to general practice or surgery. 

These young women are forging great paths and also helping each other along. The futures they’re unlocking show the power of the right support and a close community that shares a vision for the future.

Mā mua ka kite a muri, mā muri ka ora a mua
Those who lead give sight to those who follow, those who follow give life to those who lead.

Anne Tupou celebrating with her Whanau and mentor Gemma Pugh Anne Tupou celebrating with her family and mentor Gemma Pugh.