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The team behind Tha Panel.
Mental health and well-being is not usually a topic of discussion for many Pasifika and Māori families.
Feelings of whakamā and the weight of family expectations can be a barrier to seeking professional help for people going through mental and emotional distress.
But a group of Māori and Pacific social media creators are fighting to break that stigma through social media networking site TikTok – speaking about their every day life and issues and reaching over 18,000 viewers every week.
Dubbed Tha Panel, the group meets online every Tuesday at 9.30pm in a live broadcast to talanoa or kōrero about their struggles and experiences with mental health issues – all the while creating a safe space where no topic is too tapu.
Co-founder Caleb Phillips, 36, said: “It’s like getting the lid off the pot once it’s boiling and letting that steam out.
“No one really talks about what’s going on under the surface – things that people are struggling with mentally.”
Phillips, who has whakapapa ties to Ngārauru, Te Rarawa, Ngāi Tahu and Moriori, is known for his comedy sketches and entertaining people on TikTok.
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That was a form of self-care after battling the grief of losing his father, he said.
“My dad died and I was trying to maintain my job, my marriage and the expectation I had on myself as to what being a man, husband and father is meant to be.”
He identifies with Tha Panel’s audience who say it is hard to reach out for help.
“It was a friend who saw the sadness behind my eyes and asked how I was. That helped me to question my own thoughts and what was going on inside me.”
He recognises now that he was depressed at the time.
“I had to drop the expectations of society and even what my dad would have wanted me to be as a man,” he said.
Sallyann Matafeo, the other co-founder, is the managing director of fruit and vegetable wholesaler Lady Dora’s based in Ōtāhuhu, South Auckland.
She has gained popularity online through the unique way she markets the business on social media; with a livestream every Friday night advertising upcoming specials.
The live videos are complete with a vibrant Pacific Island marketplace vibe.
The pair would often joke and banter while streaming online. However, one day, their conversation took a more earnest turn and they realised they could utilise their platform for good.
One day, a viewer asked an odd question: “If you were a superhero, what your super power be?”
Matafeo, who hails from American Samoa, responded that she would want to be able to read minds so she could see what people are going through and help them out of their struggles.”
The social media comedian and entrepreneur teamed up with an electricity dispatch co-ordinator, a professional wrestler and a church minister’s son – making Tha Panel as diverse in background as they are in personality and opinion.
Their differences reflect the nuances of the communities they hope to serve, knowing that topics of mental illness, relationship struggles and societal pressures are often swept under the carpet.
Pro wrestler Kingston Eclipse is a proud Samoan raised in Otara. He is blunt and straightforward.
Vili Ngahe is Tongan and the eldest of five siblings. His father was a church minister and has worked closely with youth affected by domestic violence.
The last voice on the panel is Ila Perez, who is of Tokelauan, Portuguese and Samoan descent but was raised in the modern “Kiwi way,” she calls it.
She is the glue who holds Tha Panel together and keeps everyone in line, she says.
Founders Phillips and Matafeo bring a comedic element to the episode, with the cheeky banter that their communities are well-known for.
They say that the comfort of being in their own home, their own phone and listening to familiar characters converse about heavy topics has already made a big difference for their viewers.
Matafeo recalls a woman who left an abusive relationship after stumbling across their segment.
“The topic wasn’t necessarily about abuse,” Matafeo said.
“It was just about communication and being able to speak to our family members. And from her watching, it gave her the courage to open up to her mum; who was able to pull her out of that situation.”
Viewers have offered petrol vouchers, registered therapists and marae have reached out in support.
The group has also been approached about touring local schools to talk directly to students about mental health.
Tha Panel is now a registered charity, thanks to the help of Matafeo’s father, Tuilaepa Matafeo.
She said: “If we could at least touch one life, that’s all that matters.”
Caleb Phillips
Born in Whanganui, Caleb (Ngārauru, Te Rarawa, Ngāi Tahu, Moriori) moved to Auckland as a teenager. He describes himself as a family man and has had a 17-year-long career in the electricity / events industry. His comedic talents, however, is what he is known for online.
“I strive to encourage and motivate people to be better than they used to be by sharing my knowledge and personal experiences. It’s natural for me to make people laugh because it’s who I am. Being myself, open and transparent on Tha Panel, I believe will help bring confidence and self-awareness to the people.”
Sallyann Matafeo
Salz considers herself your average NZ-born American from South Auckland.
“My love for people keeps me grounded. The love my late nana had for the people, continues through me. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is the people, it is the people, it is the people. I offer hope that we can do it. If I can do it, you can do it better. With all this experience, I hope to help at least one person through Tha Panel. For the people – always.”
Vili Ngahe
Born in the island kingdom of Tonga and raised in the central Auckland suburb of Pt Chevalier. Vili is the eldest of five church minister’s kids and is from a strict Christian family. He has a philanthropic background and has worked closely with youth affected by domestic violence.
Now a father-of-five himself, Vili says: “Tha Panel is a blessing, but also a commitment to our people. It feels like it was my calling right from the beginning.”
Kingston Eclipse
NZ-born Samoan Kingston is a proud product of Ōtara – Dawson, to be exact, he says. The pro-wrestler’s no-nonsense attitude balances the group with harsh realities and calls to action.
“We live in a society where everything is sugar-coated. Feelings are sugar-coated, family issues are sugar-coated. It’s like you have to sugar-coat everything in respect of a person or a specific topic. Yes, I do believe in being respectful. But many people tend to sweep certain things under the rug or turn a blind eye when something does not make sense in regards to a specific issue, topic or concern. That’s when I step in.
“I am a firm and staunch believer in speaking the ugly truth – the straight up ugly truth. Respectfully.”
Ila Perez
Ila was born in Apia, Samoa, but raised in New Zealand. Though her background was modern, she has held strong to cultural traditions. Through her 16-career in the electricity industry, she has ensured the health, well-being and safety of her community.
Tha Panel is an opportunity to take her servitude to another level, says.
“I believe Tha Panel is a calling for this generation to refocus on what’s important in life. By contributing our own experiences, we hope to inspire others to seek help. This is my passion in life.”
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A group of Pacific and Māori TikTok members have banded together to talk mental health.

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