Charity begins at home

Daisy Amanaki. Photo by: Hannah Jenkins

Daisy Amanaki. Photo by: Hannah Jenkins

In summary: 
  • Daisy Amanaki was recently named a UTS Green Hero Award winner for 2016 for her work in initiating the donation of several hundred desks and chairs, no longer needed for Building 2, to schools in the Cook Islands
  • Amanaki, who grew up in the Cook Islands, is also a member of UTS’s Green Staff Network, the Staff Social Club, president of the UTS Wine Society and a powerful advocate for women’s fitness

Sustainable living comes easily to Project Manager Daisy Amanaki. “I’m the daughter of a green hero,” she says. “My father believed in reusing stuff, never wasting anything and doing a whole lot of different, innovative things.

“Most of his life he did that, and that’s where my green network came from.”

As one of nine children growing up in the Cook Islands, Amanaki was at her father’s side when he was capturing methane from the family’s septic system to make electricity. She was also there when he began generating power with his home-built solar panel. And when he built a hurricane-proof house whose roof was specially anchored to the ground.

“It’s only now that I realise what I got from my father,” she says, reflecting on her recent accolade – UTS Green Hero Award winner for 2016.

Packing the shipping containers. Photo by: Seb Crawford Packing the shipping containers. Photo by: Seb Crawford

Amanaki, who works in UTS’s Information Technology Division, won the award for initiating the donation of several hundred desks and chairs, no longer needed for Building 2, to schools in the Cook Islands. She galvanised the local Cook Islands community to help, and she launched a fundraising campaign on crowd-sourcing website chuffed.org to help cover shipping costs.

The UTS Green Hero judges recognised Amanaki’s initiative because it “not only keeps material out of landfill, but has great social sustainability benefits by giving the items a new life with kids in the Pacific”.

This is Amanaki’s 20th year at UTS – she remembers the campus she joined in 1996 as “small, dated, slightly depressing” and yet to be reshaped by the digital revolution.

“There was a job as a project manager for capital works in the Faculty of Law and I was employed just for that. But within three months, I had 40 projects on my plate,” she says.

“Now the campus is so vibrant and connected – there are so many different places that can be used in many ways. My favourite is Alumni Green. I love being able to plug in my laptop or my mobile phone out there and carry on working.”

In the late 1970s, Amanaki was the beneficiary of a push to encourage girls into engineering – she received a scholarship to study in Fiji, then one from Cable & Wireless to study in the UK for her advanced diploma in telecommunications engineering.

She also met her Tongan husband in the UK, with whom she had four children. The couple returned to the South Pacific to marry, working in the Cook Islands and Tonga, before arriving in Sydney in 1991.

Packing the shipping containers. Photo by: Seb Crawford Packing the shipping containers. Photo by: Seb Crawford

Today, Amanaki is a member of the Green Staff Network and the Staff Social Club. She is president of the UTS Wine Society and fond of a good Hunter Valley Shiraz. She is also a powerful advocate for women’s fitness. On Walk to Work day last November, she did just that – 7.6km from the Inner West apartment she moved to after her husband died two years ago.

“I loved it, I absolutely loved it. The weather was perfect and I said, ‘that’s it – I’m going to walk every morning from now on’.”

She’s out the door by 5am and in the UTS gym by 6.10am, ready to do a weights routine before she begins her working day.

However, Amanaki maintains strong connections with her Cook Islands village, Arorangi, where her mother is queen.

“My years at Arorangi School and Tereora College provided the foundation for me to pursue my tertiary studies,” says Amanaki.

“Being able to organise this donation of desks from UTS to the Cook Islands Ministry of Education is a way of giving back.”