A love for the language, a passion for the people

Maryanne Leilua

Latest News 7 August 2019 | “I was born in paradise”. Not many would argue with Maryanne Leilua, Counties Manukau Health Cook Islands interpreter, about the beauty of her birthplace, Aitutaki, one of the 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands.

“It wasn’t perfect, it was hard and we were poor, but it was so beautiful, we were so happy”, says Maryanne. Her eyes brighten up when she remembers her life in Aitutaki. “In the Islands you feel free, eat natural food, go to church, light up the fire in the early hours of the morning and make sure grandma and grandpa have a cup of tea and breakfast”.

A proud Cook Islander, Maryanne loves her work as an interpreter. She feels honoured to be able to help the people in Counties Manukau.  “The main difficulties our people face are the language, especially understanding the terms of the illness and not knowing where to get help”.

“For us Pacific it is common to say ‘yes, I understand’ even if we don’t. Sometimes patients don’t want to say they are in pain because they don’t want to be in the way. I tell our patients to never be scared to say that they don’t understand and to ask for help if they need it.”

Maryanne Leilua when she was child living in Cook IslandsMaryanne sees about ten Cook Islands patients per week – she also works as a Samoan interpreter – and makes sure to provide the best service. “I have a lot of respect for my work and the precious time I have with our patients. When I come in and say ‘Kia Orana’ they immediately feel more comfortable.”

However, it is not all about the language. “They need support and understanding, I will hold their hands if they need it, ask if they are ok; it’s about the little things.”  

The most difficult part of her role is when she has to give families bad news. “It affects me too”.

Maryanne’s work in health has also motivated her to change her lifestyle. Two years ago, she was weighing 112 kgs and after a knee replacement and other health problems decided to cut down on sugar and start to exercise.  She has lost ten kilos since and now walks four days a week and swims when she can.

“Talking to patients about their health, I decided I had to do this for myself, for my job, my whaanau and my moko”. Her son and her co-workers have embarked on the same journey, and challenge and motivate each other to keep healthy and fit.

Maryanne wants to leave a message to all Cook Islanders living in New Zealand. “Be proud of your culture, keep your culture and speak about it. Learn and speak your language”. 

Maryanne Leilua with Cook Island family

This week (4 to 10 August) Counties Manukau Health is celebrating Cook Islands Language Week.