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Pasififika health trio honoured by His Majesty King of Tonga


Debbie Sorensen and Princess Royal of Tonga Salote Mafi le'o Pilolevu Tuita. Photo: Supplied“In our busy lives, it is rare for us to have time to reflect on work and our collective achievements, but it does not go unnoticed,” says Debbie Sorensen along with close colleagues Mr. Tearikivao (Kiki) Maoate and Mr Simione Lolohea who were honoured to accept the Royal Order of the Crown of Tonga Commander award from His Majesty King Tupou VI of Tonga, at an investiture ceremony leading up to the July 4 coronation in Tonga.

The awards ceremony was part of a week of celebrations to mark the coronation of the Pacific nation’s monarch, His Majesty King Tupou VI of Tonga who hosted the ceremony at the Royal Palace for about 20 recipients and their guests.

The medals are a way to recognise the great work and also a reminder of the tremendous spirit of service by the recipients who have made important contributions to the people of Tonga.


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Pivitol to the ceremony are the trio from New Zealand whose greatest assets are their extensive training in the health sector, experience and genuine love of their profession.

It is a signifi cant achievement for a medal to be awarded to a non-Tongan and for Tongans in New Zealand to be recognised. The trio were specifi cally honoured in recognition of their outstanding service.

• Mrs Debbie Sorensen whose family originate from Leimatua, Chief Executive Offi cer of Pasifi ka Medical Association and Pasifi ka Futures Limited, a Pasifi ka commissioning agency for Whanau Ora, Director of Health Specialists Ltd.

• Paediatric Surgeon, Urologist and Cook Island-born New Zealand doctor, Mr Kiki Maoate FRACS, ONZM.

• Colorectal surgeon and Tongan-born Mr Simione Lolohea FRACS.

“It was truly wonderful to be recognised and share this honour with fellow collegues Mr Maoate and Mr Lolohea,” says Mrs Sorensen.

Mrs Sorensen received a phone call a week before the ceremony to inform her she was going to receive a medal. However, the news had to remain a surprise for the rest of the Tongan community, to be revealed at the award ceremony.

“I didn’t tell a soul. I found it quite difficult not to tell my husband.”

Dr Simione Lolohea, Debbie Sorensen and Dr Kiki Maoate.“I nearly burst into tears and I keep telling myself, this couldn’t be happening.”

Mrs Sorensen played leading roles in the health reforms of the 1980s and ’90s in New Zealand and the establishment of the Pacifi c health sector. She worked in various projects that address the health challenges facing Pacifi c populations in New Zealand and the Pacifi c region.

This is not the fi rst time Debbie has been recognised for her service.

She has received a number of awards including the Excellence in Leadership Award from South Seas Healthcare Ltd, the Service Award from the Pasifika Medical Association and was highly commended in the 1999 Pacific Business Person of the Year award by the Pacific Island Business Development Trust.

Most recently, in 2011 Debbie was awarded a prestigious ANIVA Health leadership Fellowship which supported her to complete an Executive leadership programme at Harvard University.

She has held many high profi le roles in Pacifi c health including working as an advisor to Prime Ministers, Deputy Prime Ministers and Health Ministers throughout the Pacifi c region.

She has worked in Tonga over the past 15 years delivering the New Zealand Medical Treatment scheme, supporting the development of the Tonga Child Cancer Association and advising Ministers of Health.

“I have been very privileged to be able to serve the Government and people of Tonga over many years. As the birthplace of my father and home to my extended family, the country and people call to my heart. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to serve and will continue as long as I am able.”

Dr Kiki Maoatea and DebbieSorensen.“This is a special honour which I have accepted that recognises all the people that supported my work and services to the Tongan people and Pacific communities in New Zealand.”

Receiving the award was also a massive achievement for Mr Maoate, who is a strong advocate for Pacifi c health in New Zealand and across the Pacific.

“We are privileged to be part of the ceremony and our work will continue to serve and inspire the people of Tonga at home and here in New Zealand.”

“As a Cook Islander, I feel honoured to receive the Royal Order of the Crown Commander.

I would like therefore to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to His Majesty and the people of Tonga for honouring me in such an extraordinary way,” said Mr Maoate.

Last year, Mr Moate was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for his dedication and commitment to Pacifi c health. He is a Fellow of Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and is the Clinical Director of the Pacifi c Island Program.

He is the Associate Dean of Pacific Health in the University of Otago based in Christchurch.

He was instrumental in the establishment of Pacifi c Trust Canterbury and has provided strategic leadership in the development and formation of the South Island Provider collective.

But it doesn’t stop there. Mr Maoate is also the President of the Pasifi ka Medical Association, a member and strong supporter of the Pacifi c Island Surgeons Association, and is the Chair for the Minister of Pacifi c Island Affairs Ministerial Advisory Committee. He has served on numerous boards and committees including the University of Canterbury Council and the New Zealand and Pacific Health Research Councils.

Mr Maoate is the current Clinical Director for Health Specialists Ltd working with the New Zealand Aid Program and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Australia.

Mr Lolohea, receiving the award came as no surprise. He is a well-respected leader in the Tongan community and Pacifi c health sector in New Zealand and the region.

Mr Lolohea, said he was humbled to have been recognised for his services to the people of Tonga.

“It’s nice to be recognised in my area of specialty to improve the lives of those who are less fortunate.”

“I'm saying ‘thank you very very much.

This is a great honour and I accept it on behalf of those who have worked in the sector with me for years and also for our Pasifi ka Medical Association champions who really do the hard yards. It's an acknowledgment to them.”

The Royal Order of the Crown of Tonga (Fakalangilangi ‘o Kalauni ‘o Tonga) is an Order of Merit awarded for exceptional services to Tonga the Crown. The Royal Order of the Crown of Tonga was established in 1913 by King George Tupou II.

The ceremony was attended by many from the royal family, religious leaders, diplomats, and parliamentary fi gures.



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