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Pacific women recognized for service at Stars of Oceania awards

 Stars of Oceania Awards [Photo: RNZ/ Monica Miller]

The role of women as leaders in the Pacific region and their resilience in forging ahead despite difficulties has been recognised and celebrated in an awards ceremony.

The Stars of Oceania acknowledges individuals for their exemplary service, leadership by example and strength overcoming challenges to achieve success.

At the awards ceremony in American Samoa, eight of the 13 recipients were women, including American Samoa's member of congress, Aumua Amata and Hilda Heine, the Marshall Islands president.

Also honoured was Samoa's deputy prime minister, Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, who, in her keynote speech, spoke about the challenges she faced as a young single woman claiming titles that belonged to her father, the first prime minister of Samoa.

She said for her the most memorable example of resilience and healing was how Samoan people came together after the 2009 tsunami.

"Samoans from all over, not just from Upolu. People from Savaii getting on the boats and coming over to see their families and in many cases collecting them just to take them away from the site of the tsunami. That was the most healing thing was the participation of all the different levels working together. "

Fiame said even in her own village, people acted right away to help each other.

"In my own village the call went around to gather things, all the basic necessities that people would need. And the call just went out and people were bringing things and families were getting out in their cars so all these things could be put together and delivered to the villages that were hardest hit."

Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said this kind of shared identity and sense of community was cultivated over generations and was there to guide people.

"Despite our different languages, traditions and cultures we are united in our values of aroha alofa and aloha our shared responsibilities is to protect our planet and care for each other,  not just as a policy discussions but as a way of life embedded in the fabric of who we are as a people."

American Samoa's governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga said it was often thought that women don't have a place of command in culture, but he said that's not true.

"It is often not mentioned that women have their own social order within that responsibility or implementation of plans within our villages and our families."

Lolo Moliga said for Samoans the heart of a culture rests with women.

"Women continue to make great contributions in many fields of endeavours so this event is dear to our hearts as it honours women of great talents fortitude and self sacrifice. Lieutenant Governor Lemalu and I are very proud that we have recognised the contribution of women to our society and to our government."

Posthumous awards recognized the late congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin and the late governor of the Northern Marianas, Eloy Inos.