We could be forgiven for claiming Lani Larsen as Filipino-Australian. After all, she stayed in Australia for a total of 15 years and still has the role of an adviser of a community organisation in Newcastle, having moved to New Zealand in 2006.
Lani and her engineer Kiwi husband Bill Larsen [deceased in 2013] stayed in Broken Hill during 1986- 1988, Bathurst in 1988-1993 and in Newcastle- 1993-2006.
Lani Larsen who now calls the place popularly known as the Land of the Long White Cloud as her home, has recently been recognised as the Filipino Kiwi of the Year. Her volunteer work taken into account included lobbying against exploitation on Filipinos in NZ, dissemination of relevant information by way of forum: Kaalaman, Karapatan Kalusugan, representation for Filipinos at Embassy level for their needs, lobbying for the NZ Phililippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) establishment, raising awareness of Filipino rights in employment, tenancy, insurance and medical matters. She was also instrumental in creating the foundation for men through the Ambassador's Cup Basketball games.
Her current project involves supporting the Filipino nurses Association, with Ambassador Jesus Domingo in allowing Filipino nurses to NZ through CAP program pathway, with recommendation for changes.
"We moved back to NZ in 2006, but continued to lead the Filipino community of the Hunter Region Inc on advisory status until the present.""I was not aware of the nomination or selection process. I was only notified about it. What I have gathered was, all organisations and community leaders were being monitored and the community comments about them were compiled by selectors. I don't know who the selectors are, but presumably, prominent members of the community. The award was initiated by the media - FILIPINO MIGRANT NEWS and its subsidiaries."
Further information obtained about the process of the selection for the awards indicated that it ensured wide engagement of the community and transparency. The readers of the Filipino News and Pinoy Life NZ, community leaders and members of the public were invited to nominate potential candidates who deserve recognition for the Hero awards. The journalists then researched and published information on the deserving candidates. After feedback from readers and the community, a shortlist of the highly regarded candidates was compiled and thereafter winners of the various awards were selected.
"The award means a lot to me because it is testament of hard work of my Team. In every organisation, it's team work. It was largely due to our commitment to helping our kababayans in need. We were instrumental in providing information, education and support through direct information, referrals and representation for them on all areas of concerns.
"The other achievements I am proud of, are our support to various NGOs in the Philippines through the Commission of Filipinos Overseas".
The Australian Filipina is glad to share Lani's responses to a few questions to get an insight into her persona and get feedback on her stay in Australia and now in New Zealand.
What are your overall comments on community involvement in Australia and in New Zealand?
Filipinos in Australia and NZ differ due to geographical situations. While Pinoys in Australia maybe concentrated largely in townships/cities and actively involved in community volunteering, it's not the same in NZ. Most kababayans here are OFWs, on work visas, and would wait for a long time for Resident Visas timeframe before they can apply.
In Australia, the organisations I was involved with included: Broken Hill Filipino Association social and Cultural group ie the Central West Filipino Association. This was first ever group that lobbied for grants with DIMA for a multicultural worker. The fund was channelled to Bathurst Information and Neighbourhood Centre (BINC); FILCOHRI- Filipino Community of the Hunter Region Inc. which is a charitable group that has continuous fundraised for the needy and holds various information sessions in the Hunter sanctioned by PCC NSW.
I was a delegate to the Filipino Communities Council of Australia (FILCAA) and Philippine Community Council (PCC NSW) during my terms.
In New Zealand, I am the Chairman: Good Heart NZPH Foundation Charitable Trust which exists for advocacy, support, training and education for OFWs.
If there is something you able to change, what would that be?
If I am able to turn back the clock, I would like to have a daughter, in addition to our lovely son. Our son is named after my husband, William Frederick Larsen Jr. He was a great sportsman, having played both Rugby league and Union with exemplary skills. He played during his high school days at Nelson Bay. And also at local club, Mallabula Panthers, Port Stephens. Work commitments and family life cut short his Rugby days. He was a good cricketer, having hat tricks while playing for school sports, representative of Hunter Sports in track and field during his high school. He is wow happily married with two sons and is living in Newcastle. Having a daughter is every parent's dream to complete the family. The mum and daughter thing, which of course, I missed out. Having said that, my son and his family are my best achievement second is volunteering.
What challenges have you faced and overcome?
During COVID 19 pandemic, the lack of financial resources was an obstacle. YET, IT BRINGS THE BEST IN PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE. As soon as I posted asking for donation, parcels, grocery and cash keep coming, enabling us to give and to both the North & South Island Filipino Community.
On a personal note: Losing a husband was just like my wings were clipped. The person who supported me in all my works with Filipinos, who encouraged me in moments when I feel like throwing the towels in frustration. He was one in a million, and many Filipino friends missed him too. A very generous and lovable larrikin. When he passed over, I concentrated on volunteering as a therapy for me. And I immensely enjoyed the unpaid hours. I found joy in seeing people happy because he achieved what he needed and wanted through our guidance.
What else do you wish to accomplish in life
I wish and dream of a unified Filipino community, where everyone helps each other and lifting up, uphold our Filipino values.
I have PERSONALLY accomplished my heart's desires, nothing more. I feel blessed.
What is your view on how the COVID 19 situation has been handled in New Zealand?
In my view the Covid 19 situation was well handled and managed by the government. The Filipino- Kiwis cope well despite financial pressures. We are lucky to have positive attitudes.
What is your view on the COVID 19 vaccination?
I encourage others who would like to have one. But I personally would like to wait for another year, and see the results and development.
What is your view on the Trans Tasman Travel Bubble?
It is a good move by both countries to reconnect again after that pandemic. I may have to wait further about crossing the Tasman. I am just watching if a community transmission occurred and both countries MAY go on lockdown again, and passengers will be stranded, as what happened before.
What would you advise people to avoid contracting the virus?
We need to observe social distancing, wear mask, ensure proper hygiene and being careful if in a big crowd.
Lastly, how would you define 'success'?
Success ss when I have reached the pinnacle of my plan, execution with precision and the outcome is achieved. And many others had also succeeded because of what I had showed. Success is an unexplained happiness only my heart feel contented and happy.
ABOUT LANI LARSEN
Lani was born as Melanie Tupas, in Bacolod City, Philippines. She is eldest of the five children.
She finished her Bachelor of Science in Accounting at University of the East, Manila, in 1972. She also spent university days at West Negros College, when she had a radio program with Jun Encarnado at DYWN, under their station Manager, Angelo Visitacion.
She worked at the family business upon finishing her degree till the late '70s.
In 1971 Lani met William Frederick (Bill) Larsen , who became her husband, in Manila while he was on company trip to the Philippines. After six years of courtship, they got married in Manila.
Bill's profession took them to many places in the world. Their first home was in Tarbela, Pakistan, where he worked as Mechanical Engineer for DILLINGHAM INTERNATIONAL, an American based construction company. With the company having subsidiaries all over the world, they frequently visited Australia.
Their only son was born in New Zealand in 1981. He is now living in Newcastle, Australia, with two sons.