Nine children, two degrees, one job: Manutai Leaupepe

Despite having nine children and a full-time job, Manutai Leaupepe was still able to find time to study for a Master's degree. Find out how she earned her degree with the support of her family.

At 7am on 14 January 2008, Manutai Leaupepe phoned her eldest son in tears. 

“It’s an emergency,” she sobbed, as she stared at her computer. “I’ve just lost all my work.” 

Manutai was at work, and had been up all night finishing her Masters dissertation before its midday deadline. The dissertation was the end result of two years’ work, completed alongside her full-time lecturing job and being a mum to nine children.

But now her computer had crashed. 

“Okay mum, calm down,” her son said, as he helped her recover her lost work. 

For Manutai, reaching study at Masters level had been a long journey. She left school at 16, without qualifications, and settled down with her husband Aukuso. She had her first child at 18. 

Ten years later, after helping out for many years at her children’s kindergarten, she was inspired to become an early childhood teacher. “We had this wonderful head teacher, with energy oozing from her, who always made teaching look so exciting. I would say, ‘Man, I would love to be a teacher’. She encouraged me to train.

“I applied thinking I wouldn’t get in because I had no qualifications, but tertiary education gives you a second chance to get back in and do what you want,” Manutai says. 

Four weeks after giving birth to her sixth child, Manutai began study and Aukuso gave up work to look after the children. 

“It was a really hard time. My husband had always been the breadwinner, and now we were reliant on welfare. It was a big drop in wages, and we had to account for every single cent.”

The benefits came eventually, with Manutai getting a teaching qualification, then a Bachelor of Education. She worked first as a teacher, then in 2004 got her current job as a lecturer in early childhood education. During this time, she had three more children.  

Manutai talks with pride about the way her family has helped out while she has studied and worked.

“When I was studying for my Masters, if it got too noisy at home my husband would ask, ‘Is four hours enough for you?’ and then the family would take off somewhere. And they all helped with the domestic duties. One of my boys even gave up his room for six months so I could have a place to study.” 

That support continued throughout her degree, and on the day of the deadline her family waited anxiously for Manutai to come home. “I had not made any contact since crying on the phone that morning,” she says. “When I got back two hours after the deadline, my son just looked at me and went ‘Eh?’ I put my thumbs up, and he came and hugged me and said, ‘Well done mum, I knew you could do it’.

“We had a huge celebration. Everyone was doing high-fives and getting out whatever was in the cupboard and cooking it up.”

 

Updated 21 Jul 2016