Samoan Academic wins Rutherford Discovery Fellowship

Dr Siautu Alefaio-Tugia (2nd from left in middle photo) is among 10 Fellows announced in the 10th year of Rutherford Discovery Fellowship awards.

A Samoan academic Dr Siautu Alefaio-Tugia, Massey University, School of Psychology, has been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for research titled “Redefining the humanitarian landscape: Pacific-diasporic disaster resilience”

Dr Siautu-Alefaio Tugia is the daughter of retired Reverend Elder Simatavai and the late Matautu Alefaio from the villages of Manunu, Fagamalo, Matautu-tai and Fagae’e in Samoa.

She is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology, Massey University and Global Fellow of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Studies, Brown University.

She is an experienced psychologist practitioner who has worked across various applied psychology contexts in education, health, social services, community, family violence, forensic rehabilitation and disaster humanitarian response in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific. She was awarded her PhD in Education Psychology from Monash University in 2015.

As a scholar-practitioner she combines extensive practice and academic experience to re-inform psychology from Pacific-Indigenous knowledge frameworks. Dr Alefaio founded NIUPatCH (Navigate In Unity Pacific approaches to Community-Humanitarians), a virtual practice-informed research collective in 2016. NIUPatCH shines the light on Pacific-Indigenous community responses of innovation to humanity’s challenging needs across climates of change in Oceania.

Dr Siautu Alefaio-Tugia

Research summary
Of all the Earth’s regions, the Pacific is one of the most prone to natural disasters and poses significant complexities for disaster resilience and humanitarian response. Samoa, for example, confronted a measles epidemic in 2019, followed by the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In Fiji and Vanuatu, the pandemic was compounded by Cyclone Harold. The serious disruption to everyday life overwhelms communities and exposes societal inequities.

Pacific-diasporic response to disasters through families and churches of those affected is often more effective and enduring than that of aid agencies and governments as regular systems of remittance are already in place.

This Rutherford Discovery Fellowship research programme conceptualises a reset in the humanitarian landscape through recognising the importance of Pacific-diasporic initiatives in Aotearoa New Zealand as a breeding-ground for disaster resilience and community-humanitarian response.

Using Fa’afaletui, a Samoan metaphorical concept of searching for wisdom, Dr Alefaio will analyse concepts and ideas embedded in Pacific-diaspora initiatives to produce two original contributions to contemporary humanitarian, disaster and psychology contexts.

The first is a psychological framework of humanitarian response and disaster resilience grounded in Pacific-Indigenous concepts.

The second is an articulation of Pacific disaster resilience through community initiatives of innovation. The outcome of this research programme will go beyond just another form of psychology and create systems-level change, enabling a scale-up of new innovations that are grounded in community resilience for humanitarian and disaster contexts.

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