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Teaching peace in New Zealand

Student in the IPB 400 class, led by professor Michael Ligaliga, went on a trip to New Zealand to show high school students personal mediation can transform their lives and relationships

Va is the Samoan belief in a relational space that connects all people, said Heather Walker. She learned this concept from Michael Ligaliga, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, who taught it in her peacebuilding mediation class. The class went to New Zealand from April 26 to May 12 to teach high schoolers what they learned.

More than a transactional relationship

Walker, a senior from California majoring in intercultural peacebuilding, said an example of Va she saw on the trip is when the students did not calculate how much Walker and the others were giving to them to give back the same. Instead, Walker said the people recognized the relationship and honored it by giving what they had, which wasn’t always proportional. She said the students were invested in the relationship they had with Walker and her classmates despite knowing they probably wouldn’t meet again.

A classroom of boys
Mike Ligaliga (standing) in a classroom of boys in New Zealand
Photo by Isireli Vuetibau

Isireli Vuetibau, a junior from Fiji majoring in intercultural peacebuilding, said Ligaliga’s connection with the government made the trip an amazing experience. The schools they went to were chosen based on their high suspension and dropout rates, he explained, with data given by the New Zealand government.

Walker said, “We landed in Dunedin and then traveled north to Oamaru where we taught the students of Waitaki Boys’ High School about mediation.” A mediator is someone who can facilitate discussions and negotiations to help conflicting parties reach a decision that is mutually acceptable, she explained.

Walker said after Oamaru, they went back to Dunedin where they got to tour Otago University. She said they went to teach students at Tamaki College in Auckland after they left Dunedin.


Walker said before they were able to go on the trip, she and her classmates had regular meetings with Ligaliga about a mediation process called HIVA that was created by Ligliga and his co-founder, Helena Kaho.

A room full of girls
Heather Walker helping some girls.
Photo by Photo provided by Isireli Vuetibau

Vuetibau said HIVA is a framework to support mediation from a Pasifika perspective and, added Walker, it is based on the idea of Va. “It analyzes cultural and social factors that, if followed, will transform conflicts,” he said. He added that it focuses on relationships between people, guiding them towards reconciliation and maintaining relationships.

Vueitbau said each factor discussed in this framework is developed to increase awareness of people's families and friends and how they can maintain these sacred bonds through service and peacebuilding.

Vuetibau said this trip was unlike other school trips because he got first-hand experience facilitating the HIVA model. “The program was set up to enable the youth to resolve and mediate conflict amongst peer mediators first and help them understand the consequences of their actions before they make any bad decisions,” said Vuetibau.

A transformational experience

Walker said the most important thing she learned from the trip was being able to see what Va looks like in person and how effective HIVA was in solving conflicts. Vuetibau said he also felt the bond he had with the students they taught and they still keep in touch via social media.

Walker said she went on the trip because Ligaliga’s class was a transformational experience and she wanted to give that to others. “I was able to see how powerful mediation can be in our interpersonal lives when it comes to resolving conflicts," she said. Walker explained mediation can be useful even when people are not seriously fighting, and by using it, everyday disagreements can be handled better.

A big group of people pose for the camera
Photo by Isireli Vuetibau

Another senior, Tina Chi, majoring in TESOL from Hong Kong, said this field trip was mainly about connecting with the students they taught. She said she learned about what peacebuilding can look like in different areas and to people with different beliefs. Chi said she loved seeing how students can learn to apply the HIVA mediation process to their lives. Chi said this trip taught her how important networking is and how to do it the right way to help with her future career.