New Zealand Student Leader Aims to Love and Lift School Community


During her first speech as newly appointed head girl (student leader) of New Zealand’s Tawa College, Yona Fernandez, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had an important message for her fellow students.

“Kia manaaki is a value that means to accept others despite their differences, but it also means accepting ourselves despite our weaknesses,” she said.

Yona’s desire to reach out to young people who might feel they are different, is personal. When Yona was 10 years old, her family left the Philippines and decided to make New Zealand their new home.

She remembers, “Everything was different. School was different. It was a big change.”

Unsure of how to interact with children at her new school, Yona found herself in the principal’s office at least three times a week.

“People would call me names, and I would fight them,” she says, her voice trailing off into a whisper.

Despite being taught her whole life to “turn the other cheek” and to love others, she says that she felt “overwhelmed” and admits that it “wasn’t the best response.”

She reflects, “Sometimes we get caught up in feeling sorry for ourselves, putting ourselves down, or sulking, but as long as we accept that we have done wrong and are willing to work towards becoming better, then Jesus Christ can help us get through it and we can improve ourselves if we just turn to Him.”

The experience has made Yona more aware of how other young people might be feeling and it is why she applied for the role of Head Girl at her school.

“I always knew that I wanted to be a leader and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to help students in my school,” she says.

When COVID-19 caused New Zealand to lockdown for almost two months, Yona came up with an idea.

“I led an initiative to create a school Instagram account.”

With a new platform, students now needed an excuse to create and share content.

So Yona worked virtually with school prefects (student leaders) to organise “quarantine bingo,” in which students had to complete a variety of tasks. The activity culminated in a bake-off challenge and Yona created a video using clips sent in by students.

When the lockdown ended, Yona worked with school prefects to plan events to motivate students as they came back to school, because, she says, “there [had] been a loss of momentum.”


Yona also started a Philippines Club.

“It was nice to see people from different backgrounds interested in Philippines culture, and coming together to learn and have fun,” she said.

A second lockdown, initiated on 12 August 2020, has put more school events on hold for now, but Yona is confident everything will work out.

She recounts: “I was praying, and I opened the scriptures and read about trusting and obeying the Lord, and at the time I was wondering what I should do about a situation, and it helped me.”

She believes that “when we follow the Lord, it will all work out in the end.”

Yona worries about her fellow school students who struggle with their self-identity.

«We say things to ourselves like, ‘I’m not good enough, why am I even trying?’ or ‘Don’t do it, everyone’s judging you’ or ‘EEW! Did I look like that all day?'»

Yona points out that every person has «potential, but most often, they can’t see it for themselves.»

Helping young people to be more kind and accepting of themselves continues to be Yona’s focus in her final year of high school.

She confides, “I want young people to know they are a child of God, and they are so loved, and even though it’s sometimes hard to see that, His love is always there, and even if you mess up and do or say things that you probably shouldn’t, His love is still there.”


Los artículos de esta sección no son oficiales pero han sido tomados de una fuente confiable y acreditada. La traducción es automática y puede dejar mucho que desear, sin embargo, a pesar de estas deficiencias, se ha realizado un esfuerzo para poner la información al alcance del público de habla hispana. Para ver el artículo completo original en inglés, consulta la siguiente Fuente:

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