After years in a gang, Fiva Latu turned his life around

Snappy pink tie. Hair spiked to perfection. Friendly, polite manner. Executive housekeeper Fiva Latu charms as a manager in the hotel industry. But it hasn’t always been this way.

Life in a youth gang

For more than 10 years, from the age of 16, Fiva was part of a youth gang. His life was one of unemployment, alcohol and drugs, and fights with other gangs. Though Fiva steered clear of prison, many of his friends didn’t, and others ended up in drug rehabilitation.

It was only when a close friend gave up drinking and drugs that Fiva, then 27, considered another future for himself. “I thought, ‘I can’t carry on living like I am’. I had no focus at all, and I could see all my friends weren’t doing very well.”

Encouragement from family and a rugby star

Fiva’s friend introduced him to former rugby star Tala Leiasamaivao.

Tala phoned and met up with Fiva regularly. “He supported my decision – that I could get out of the gang, that life was worth more than all of that.

“With encouragement from Tala and my family I started to challenge myself to branch out into areas I thought I’d never do on my own.”

Taking the first step

Signing up for a beginner’s computer course was Fiva’s first solo act – and something he found difficult. “I was afraid they would think I was stupid, because I left school so early and hadn’t done anything like this for so long. But something inside me said you can do it, you’re never going to know unless you try.”

Breaking away from the gang

Fiva turned out to be a natural with computers, and completed several courses over 18 months.

But breaking free from the gang was one of the hardest obstacles for Fiva to overcome on his way to a new life – and he nearly didn’t pull it off. “They were all my close friends. We were like family, because we spent most of our time together, and everyone looked after each other.

“I felt I was being weak, because that crowd was quite staunch and I had a name for myself and a street reputation.”

An example to others

But with a strong personal drive to succeed, Fiva kept studying, and his friends gradually gave up on him. He got his first permanent, full-time job as a hotel porter, and within four years he scored the top management job in the hotel’s housekeeping department.

Today Fiva is “extremely happy and goal-oriented” and an inspiration to others. He has given motivational talks in two prisons, and would be keen to share his experiences with students in schools.  

“I want young people to stay at school and get an education because there is much more to life than sitting on the dole doing nothing – I know, I have been there.

“I want them to know there’s a bright future out there for them and they can live a healthy and successful life.”

Updated 21 Jul 2016