NRL connecting youth to their culture through Pacific Youth Summit

Helping Pacific Islander youth re-engage with their heritage is a key part of why retired NRL legends Dene Halatau and Joe Galuvao decided to get involved with the NRL's Pacific Youth Summit ahead of the Pacific Tests on June 23.

Former Kiwi international Halatau shared his journey and Galuvao also spoke about the importance of learning about culture and giving their young people a platform to share their experiences.

Halatau, who is now working in wellbeing and education at the NRL after playing his final game for the Wests Tigers at the end of 2016, hopes he can resonate with some of the delegates that may be sharing the same journey as he did.

"I'm talking to the kids about my journey and when I first started to want to learn about my culture and that process," Halatau said.

"Also how I felt with about my identity being brought up here in Australia, being brought up mostly in a fairly white area where I have a lot of Aussie mates that I grew up with that I associated with most of my childhood, it wasn't until I started playing football and changed school that I got more in touch with my background and my culture.

"Hopefully in the room there's some kids that have had a similar sort of journey and can relate to it."

The three-day summit that began last Thursday night gathered up to 60 high school delegates of Pacific Islander background.

The theme for this year's summit is 'Awaken the Warrior'. Galuvao stressed the importance of creating a safe space for the delegates to make them feel empowered to make positive change in their communities.

"Disengagement with culture is a big problem amongst our young people and a lot of social problems come from that, so for our young people to be in a place where they can be heard and not feel judged and have the opportunity and a platform to come up with solutions is a great thing," Galuvao said.

"Our outcome is that they will be able to see within themselves the power they have to make change and that's not only within themselves but in their communities.

"If anything that's what we want, we want to show our young people that they're our future and it starts from them."

This is the third year the summit has taken place before the Pacific Tests. Galuvao has played a key role in coming up with most of the content that the delegates would work through over the three days.

He told NRL.com it was important to consider the feedback from previous years to ensure that the summit is about what the delegates wanted to get out of it.

"Over the last two years we've taken a lot of feedback from our young people that have been involved in the youth summit and a lot of the feedback was that our young people wanted to be connected more to culture so a lot of what we are doing is driven by that," Galuvao said.

"We want our young people to be able to talk about those issues, voice their opinions and more importantly be able to come up with some solutions.

"This is their event and us as staff are just a vehicle for them to leverage their ideas so they can be heard."

Giovanna Penitani has been involved in the Summit since it started in 2016. In her first year she was a participant, before she took on more of a mentor role last year. This year she is an advocate and will continue to mentor the delegates.

The 19-year-old said she had been able to take a lot away from her experience as a delegate and was a little nervous but eager to help this year's delegate get the most out of their experience.

"Over the past two of years of being involved what I took out of the summit was being able to connect with other of Pacific decent, along with learning about the issues that we face, how we can better address them and overcome them," Penitani said.

"It's a bit more nerve wracking honestly (being an advocate) because everyone is kind of looking up to you but for me it's just so important to be a part of this.

"Especially being a participant before I know how they feel coming into this and now I feel like I can help them open their minds and want to learn more and not be afraid to share their ideas with each other."