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Rising above what life throws at you

Kuini Vidal has faced more than her fair share of challenges throughout her life, including losing her Dad – and the only home she’d ever known – at age 18. But with sheer determination and resilience, and a helping hand from her First Foundation whānau, she has risen above all the obstacles in her path.

The epitome of strength and resilience, Wellington-based Kuini Vidal always knew she
wanted to go to university, and the only way to do that would be to obtain a scholarship.

“I had known for a long time my whanau did not have the financial capacity to support
me into university, and therefore I would need to get a comprehensive scholarship, like
the one the First Foundation provides, in order to get a tertiary education,” Kuini says.

“Contributing to economic reform which leads to the alleviation of poverty in Aotearoa
has always been my dream and, in order to do that, I knew I would need a degree.


Three pillars of support

The First Foundation’s three pillars of support made its Scholarship programme stand
out for Kuini as working and supporting her whanau financially was necessary when she
left school.

“No one in my family had finished university yet, making the Work Experience and Mentor components of the Scholarship essential for me to be able to go to and succeed at university.”

Of New Zealand and Samoan descent, Kuini’s father raised her and her older sister Julie – also a First Foundation Scholarship recipient – in a state house in Khandallah.

On her 18th birthday, during her first year of university, Kuini’s world changed forever when her father died suddenly.

“Because our home was a state house and Dad’s name was the only one on our lease, Housing New Zealand gave Julie and me 21 days to be out of the only place we had ever called home,” she says. “We were facing homelessness, having to organise the funeral, trying to grieve, and for the first time in my entire life – my education could not be my first priority.”


Kuini had to grow up fast

“I went from living a life where Dad did everything for me so I could focus completely on my education, to being independent and self-reliant; I had to keep my aspirations close, focus on the things I wanted to achieve and on how passionate I am about the changes I want to make, and I had to start accepting help from people, something which I have always found really difficult.

“Now I think what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger, but you have to let it.”

Fortunately, Kuini had a support network in place, particularly from the mana wahine in her life, her sister and mother, who are also her biggest inspirations.

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“Mum is a cleaner, and an incredible, hardworking woman, who has experienced so much hardship and adversity as a low-income earning, woman-of-colour whose second language is English. She is so smart and strong. I am immensely proud of her and I cannot wait until I finish my studies to give her the financially comfortable life she deserves.”

Big sister Julie taught Kuini almost everything she knows – how to read, write, count, be kind, and do what is right.

“Social activism has always been a passion of hers, something she has also passed on to me,” Kuini says.

“Julie has so much potential and compassion, and I am certain she is going to do amazing, revolutionary things in Aotearoa.”

Kuini’s biggest motivation to succeed in life is how she grew up in a sole-parent, benefit dependent household, she says.

“Every aspect of my life depended on government policy – the state decided our household income through benefit rates, owned our home, and set our rent price.

“I don’t think parents in a country as wealthy and resourceful as Aotearoa should have to make the sacrifices my dad did to make ends meet, and I don’t think kids are set up for good outcomes when they grow up in deprivation. The Government has a responsibility to address that and that’s why I want to make a difference through reforming how we prioritise things when we set policy.”

During her Scholarship, Kuini has had work experience at Kiwi Wealth and the organisation will keep her on until she finishes her conjoint degree.

When she finishes university, Kuini wants to enter the Public Sector as a Policy Analyst where her eventual goal is to reform economic policy at Treasury or The Reserve Bank.

“I am also particularly interested in working on welfare policy, indigenous issues, and housing.”

Providing for her whanau is a priority for Kuini, who says she wants to buy her mum a house and ensure her nephews and niece get a good education so they can achieve their dreams and goals.

“Through the aspirations I have for my work, I want to help create an Aotearoa which provides everyone, particularly Maori, Pasifika and impoverished communities with a fair go at life and equal opportunities.”

Earlier this year, Kuini celebrated her achievements with First Foundation at the Wellington Completing Students Ceremony.


During her Scholarship, Kuini has had work experience at Kiwi Wealth and the organisation will keep her on until she finishes her conjoint degree.