Staff Spotlight: James Puati

Cook Islands Country Manager


James is a New Zealand-born Cook Islander and leads Global Volunteers service programs year around. He has worked at both elementary and high school levels as a Physical Education teacher and teacher of Maori. He has also contracted to the New Zealand Ministry of Education to develop Maori resources and as a Pacific Island Education Advisor.

James leads all teams of volunteers in the Cook Islands.

What is your favorite travel memory?

For our 30th wedding anniversary, my wife and I travelled to Chile, Rapanui, and Argentina. I would have to say there was a huge spiritual connection that I had in Rapanui from the moment I stepped off the plane and this was enhanced further as I experienced the culture, the indigenous language, right through to the ‘navigational pull’ of the stars and the spiritual awe-inspiring ‘Moai’ sentinels.

They say that ‘travel is good for the soul’; well, my soul was enriched with reconnection to my "tuakana" (a reference to our ancestral travel of Polynesia).

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

My philosophy is based around the richness of relationships and connections that in turn help you to grow as a person. Global Volunteers has given me the opportunity to be in touch with many people and to share in their excitement and commitment to make a huge difference in the world.

These relationships are based around respect – however great or small that is!

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

I remember one return volunteer with eight service programs under his belt and the special relationship he formed with one of his students. The fact that each year the volunteer, after working with the same student for three years, managed to keep track and visit with this particular student through his tenure up until his passing, is a testament to the true commitment and respect that was evident in the relationship.

Needless to say that the student was totally devastated by the news of his passing, though richer for that connection.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

Vietnam is definitely a program that I would love to partake in!

The assignment is well catered to my qualifications in ESL work and the idea of education being a key underpinning for potential and growth for any individual makes this program appealing for me – it is also hard to go past a good ‘Pho’ and Green Mango Salad.

…and did I mention the beautiful country…It’s a stunning place!

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

Coming from a developing country (soon to graduate off the OECD ODA list) and working in many areas of development, it is easy to watch and observe the many faces of aid. I believe that Global Volunteers' work within countries throughout the world is founded on respectful approaches for assistance and self-determining principles that allow countries to guide the efforts in areas that they feel are important to their development.

A supportive approach rather than a directed one is something I am proud of with our team.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

In any company, be it profit seeking or not for profit, I believe the single most important factor is around relationships and connections. If these are actively worked on in a company/organisation other things will fall in place. I think there is merit in the saying ‘a happy workplace is a productive workplace’.