Ioane Hawaii: Overcoming barriers and focusing on abilities


In 2019, Ioane Hawaii, a Tuvaluan man with a disability, was granted one of five Australian Awards scholarships. Tetra Tech International Development Indo-Pacific manages the Australia Awards scholarship program which provides education opportunities to postgraduate Indonesian scholars.

Ioane’s scholarship enabled him to study a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Economic and Public Administration at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.

Throughout his journey, from growing up on Funafuti Island to becoming a successful Tuvaluan alumnus employed in the Ministry of Finance, Ioane has focused on his abilities with remarkable courage and perseverance. This is Ioane’s story…

Early life and challenges

One morning at the age of eight, Ioane woke with leg pain. Over time, his condition worsened, causing him to lose the ability to stand or walk without support. Despite facing this debilitating challenge, Ioane’s mother ensured he continued his education at Nauti primary school. Initially carrying him to school every day, she provided emotional and physical support, and he remained highly motivated to learn.

Embracing education and volunteering

Ioane was taken to Fiji for assessments of his condition, where he was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. Upon being welcomed home by his relatives, his parents ensured to foster sense of focusing on what Ioane could do, rather than what he couldn’t.

His family and teachers supported him to continue primary school education and overcome challenges. When attending secondary school in a two-story building, Ioane required friends and family to carry him up and downstairs from his second-floor classroom. Determined to continue his studies, Ioane enrolled in the Diploma of Economics program at USP while actively volunteering at the Fusi Alofa Association, an organisation supporting people with disabilities. His passion for helping others secured a scholarship for studying a Certificate III in Disability with the Australian Pacific Technical College in Fiji. He then returned to the Fusi Alofa Association to teach children, emphasising the importance of focusing on abilities and breaking down barriers that limit people with disabilities.

Thriving as a wheelchair table tennis athlete

Beyond academics, he emerged as a successful sportsman in wheelchair table tennis. In 2019, he competed in the South Pacific Games, winning Tuvalu’s first-ever gold medal in the wheelchair table tennis category. 

Juggling family and scholarship responsibilities

Ioane married his wife who he met in high school, and they had two children. In 2019, he was awarded the Australian Award scholarship, which allowed him to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce at USP. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the birth of his third child, Ioane had the dedicated support and advocacy from the AA support officer, which played a crucial role in his successful completion of his degree in November 2022.

Ioane Hawaii graduation
Leilua Talaa Mataika, Daughter Tealamaitapu Rialisa Ioane, Son Alefaio Mailupe Ioane, Daughter Lupeuea Adriana Leiane Ioane.

Advocating for inclusive education and employment

After returning to Tuvalu, Ioane secured a position in the Ministry of Finance as the Banking Commissioner officer. Continuously advocating for people with disabilities, he recently joined the launch of the Ministry of Education Inclusive Education Advisory Group. He passionately emphasised the fundamental rights of children with disabilities to access education and stressed the need for specialised interventions and support tailored to specific disabilities.

Breaking down barriers

Ioane continues to inspire others; his journey is one of resilience, love, support, and unwavering determination. From achieving an education, becoming a gold medallist, and securing employment, his perseverance shows the power of how focusing on abilities overcomes barriers.

Read more about Tetra Tech International Development’s Education services.


 Director, Scholarships

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