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Freedom Anae Feulufai says becoming a builder has helped him break the cycle of 'scraping by'.

Photo/ Supplied


From food banks to mentoring young builders

Samoan builder shares how an apprenticeship with BCITO has helped him find financial freedom.

20 February 2024, 6:00am
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Gone are the days when Freedom Anae Feulufai was having to rely on food banks and church support, now the 34-year–old Samoan runs his own building company and is supporting others into the industry.

Freedom was raised in Otahuhu, Auckland in a loving, working class migrant home.

Both his parents are from Samoa. They met in New Zealand then started a family of four children; Freedom is the second eldest.

“When we were growing up, Dad worked in the milk factory making powder back in the day, even mum too. Life was a bit hard, money was a struggle.”

But even with the challenges, his father managed to buy his own home for $80,000 in 1990, just before Freedom was born.

“But yeah, it was just a struggle having your own house. I still remember going to the Salvation Army, food banks and stuff because we were just scraping by from paycheck to paycheck with bills, land rates, water rates.”

But what they lacked in financial resources, they made up for in terms of family support. The house his Dad bought became a central point for their extended family.

“It felt pretty cool because all our family gatherings and everything was at home. Dad ended up getting a loan and building a massive garage. So all the gatherings were always at home, we were always surrounded by people.

Freedom Anae Feulufai now has a building company employing a team of 13. Photo/ Supplied

Now that home - which is still in the family - is worth $1.3 million and serves as a solid reminder to the family about what can be achieved with hard work and perseverance.

“For the first few years of being a teenager, I was just being silly,” says Freedom.

“But then I sort of snapped out of it and just thought, oh man, I need a trade. None of this working at a factory, where they don't even know your name.”

Freedom credits his father, who also had a building background, as being influential in his development.

“He was a hard man, but he was a real hard worker at the same time.”

Before Freedom took up an apprenticeship with BCITO, he was given mixed advice.

Some foremen and older Pacific builders would tell him he didn’t need the qualifications, while others said he should. After 10 years working on sites, he made up his mind.

“I came to realise, you actually need the qualifications. Sometimes when you go from job to job, if you don’t have the qualifications, they’ll pay minimum wages, even though you might be better than all the qualified guys,” Freedom says.

“You get your tickets, and they can search you up and then your rate just starts high, it just benefits you and family.”

Freedom now has four children, so ensuring that they don’t experience the same hardships he endured as a youngster, is motivation enough to do well.

Freedom Anae Feulufai with some of his staff. Photo/ Supplied

Freedom qualified with BCITO in 2022 and now he is passing it on by hiring apprentices who are doing those same BCITO qualifications.

He now has a building company employing a team of 13, including his younger brother. They’re all from Pacific backgrounds.

“I just want them to get qualified so they don’t really have to go through the sort of stuff I went through, so I’m pushing them. I’m trying to bring out the best from my boys.

“A lot of us Polys (Polynesians) doubt ourselves and just stay safe and be a builder or something. But with further experience there are ways to excel in life, to benefit everyone and benefit yourself - make yourself a better person.”

Freedom is careful in how he selects people who will fit in with the team and makes sure they’re motivated to succeed.

He offers them a safe, caring and supportive work environment, based on the values he grew up with.

“Some bosses act like they care, but they actually don’t. They want you to come to work and that’s it. I’ll help the boys if they need it and give them advice. I want them to feel free to speak out and not to be shy.

“Sometimes it’s about breaking the cycle for us (Pacific men) trying to always act hard, but not talking.”

Through his business, Freedom has built a community around him, one that probably mirrors the supportive family community environment he grew up in.

“I don’t really talk to my Dad so much, he lives in Samoa, but I know he’s proud of me. I know my mum is proud of what I’ve made of myself and even my siblings."

And he hopes that maybe one day, some of his own children will follow in his footsteps and forge a career pathway in the same industry that he’s found so rewarding.

Keen on an apprenticeship? Visit Building Pasifika (bcito.org.nz) to register now for help to get started.

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