I was pleased to read yesterday that the Department of State has selected our good friend the Reverend Uesifili Unasa as its global International Exchange Alumni Member of the Month for April.
A resident of Auckland, Rev. Unasa is an alumnus of our International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), having traveled to the United States a couple years ago on our 2011 Community Activism and Minority Rights IVLP study tour.
As I described in a prior post, the IVLP is State’s premier professional exchange program, designed to build mutual understanding through carefully designed short-term visits to the U.S. for current and potential overseas leaders in a variety of fields including education, the arts, business, politics, philanthropy, community organizing, and media.
The trips are organized to reflect the International Visitors’ professional interests. Each IVLP is typically 2 or 3 weeks long. In total, the program brings more than 4,000 International Visitors to the U.S. from all over the world each year. Since its inception in 1940, the program has hosted more than 200,000 people, including 300 current and former Chiefs of State and Heads of Government … thousands of cabinet-level ministers … and many other distinguished leaders from the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors.
The 2011 IVLP on which we sent Rev. Unasa brought two dozen community leaders from around the world to North Carolina, Texas, Hawaii, California, and Washington, D.C. to engage in discussions with and study the work of American grassroots activists, NGOs, and community groups. While in Washington, Rev. Unasa was able to visit the new monument to one of his heroes, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to stand at the spot at the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has an International Exchange Alumni Affairs Division which facilitates networking among alumni and supports them as they build on their exchange experiences. Each month that Division considers the ongoing work of the tens of thousands of alumni of IVLP and other U.S. exchange programs, and confers the Alumnus of the Month award on an outstanding individual making a significant difference in his or her home country.
I am delighted that Alumni Affairs has wisely selected Rev. Unasa to be honored this April. Throughout the month he will be recognized on ECA’s International Exchange Alumni website for his life-long dedication to New Zealand’s Pasifika and other marginalized communities, as well as for the impactful new projects that he has launched since his return from his U.S. study tour. Below is a short interview of Rev. Unasa in which he talks about his trip, his work, and his background:
Rev. Unasa is currently the Maclaurin Chaplain at the University of Auckland. He graduated from the University with a degree in History and Political Studies, and earned a degree in Theology from the University of Otago. He trained for the ministry at Piula Theological College in Samoa, Knox Theological Hall in Dunedin, and Trinity Methodist College in Auckland. Ordained into the Methodist Church in 1995, he spent a decade in parish ministry.
In the two years since his IVLP study tour, Rev. Unasa mobilized Pacific Islands communities in New Zealand to take part in The Advance Pasifika March for Our Future, to highlight those communities’ social, economic, political, and cultural needs and concerns. As Chairperson of the Auckland Mayor’s Pacific People’s Advisory Panel, he organized a dialogue with Pasifika church leaders, politicians, and community groups to share perspectives on LGBT marriage equality.
Rev. Unasa is also active in the Living Wage campaign which seeks fair wages for unskilled and manual laborers. He organized consultations between Pasifika communities and the government of New Zealand on constitutional reform. With a Maori Anglican vicar, a Fijian Indian Muslim academic, and New Zealand’s Children’s Commissioner, he launched the Interfaith National Settlement against Violence campaign for women and children, to which more than 40 faith-based organizations and national leaders have already subscribed.
The good Reverend certainly keeps busy, making a powerful positive difference not only within the Samoan and other Pacific Islander communities in Auckland but within wider New Zealand society as well. He is a superb exemplar of a life well lived in the service of others, and I am delighted to see him honored by the State Department.