My name is ‘Ofa Ku’ulei Lanimekealoha Hafoka Kanuch. My parents are Lucy and Finau Hafoka from Talafo’ou and Fo’ui, Tonga. I have three older brothers (Siosaia, Moana and Spencer) and one younger sister (Victorya). My siblings and I were born and raised in Kahuku, Hawaii. After graduating from Kahuku high school, I attended Brigham Young University-Hawaii and graduated in Psychology. Then I was blessed to serve an LDS mission in the New Zealand Auckland Mission. I recently got married on May 9th to my eternal sweetheart Tuni Kanuch in the Salt Lake Temple. I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology at Brigham Young University.
What do you love most about the gospel?
I love that everything we do or teach in the gospel of Jesus Christ points towards His atoning sacrifice. Through my own experiences I have come to know that the power of the Atonement is real. The cleansing power through repentance has helped me to be worthy of blessings that I still feel unfit to receive, yet our loving Heavenly Father continues to pour abundantly. I have come to know that when we are faithful to God’s commandments and our covenants with Him, we are blessed beyond measure. The power of the Atonement has given me the faith and strength to do hard things.
The gospel of Jesus Christ blesses families. In 2012 my paternal grandfather passed away. It was the first time that I had lost someone so close to me. Although I had learned about the Plan of Salvation in Primary and taught it throughout my mission, it finally became so real to me. Through my Papa’s passing the Spirit testified that families are forever and that I will see him again someday. I am so grateful for the sealing power on the earth. A few months ago my husband and I knelt across the alter in the Salt Lake Temple and were sealed for all eternity. Marrying him was the best decision I ever made, the greatest blessing I will ever receive and I am sooo grateful to know that our marriage is eternal. I will never forget the feelings I had in our sealing with my parents, my grandparents and all of my siblings and their spouses in attendance. I know that is what heaven will feel and look like.
What/who have been major factors in your decision to further your education?
My parents have had the biggest influence on my decision to further my education. Their love for school and learning form some of my earliest memories. Our home was a place where secular and spiritual learning went hand in hand. We had daily scripture study, family prayers and weekly family home evenings. Through the example of my parents my siblings and I developed the gift of study and the gift of faith. My father earned a Masters degree while magnifying his calling as Bishop of our ward. My mother held the fort down with her roles as chef, chauffer, seamstress, nurse, housekeeper, teacher, etc. in addition to her job as an elementary teacher for English Language Learners. Most of our family home evenings and daily conversations included a regular update on our schoolwork. At an early age we were exposed to public library access and other educational activities that promoted learning outside of the classroom (e.g. Summer reading programs, speech festivals, etc). I think that’s where my love for learning and studying began. Every summer my mom enrolled us in a free Summer Reading program at our public library that rewarded children for every book they borrowed and read at home. The expectation to receive a university education was the norm in our home because the value of education was instilled within us at a young age. My parents taught that the more knowledge we attain, the more service we can render to God and others in building up His kingdom here on earth. They never pressured us, rather encouraged us to study hard while giving us the freedom to study in any field that we enjoy. Their constant encouragement and support served as my motivation throughout my education. They have made countless sacrifices, some of which I may never know, for us to continue our education. However, to them it was never a sacrifice rather an investment in our future. In so many ways my siblings paved the way for me to follow. I have two older brothers who are also pursuing doctoral degrees, a Doctor of Public Health (Saia) and a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice (Moana). My brother Spencer is doing well in the Tourism & Hospitality Industry and my sister Victorya is expecting her first child in September. Their examples of hardwork and dedication motivate me to study hard.
In what ways has the gospel helped you better understand the concept of getting an education?
Modern day prophets and apostles have taught the importance of getting an education. The scriptures teach that the “glory of God is intelligence.” I knew that if God wanted me to get an education, He would provide a way and the means for me to do so. I was blessed to receive academic scholarships through my undergraduate education. Likewise my siblings received athletic and academic scholarships to fund their undergraduate education. We have always believed that the Lord would grant us the righteous desires of our hearts. One of my favorite scriptures is found in Matthew 6:33—“But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” He has always provided a way for me to achieve my goals when I put Him first!
After my mission I knew that I wanted to go back to school but I wasn’t sure what field I wanted to study. I knew that I wanted to utilize my time as a single adult to further my education. I didn’t want to just sit around and wait for my eternal companion to find me. I started off by studying and taking the admission exams for graduate programs (the GRE). After much prayer, fasting, attending the temple and doing research on graduate programs, I felt prompted to apply to the Counseling Psychology doctoral program at BYU although it was a five-year commitment. After I submitted my application I had to wait for about a month to hear back from the program. I remember going to the temple and pleading with the Lord, if it was His will that I get accepted I will study hard and then serve others. This opportunity to pursue a doctoral degree is God’s gift to me. The service that I can give to others with my education will be my gift to Him.
How has education helped you better understand your role as a Polynesian Woman of the LDS faith in this changing value society?
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Find purpose in your life. Choose the things you would like to do, and educate yourselves to be effective in their pursuit. For most it is very difficult to settle on a vocation. You are hopeful that you will marry and that all will be taken care of. In this day and time, a girl needs an education. She needs the means and skills by which to earn a living should she find herself in a situation where it becomes necessary to do so.”
My education will help me to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ, a better example for my future children and enable me to contribute to society and our Polynesian community. I can’t control what will happen with my husband’s future career but if for any reason something happens to him, my education will put me in a position to earn a living or another income to support our family. He has been so supportive of my education. He is also studying at BYU. I am grateful for a priesthood holder who understands the value of education.
In the field of Counseling Psychology, it is my hope that I can help to raise awareness among our Polynesian community about mental health issues. Sometimes our culture limits us from seeking mental health services, probably because of the stigma or shame around mental illnesses. My hope is that I can help our Polynesian community deal with mental health illnesses through educating, providing resources, information around these issues and inform mental health professionals on what is culturally appropriate and effective, especially in the United States where our literature is lacking information on Pacific Islanders.
What advice would you give to our sisters who are contemplating pursuing their education?
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Study your options. Pray to the Lord earnestly for direction. Then pursue your course with resolution. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part.”
If you are contemplating pursuing an education, take a leap of faith and know that the Lord will provide a way. It is important to understand that pursuing an education is not limited to only university or formal education. There are other avenues that you can use to obtain an education like vocational training, apprenticeships, etc. If funding is holding you back, do your research for scholarships. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin counseled that some debt is necessary for buying a modest home, expenses for education and a family car. If there are no scholarships or funding available, look for school loans. Make the sacrifice now to invest in your future. Find out what you enjoy and then strive to attain the highest level of training in that field. It will not only bless your life but your family, community and the church.
My success, if any, is the result of the sacrifices of many. In addition to my family, there are many fathers and mothers in the community and church who stepped in to help me along the way. The beauty of our Polynesian culture is our collectivistic nature. If you need help, reach out and ask someone who has walked that path before. Let’s help each other to reach our highest potential.
The incredible Ofa with her supportive husband
Featured Image Above: Ofa’s beautiful immediate family