Can you imagine the shock horror on my face when my friends Tracey and Gavin Sebire asked me to marry them? What planet were they on? What quality traits did they see in me in 2014 to ask me to undertake such a heavy duty responsibility? What prompted them to choose me being an expat that I would undertake this immense task? Are they out of their minds? Well. Hundreds of questions flowed through my brain. I was flooded with wanting to know why on earth would they choose a young Vanuatu woman to be their celebrant. No Vanuatu person has ever done that or being put on the spot!
One of the many hats that I wear proudly today is my ability to maintain my licence to practice as an Independent Marriage Celebrant in New Zealand. The journey towards becoming and gaining registration was a bit of a process with the New Zealand Internal Affairs and getting the community to back me up with my application. To this day, I am grateful to Tracey and Gavin for believing in me and trusting in that very special friendship. They have recognised a skill and supported an opportunity that I could embrace and be financially viable in for the future.
The four referees that were sought to back me up with the application were outstanding. I couldn’t have asked for better. They wrote some very substantial letters which were very moving and I do want to share them here. I was very emotional reading Chief Geoff and his wife Alison Boon who described me as the “Secretary cum dogsbody and principal organiser for the Vanuatu Community in Wellington.” It was so heartwarming to see comments such as “Leina is an experienced events organiser and public speaker, running and being a Master of Ceremonies at everything from Christmas parties, Independence and graduation celebrations to public exhibitions of Vanuatu dance, arts and crafts.”
Peter and Jocelyn Young who became my New Zealand family and solid foundation for 17 years emphasised the great asset I have been to the Melanesian Community in Wellington and Porirua city. They continued in their letter as “In her official duties, she is confident, capable, organised, friendly and out-going but it is in her unofficial roles that she shines as an excellent role-model for the younger people. Our personal experience of Leina and the enduring memory we have of her is that she is incredibly self-disciplined. Having arrived in NZ when not much more than a child, and in a foreign culture with no family here, she has done remarkably well finishing her schooling, studying to qualify as a nurse, then progressing in different areas of that profession. However, she did not become a hermit student but has fully participated in many aspects of NZ culture such as church, music, sport and volunteering, while encouraging other Melanesian students to do he same, and now is an exemplary NZ citizen. She can and does speak on behalf of others not so aware of bureaucracy or not as articulate as herself since she can understand and speak a number of languages or dialects. Her ability to motivate and encourage others to take a share in the work of bringing ideas to fruition, e.g. the Annual Vanuatu Independence Celebrations, never ceases to amaze us. She successfully interacts with a diverse range of people from different cultures, socio-economic groups, occupations and religious views.”
I have so much respect for my great friend and mentor Brett Childs who is an Independent Performance Consultant and a Corporate Trainer/Facilitator who also supported my application . It was so refreshing to see. He wrote from an entirely different angle emphasizing my strong interest and advocate for Womens Rights, action against domestic violence and proponent of the Vanuatu Communities in NZ. In his words, “Leina brings a unique ability to the Wellington region Marriage Celebrant Community: She would be one of few, if any, first generation Melanesians in the area with the authority to celebrate marriage in our region. Leina is fluent in English as well as her native tribal language, Vanuatu, French and Bislama. Because of her understanding of pan-melanesian culture, Leina is able to perform marriages with cultural sensitivity for most Melanesian communities. I have observed Leina speak publically with confidence and competence in many situations including the Wellington Regional Vanuatu Independence Day Celebrations, Fund Raisng events for Bougainville Womens Safe House and the Melanesia Day Cultural Festival at the Pataka Museum.”
My great and loving friend/wantok Glorias Oxenham (an early childhood education teacher) supported me with her powerful letter as well emphasising a very special sisterhood bond and friendship that we shared. She continued with reinforcing that my involvement was not only limited to the Melanesian-wide set but very much to my local community of Mana where I am actively and highly involved with community organisations such as Zonta Womens Club and the Pataka Cultural Museum. They were deeply moving referees who wrote honestly on observations, gut instincts and interactions they have had with me through the years.
I was stamped and endorsed after an official interview with the Department of Internal Affairs in Wellington. By the 13th of November 2014, I was officially an Independent Marriage Celebrant and my name was added onto the New Zealand Gazette List of Marriage Celebrants-according to the Section 11 of the Marriage Act 1955. Obviously exciting times but oh it was terrifying to be so alone with no experience of how to conduct weddings! Thank God for the power of networking! Marie Preston, a hardworking retired Celebrant took me under her wings to show me the ropes and introduce me to the Wellington Celebrants Support group as well as the National one CANZ. The popular celebrity likes of Pinky Agnew who is a well known New Zealand entertainer, author and motivational speaker also took a mentoring role to helping me start on this very unique journey. Life was surely very different!
So what have my thrilling experiences in this role become? Well.
Different. Warm. Fulfilling. Creative. Fun. Adventurous. Meaningful. Purposeful. It was just enough to keep my sanity. It has certainly made me become more creative to thinking outside the margins. Researching and writing even more became my main ambitions and explorations. I have financially invested my time and efforts into taking extra curricular educational activities through the Wellington Education Community Centre http://www.cecwellington.ac.nz/ for professional development and growth. I personally took classes based on creative writing, travel writing and childrens stories throughout the last two years-that also included my financial education with investments through stocks and real estate.
My Celebrant experiences highlighted the need of exposure for a young celebrant to get started and the many challenges they could encounter. The need for a mentor is so paramount. One of the experiences I had was remembering seeing the bride-to-be had a little melt down, the groom-to-be fainted and the whole bridal party not turning up to the rehearsal. Luckily they all turned up on the wedding day and it all went smoothly! It made me realise what an extremely stressful event it can be for young brides and grooms to be in when they are commercially exposed to a lot of factors. I married my good friends Tracey and Gavin at the strike of Midnight in Rotorua-It was a beautiful evening with amazing wedding decorations, lights and arts in their home. I loved it so much! Gen and Peter married on Christmas day in their wonderful home in Eastbourne-a complete surprise for everyone who turned up after travelling internationally. It certainly brought a few tears! The weird beach wedding of Helen and Matt on Seatoun Beach in Wellington was certainly weird-the bridal party and the groomsmen were all called Helen and Matt as well with a 160 guests present!
Life is certainly full of wonderful adventures for Leina!