A young woman from Tuvalu is due to give birth to her second child in Rotorua in two weeks – 3700 kilometres away from her husband and home – after Covid-19 border closures trapped her in New Zealand while she was doing seasonal work.
Takeisi Laki came to New Zealand in March to work the apple season in a Hawke’s Bay packhouse, something the 25-year-old has done for the last five years to help support her family.
To get a visa under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme she had to take a pregnancy test.
It was negative, but after she Laki began feeling unwell a few months later she bought a home pregnancy test.
It was positive.
“I was so happy … [and when I told my husband] he was so happy, too.”
But it may be some time before the new family of four are together.
Tuvalu, which is reached from New Zealand via Fiji, has closed its border to keep the deadly virus out.
Laki doesn’t know when it will re-open and she’ll get home to husband Vaeluaga Taeka and their 11-month-old son, Junior.
The couple have already chosen the name for their new baby – Kalapu – after the baby boy’s whāngai grandfather.
“I’m feeling good,” Laki told the Herald on Sunday.
“But not too good, because I miss my husband … and my son, he’s turning one on October 16.”
Laki is living with Taupō couple Den and Mark Eddowes, who met the young mum and her family while volunteering in Tuvalu last year. Mark Eddowes is godfather of Junior.
They invited Laki to stay in their home, as she would otherwise have been living in a dormitory while pregnant, and then with a new baby, Den Eddowes said.
Laki wasn’t entitled to any benefits and, as a non-citizen, initially faced paying for all her medical care. She had insurance as part of her employment, but it doesn’t cover pregnancy.
Her first appointment with a midwife cost $300, but after positive communications with the Tuvalu Embassy and Laki’s employer, Hawke’s Bay company Mr Apple, her bills are now all being sent to Mr Apple, who are in discussions with the Ministry of Health, Eddowes said.
Laki wasn’t in a position to pay her medical bills, Eddowes said.
Tuvalu, one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to rising sea levels, is also one of the world’s poorest, with low wages but high prices for food and other necessities.
Teachers with degrees earn $4 an hour. Laki’s husband, who works for the power corporation, is paid $2 an hour.
And Laki was stranded in New Zealand through no fault of her own, Eddowes said.
“She wants to be home with her family. This is not her fault. Ok, it’s not New Zealand’s fault either, but we’re talking about a baby here, and a person’s life.”
She and her husband, who have three adult children, were supporting Laki, who they considered family.
But all three had also been stunned by the support from the community, including the couple’s fishing club – Acacia Bay Fishing and Social Club – and Taupō Pregnancy Help, as well as health services.
They had already been given or loaned several items, such as a bassinet and pram, and gifted items would be donated back to the community once Laki and her baby eventually travelled to Tuvalu.
“She’s blown away with the care in the community.”
Eddowes, meanwhile, was blown away by Laki’s resilience, bringing a new life into the world so far from home and family.
“She’s happy and smiling … [the people of Tuvalu] are amazing. They put everything in God’s hands.”
She hoped Laki’s story would be an uplifting one for her home country, which is normally in the news for stories about rising sea levels threatening its future.
“For this child, and the people of Tuvalu and the Pasifika community, this is a different story … a feel good story.”