James Puati and his wife, Debi, both New Zealand-born-and-raised Cook Islanders, moved to their ancestral home of Rarotonga in 2003 with their two children, Samantha and Jordan, to immerse their family in their Cook Islands heritage. Now with three grandchildren (mokopuna) and extended family on the island, they retain ties with their birth country through friends and family. In 2006, James became Global Volunteers’ Cook Islands Country Manager. When you volunteer in the Cook Islands, James and his daughter, Samantha, will ably guide you in all things related to culture, development, and volunteer service on Rarotonga, in the beautiful islands of the South Pacific.
James was raised and educated in New Zealand, and after graduating High School, worked briefly for Taxes New Zealand while pursuing his calling in education. After completing his Postgraduate Diploma in Second Language Acquisition, James taught and consulted in Second Language teaching. It was also through this learning that he began to acknowledge language as an essential cultural marker of the importance of ties to cultural identity, achievement, and well-being. He witnessed, first-hand, the struggles of Polynesian and Maori students attempting to cope in a system that was not conscious of their personal world views, which he understood as an ethnic Cook Islander. So when he moved his family to the Cook Islands, James worked as a lecturer in the teacher training program on Rarotonga. Today, James continues to study in the language- learning area while working on a Master’s degree that will look at supporting the revitalization of the Cook Islands languages – today considered endangered.
James, please describe your team leading role within Global Volunteers.
A traditional island proverb articulates my personal thoughts about service. The saying goes: ‘Ko to’ ou rourou, ko tōku rourou, kia ora te iti Tangata’ – ‘With your basket (food) and my basket (food), we better the nation.’ Herein lies my role when you travel to the Cook Islands with Global Volunteers. The Cook Islands are a Polynesian culture that is well known for their hosting – it’s in our genes! My role with Global Volunteers is taking your basket of food (your resources and desire to serve), my food basket (the networking ability and the contextual knowledge of our country’s needs), and amalgamate these for the betterment of every individual within our nation. Hosting and coordination of the 176 teams have been much of a family effort for 13 years. My wife, Debi, started assisting me with team 95, and our daughter, Samantha, officially started with team 170. We all offer different strengths that complement the volunteer experience when you travel to the Cook Islands.
“James is very interested in making the Cook Island volunteer experience the very best possible. Excellent leadership!”Cook Islands Alumnus David Hall
What drew you to work for Global Volunteers?
I love our philosophy of service. After working in the development space for a while, you know that sustainable support and local leadership is enormous for the success of such programs.
What satisfies you the most when leading volunteer teams?
Meeting and making new friends (volunteers) traveling in the Cook Islands and knowing that schools can utilize the support in ways they can dictate.
What should volunteers expect in a week or two, or three, in Rarotonga, Cook Islands?
As you enter the community, you will find it easy to slip into the lifestyle and, more often than not, notice that the Cook Islands is a place that you can feel that you have received more than you were able to give. The children are definitely the shining light of the program, and forming relationships with them comes from the fact that they feel special that “you traveled all that way to help me to read?”
” Engaged and responsible for everyone’s needs. Cares very deeply about the culture and carrying on traditions. Very active in ensuring the volunteers had a good experience.”Cook Islands Alumna Gail Ferguson
What do volunteers comment about service in the Cook Islands?
The Cook Islands are an easy place to travel through, and our little country is totally geared up for a tourism market. When you volunteer and visit the Cook Islands, you have the best of both worlds, community insight through your inclusion into the culture and its people, as well as an opportunity to breathe and take in the beauty and magnificence of the island life.
James off the clock:
Free-time revolves around family and also getting some life balance back. I love to bike ride with the moko (Grandchildren) and have fun spending time at the beach, swimming, and supping (stand up paddleboarding.) I also enjoy quiet evenings relaxing and watching sport. Aitutaki is a special place to head to for a relaxing time. The Lagoon cruise and feeding the Giant Trevally (giant fish) is a cool thing to do. We do great food here, too! I love many places, and there are many different tropical backdrops from a sunset dinner at Waterline Restaurant to the outlook into the lagoon over the infinity pool at Little Poly Resort.
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