Sharing Worlds, Changing Lives

The Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative was founded in June of 2012 as a way to allow Samoan students a chance to develop cross-cultural awareness by traveling to the United States. The program seeks to engage the Samoan students in hands on activities and interaction with Americans with the understanding that Americans will gain just as much in terms of the sharing of cultures.

Our mission is to inspire the youth of Samoa to dream, but more importantly, to act. With a focus on sustainability, we are challenging the students to return to Samoa as bold leaders, active individuals and inspirational partners. They will reach out to share their experiences and then move to act on important issues facing their local communities, churches and families. They are the future of Samoa and we can EMPOWER them!

Monday, February 8, 2016

2016! The Tradition Continues!

It has been over three years since Milo, Neueli, and Saulo traveled to the United States for the Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative. My dream then was that the program would continue in the years ahead and provide other students a chance to broaden their horizons and come to understand the world in a new and exciting way.

It is with great excitement to announce that the Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative will once again bring students from the shores of Samoa to the United States of America. Matthew Redman, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from the same village as me, has been planning and organizing a very exciting program for two of his former students in Samoa. I remember the students well from my own time in Samoa, and I know that this will be an exciting and rewarding opportunity for them, their families, and the entire village.

Below I have included Matt's project proposal which explains his program in greater detail. Matt has created a page where individuals can make a donation. I invite you to take a few moments to read over the material and consider making a donation here at

On a more personal note, I can clearly remember the day when I felt God inviting me to begin the endeavor to form the initial program, and then trusting in Him that He would lead it as He wished. Through the generosity of family, friends, businesses, churches, NGO's, and yes, even strangers, the program developed into something much larger than I had ever dreamed of. And so my prayer is that this program continue to be blessed by God and change many lives.

Samoan Youth
Empowerment Initiative

Program History:
Founded in June 2012 by Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Kyle Kincaid, the Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative was created as a way to allow Samoan students to travel to and experience the United States. Kyle selected three boys to accompany him to his home state of Michigan for one month. While in the U.S. the boys toured hospitals, met with doctors and nurses, toured potatoes sorting facilities and a farm, visited a local dentist for a teeth cleaning, toured a courthouse and met with a lawyer and judge, traveled to Chicago and toured museums and the John Hancock Building. They met with local elementary school students and gave a presentation on Samoan culture as well as met with Samoan families living in the U.S.

Kyle created a Language Proficiency Assessment of 20 questions that was given to the boys before they left. Upon their return to Samoa the boys were given a similar test based on their experiences in the U.S. Two boys improved from 40% proficiency to 70% and one boy going from 92% to 100%. With the aid of another Peace Corps Volunteer, the boys shared their experiences with the village (and even taught kids the game of baseball which they had learned from their excursion). I have had the pleasure of knowing these three boys during my Peace Corps service in Sauano and Saletele and following up on their ambitions. One boy is currently at a local college studying to become a mechanic, another is working for a local church doing video production with ambitions to become a police officer, and one boy placed first in his year 12 class at the highly reputable Pesega College in Apia. He is working towards becoming a teacher.

Mission Statement:
To provide Samoan students opportunity to not only dream, but act. By developing cross-cultural awareness with an emphasis on sustainability, the program seeks to engage Samoan students in hands on activities and interaction with Americans with the understanding that Americans will gain just as much in terms of the sharing of cultures. We challenge the students to return to Samoa as active leaders and inspirational partners in their communities, churches, and families.

2016 Project Proposal:
My name is Matthew Redman and I had the honor to follow in Kyle’s footsteps by teaching at the Sauano and Saletele Primary School as part of United States Peace Corps Samoan Rural Primary Literacy Project. I am currently employed at Tacoma Community College’s Early Learning Center. I have selected two former students of mine of to complete a one month study abroad in my hometown of Tacoma, Washington during the month of May 2016.

Filipo Tauamo and Lafoga Kirisimasi.
Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative 2016 Participants

While in Tacoma the students will be integrate into the community with the support of the TCC Pacific Islanders Club and the Asia Pacific Cultural Center. Students will receive daily English lessons as well as accompany me to the Early Learning Center twice a week to practice their English in a real classroom setting.

Intended activities and goals include:
• Meeting local Samoans
Connects students to northwest locals who have also made the Malaga.
• Attending Samoan churches in Pierce County
View religion from an American perspective & compare to Samoa
• Volunteer in local church philanthropy
Create new ideas to take back to a small community
• Receive a dental examination
Encourage oral hygiene in rural villages
• Attend a local sporting event (i.e. Rainiers game or TCC event)
Have fun, experience American culture, study statistics.
• Tour the Tacoma Art Museum
Students keep a journal of illustrations & writing
• Museum of Glass
Inspiration for wood carving workshop
• Washington State History Museum
Reading scavenger-hunts
• Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
How can our side of the Pacific Ocean aide the environmental-health of the other?
• RDC Stables- Orting, WA
Ride, groom, and experience recreational boarding
• Fort Lewis and McChord Airforce Base
Tutuila & the American military

• Visit Mt. Rainier and the Nisqually Watershed.
Expand awareness of global-warming & practices for sustainable living.
• Tour Vashon
A very different kind of island
• Visit the Space Needle and tour Seattle
Make memories
• Attend The Cat in the Hat at Seattle Children’s Theatre
Create a short play based off a book
• Visit Pacific Science Center
Challenge the boys to think of ways Samoa could better use their resources.
• Tour the University of Washington campus
Instill the drive to seek guidance, counsel, & mutual understanding

Curricular Objective:
For the culmination of the project I’d like the students to complete a 1-2 day job shadow in the final week of study. This will provide the students real world experience to take back to Samoa and apply to their village, impending studies, and future career prospects.

• Shadow a veterinarian at Fair Isle Animal Clinic on Vashon Island.
Study ways to improve the lives of dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, and fish.

Projected Budget:
• Samoan Passports.
~100 WST x 2 people = ~200 WST = ~ $100.00 (based on flux. exchange rate)
• U.S. Student Visas.
$190x 2 people = $380.00
• Airfare.
Apia, Samoa – Sea-Tac, WA: ~$1,200 x 2 people = ~$2,400.00
• Health Insurance
$54.00 x 2 people = $108.00
• Liability Insurance
$150 x 2 people = $300
• Travel Insurance
$35 x 2 = $70
• Food
$400.00 x 2 people = $800.00
• Lodging (the students will be staying with me for one month)
Extending my lease by one month. Final rate tbd.
• Activities (anticipating donations)
• Local Transportation Costs
• Unexpected Expenditures

Total Budget Proposal: $5,458.00
March 21: Visa registration opens
April 4-8, 2016: Visa Interviews
Friday April 22, 2016: Matt returns to Samoa
Friday April 29, 2016: Filipo and Lafoga depart Samoa accompanied by Matt
Program Dates:
Saturday April 30th – Thursday June 2nd, 2016
Friday June 3rd, 2016: Lafoga, Filipo, and Matt fly to Hawai’i. Matt puts them on their flight to Faleolo, Upolu.

How to Donate:

Donations can be made online at

Fa’afetai Tele Lava! Thank you very much!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Making a Splash!

I contacted Splash Universe, an indoor waterpark in Northern Indiana about the possibility of a free one day pass to their facility for the boys and wasn’t sure if I would get a response. It wasn’t a day later and they contacted me saying they would be happy to meet my request, but that they would like to make it a two day pass to the park and a free overnight stay in their hotel!!! I was blown away and since neither Saulo, Milo or Neueli had gone to a water park or hotel before, I knew it would be a fun adventure for them.

We checked in on a Friday afternoon and the boys spent over 4 hours in the waterpark, going down the slides, in the lazy river and getting thousands of gallons of water dumped on them from the gigantic bucket that filled every few minutes!

I had been working them pretty hard with a busy schedule for a few weeks so this was a nice chance for them to relax and just be teenagers!

The big bucket soaking those below!

Neueli after having come down the water slide.

Saulo enjoying the slides.

Milo enjoying the hotel room! The boys got to sleep in bunk beds!

Finding Samoa in Indiana!

After Sunday Toanai at George & Kathy's
The more time that passes, the more time I have to reflect on how many people were involved in making this program a success. I plan to create a flow chart from one end of the spectrum to the other that shows how many people become connected as a “family” in this amazing experience.

One of the amazing connections led us to two great Samoan families who live in Northern Indiana! Through a family friend, we met Don and Dawn. Dawn is from Samoa and still has many family ties to the country. Last year they both were so excited to hear that Saulo, Milo and Neueli were going to be visiting in the area. They extended a warm invitation right away, asking that we come over for a Samoan toanai (big Sunday feast). We met in mid-January with great excitement! By this point the boys were missing home and to have an opportunity to speak with someone in their native tongue—my Samoan wasn’t cutting it—was a big deal. We were also all missing Samoan food at that point.

However, it wasn’t just Don & Dawn’s family, but another family they know from nearby, George, Kathy and their family. George is from Samoa and met Kathy during her time in American Samoa. They met us at Don & Dawns and the huge Samoan reunion commenced.
When we walked in the door and people started speaking to me in Samoan, I felt this happiness come over me, making me feel like I was back in that country I love so much. That’s when I realized it must have been even more amazing for the boys to be able to speak and hear their own language.

Dawn had prepared a huge Samoan feast with American dishes thrown in too. I never had thought it would be possible to fix some of the dishes that she did here in the States, but it was all amazing. Just as in Samoa, the adults all received their food first and then the kids followed behind. It was a full house and a happy house!

We shared pictures, played cards and watched T.V. Saulo, Milo and Neueli walked around the entire time with huge smiles on their faces. George and Kathy have a large family with lots of teenagers so the boys felt right at home with people their age.
The evening finished up with George and Kathy inviting us over to their house the following Sunday! The boys were very excited to hear this and looked forward to it all week. The following Sunday we did it again at George and Kathy’s and Don and Dawn drove over to join us as well.

There was another huge Samoan feast, this time Kathy having worked mostly in the kitchen. There were games of pool going on and video games. George and Kathy had a bunch of their family over as well so it made for a packed house with lots of laughs and good times.

Before we left, I asked George, Kathy and their family to give some words of wisdom to the boys about how important it is to work hard and not give up on your dreams George is a perfect example of someone who worked hard and decided he wanted something and then worked for it. George grew up in Samoa but then he moved to American Samoa and eventually to the States.

I also asked George’s kids to give words of encouragement to the boys about staying in school, and staying dedicated to their studies. Each of George’s kids said such inspiring words and really spoke from their hearts about what it takes to succeed. I knew the boys were listening and I do believe they will remember what they were told for a long time to come.

Samoan food prepared in Indiana!!

Hanging out and speaking Samoan!

Great friends!

George and Kathy's family giving words of wisdom to the boys.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Neueli, Milo and Saulo in the Windy City!
Luckily for the boys, I happen to live near one of the great American cities: Chicago! Although we flew into O’Hare on our arrival, that was early in the morning and after they were all facing sleep deprivation. They ended up sleeping the whole ride home and missing out on the sights. Therefore, I knew a trip to Chicago was a must do for our schedule. We actually made two trips to Chicago, the first to the Museum of Science and Industry and the second being to actual down town on Michigan Avenue.

On both trips we took the South Shore Train that leaves from South Bend, Indiana. We went to the museum in early January with my uncle and his friend. It was a great educational experience for the boys, even if they couldn’t read about everything they saw, the most important thing was that they saw it!

Our second trip was in the middle of the month and we headed to the last stop the train makes near Michigan Ave. This was their first time seeing the skyscrapers up close and so as soon as we walked to street level, their heads immediately looked straight up. We headed for the John Hancock Building where we got on the elevator to the 95th floor. We went to the lounge there and bought four Pepsi drinks for $22.00, which was still cheaper than the $27.00 admission to the observatory a few floors up—and we still had an amazing view of the city and the lake.

As we walked to the glass windows, I could hear the boys gasping at the vastness and the height at which we were standing. It still impresses me and I’ve been to the top of tall buildings my whole life! We had just been to Lake Michigan the week before so I explained to them that they were looking at the other side of that same lake. It was a true moment of culture shock, these three young men from a tiny village on a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean were looking at this mass of human creation that seemed to go on forever. It was one of the coolest parts of the trip for me, in terms of watching their expressions.

We headed back down the elevator about 40 minutes later and continued to mingle along Michigan Avenue for the rest of the afternoon. We stopped by the Apple Store to warm up for a few minutes and ended up staying for an hour as all four of us were captivated by the i-pads! A similar story played out at the Lego Store where we were just going to make a quick pass through, but then started building with the interactive portion of the store where you could build your own creations. This caused us to take a later train back to South Bend, but I figured it was worth it if it stretched their minds to create and think in ways they hadn’t before in their own country.

It ended up being a great day, and other than the fare for the train, a very inexpensive day! There is a teenage boy in their village who is called Chicago, so I’m guessing whenever they see him in the future, their minds will have a whole new picture related to their experience that day.

Saulo and Milo enjoying the city life!

Saulo and the city of Chicago behind him.

Neueli's first time to a 95th floor of anything!

Milo taking in the sights.

I think Saulo sat like this for 3 mintues...just looking.

Group picture.

They were impressed by the beach too.

Looking up at where they had come from...the John Hancock Building

This window washer caught their attention! They asked what he was doing.

The boys were faster with the i-pad technology than I was!

Hanging out at the Apple Store.

John Hancock

I spelled each of the boys' names for my creations at the Lego Store!

Milo building.

Final creation.

The islands are always on our mind.

Looking over the Chicago River before heading to the train.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Go Irish!
During my three years in Samoa, one of the most visible decorations in my house was a large ND flag. I remember the early days when Saulo, Milo and Neueli would come over to visit and ask what that flag was all about. My uncle would send newspaper clippings following each home football game in the fall, so the boys got to know Notre Dame football through pictures, my stories of being in the band and other items such as hats, notebooks and t-shirts.

Needless to say, when they arrived in the States for their visit, I felt they were already Notre Dame fans in their hearts and that made our visits to campus so much more exciting. They were finally able to identify buildings and places to the pictures they had seen.

My sister Jenny, our friend Katy and I first took the boys on a tour around campus at the end of the year. We started at the bookstore and made our way to the Basilica, and then over to the Grotto, Golden Dome and finally a ride up the elevator at the Hesburgh Library for a view from the 13th floor. The boys were impressed by the size of campus and also by the friendliness of the squirrels. Since there are no squirrels in Samoa, they were very fascinated by the furry animals and tried calling them over every time they saw one in a tree or running across a quad.

Our second visit to campus was amazing! We went to the Vigil Mass at the Basilica on Saturday, January 19th and then met Fr. Jim Gallagher from the Congregation of Holy Cross. Fr. Jim was meeting us to take the boys and I to dinner and then to the men’s basketball game against Rutgers. We walked over to Five Guys for some delicious hamburgers and fries before heading over to the basketball arena (with a brief stopover at the hockey arena to get a glimpse of a game that was already in progress).

We had amazing seats for the basketball game, situated in the lower arena. When we walked in I could see the guys getting excited, especially with the jumbotron, band and team all adding to the atmosphere. Basketball is a sport that isn’t played in Samoa, so everything the guys experienced was new. Even though I don’t consider myself an expert in the sport, I still had a fun time explaining the basics to them throughout the game.

It didn’t take long at all and they felt right at home, cheering and yelling “Go Irish!” We were all thrilled when the Irish pulled out a narrow victory in the end against Rutgers. As we left our seating, we walked along the edge of the court where we were able to get the boys’ picture with the leprechaun. We said our goodbyes to Fr. Jim who had been an amazing host and then headed for the car. On the way home the boys were listening to my Notre Dame Band CD and talking about the game. It was a great way to end their visit to Notre Dame and now they will forever be fans of the Fighting Irish!

In front of the Golden Dome.

Meeting Katy at the bookstore before our walk around campus.

Outside the Basilica.

Hesburgh Library

The game!

Thanks Fr. Jim for hosting us!

After the game.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Classroom Visits, a Powerful Experience

After making ulas with Mrs. Schmeling's class!
When organizing for Saulo, Milo and Neueli to make visits to American classrooms, I knew that they would be eye-opening experiences, but I never realized in the beginning how emotionally attached they would become to those they would visit. It allowed great friendships to be made, as well as some old ones to be revisited.

Schools in Samoa have limited resources, and this also translates into limited teaching staff. Currently there is a teacher shortage in Samoa, with some older teachers having come out of retirement in recent years to help alleviate the burdens put on the system.

For the most part, schools are clean and have a basic set of resources. My school, where I taught the boys, provided lined paper notebooks at the beginning of the year, along with pencils and to the older students, pens. Teachers had access to construction paper, glue, scissors, markers and crayons. Although each of these resources were limited, they did provide enough materials to set up a colorful classroom and do projects throughout the school year. Most schools also have some type of library.

However, although these resources were readily available—the libraries included—many teachers didn’t take advantage of utilizing them and thus, the students more often spent their time copying from wrote off of the blackboards. Things have been done this way for many years in Samoa, although good changes are starting to take place as a newer generation of teachers steps to the foreground.

I had gotten in touch with Mrs. Schmeling’s 5th grade class at Central Elementary in White Pigeon, Michigan through my mom who also teaches there. Mrs. Schmeling’s students were welcoming the boys from the beginning, having made a welcome sign to display when we were picked up at the bus stop.

We had a chance to visit the 5th grade class three times, in addition to an afterschool event on evening. Our first visit found us breaking through some anxieties as Milo, Saulo and Neueli adapted to being in an American classroom. Although I mentioned there were basic resources in the schools of Samoa, the American classroom could be a lot to absorb with all of its colors, books, computers and technology. That’s what that first visit was about, getting familiar with the students and the setting.

We partnered Milo, Saulo and Neueli up with their own “buddy” in the beginning to help show them the ropes for the school day. The boys sat in on morning lessons, went out for recess and ate lunch with Mrs. Schmeling’s class. That first visit was spent by the boys sharing pictures and videos with the 5th graders as well as my mom’s kindergarten class. In the afternoon, the boys sat in a circle with the rest of the 5th graders to answer questions about Samoa and ask questions about America. The day finished up with the three of them demonstrating some Samoan dances and getting to listen to some of the 5th grader girls sing and play the guitar to some popular songs.

Later that week, Milo, Saulo and Neueli were invited to go roller skating with the Mrs. Schmeling’s class, along with the 3rd, and 4th graders who were all attending this after-school event. None of the boys had ever been roller skating, so it required some patience on all of their parts as they tried to keep their balance on those four wheels. Their new friends in the 5th grader were great about helping hold their hands as they got the hang of it. By the time the evening of skating ended, all three of them were able to skate with much more confidence and a few less falls! There were some sore muscles the next couple of days but they were so happy they were able to go.

Our second visit was also a huge success! By that time, all the kids knew each other and so it was much more relaxed. Our main project was making candy necklaces, in Samoa it is called an “ula.” Ulas are given in Samoa for special occasions like weddings, funerals, Mother’s and Father’s Day. We had bought a bunch of candy and the boys demonstrated how to roll the candy in clear wrap and then tie it off with string. Although we couldn’t make flower ulas, this was a good second choice in terms of sharing something unique from their culture.

Our final visit to Mrs. Schmeling’s room was on the boys’ last full day in Michigan. We stopped by to say a “quick” goodbye and ended up staying a couple of hours. Mrs. Schmeling and I were able to see it was going to be hard for these new friends to say goodbye. As the end of the school day drew near, it was so special to see the hugs, handshakes and even tears as the boys said goodbye to their new friends in the 5th grade. I think the boys felt a bit like movie stars with kids coming up to ask for their autographs. It was hard for them to say goodbye, but we left knowing we would try to stay in touch through letters and cards.

At lunch with the 5th grade.

Recess time with new friends!

Milo, Saulo and Neueli talking about Samoa with Mrs. Schmeling's class.

More time with friends.

Taking a break from roller skating.

Neueli got the hang of it pretty fast.

Milo tried pulling me down with him a couple of times but I managed to stay up.

Saulo demonstrating how to make an ula.

Neueli lending a helping hand.

Milo and friends.

Neueli signing stuff for his new friends before saying goodbye.

Mrs. Schmeling's class wanted some photos to remember their friends by.

New friends--good friends!!

Hard to say goodbye.

Milo saying his final goodbyes to the 5th grade.

Neueli says goodbye.


My friend Katy, who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa was teaching 6th grade two years ago while I was still teaching in Samoa. At the time, I reached out to her and asked if we could start a pen pal program between her class in South Bend and my 7th and 8th grade students in Samoa. And so a friendship formed between our two classes and letters were sent, along with other cards and projects. This year as I prepared to bring the boys back, Katy, who is now teaching 8th grade, remembered that her students this year were pen pals with the boys two years ago!! In fact, some of her students still had the letters that had been sent to them by my students, one of whom was pen pals with Neueli. So it was a no brainer that these old friends had to meet up.

Katy arranged a time after school in mid-January when a handful of her students were able to stay after class and meet with Saulo, Milo and Neueli. We took souvenir items to show, along with new pictures and videos. As was the case with the 5th grade, there was some shyness in the beginning, but they became more comfortable, especially when we split into small groups to do question and answers. The afternoon finished up with Katy’s class showing the boys around their school. It was another great day where the two cultures were exchanged through discussion and friendship!

Neueli fielding questions in a small group setting.

Saulo an the guys talking culture points.

Milo not only got asked questions but got to ask some himself.

Milo's old pen pal from 2011.

A visit to Katy's library.

We're hoping they take Katy's good advice!


The guys perhaps felt most confident when they visited the Young 5’s class at Central Elementary. They could let down all insecurities in front of the little kids and didn’t feel at all intimidated due to their difference in age.

We were warmly greeted by the Young 5’s teacher, Mrs. Kaz who had been so excited to meet the boys! She invited us in to have a seat and then asked her class to show off some of their knowledge about the alphabet, numbers, months of the year and other things they had been learning. Mrs. Kaz went around the room with great enthusiasm, holding up letter cards to quiz the kids and then haphazardly throwing them into the air. Milo, Saulo and Neueli started to laugh out loud and I knew that this was a great example for them to see a teacher who was using such creative ways of learning and doing it so well with a group of young learners! There was a commercial on T.V. a few days after our visit to the Young 5’s room and it had someone throwing paper into the air in a similar way as Mrs. Kaz had done and I heard the boys comment on how it reminded them of the Young 5’s visit! The boys finished things up by sharing their Samoan alphabet with the American students!

Listening to the Young 5's review.

Free Choice time always a favorite among Young 5's kids.

On the day we stopped to say goodbye, we got a funny picture together!


We were also fortunate to meet with the other 5th grade block at Central Elementary where Mrs. Demeyer’s kids were ready with a ton of good questions for the boys. Milo, Saulo and Neueli sat in the front of the room and answered questions about everything from animals in Samoa to what they want to do for a career someday? Some answers were given by the boys drawing a diagram on the board to help illustrate a particular idea.

Great questions 5th grade!


After the boys performed their traditional Samoan dance for the 5th grade, word spread to the Kindergarteners in my mom’s class. The boys stopped by to visit with the kids and do the dance, which held everyone’s attention well. They also enjoyed looking at the old traditional Samoan weapons, bowls and money. There are now Kindergarteners who can locate Samoa on a globe—something I couldn’t do myself until four years ago!

More questions.

Kids watching the dance.

Saulo playing teacher and telling the line to move.

Neueli saying goodbye to the kids from Kindergarten.

Group photo with Kindergarten.


As the boys’ time in Michigan came to a close last week I asked them what some of their best moments were and they all felt strongly about their friendships made through the classroom visits. Since school normally means homework, long hours and teachers talking, I wasn’t expecting the boys to enjoy the classroom visits as much as they did, but then when I stepped back and looked at it differently, I realized it wasn’t school they were growing attached to, but the individual friends their age who welcomed them so warmly into their school, culture and country. Samoans take a lot of pride in being great hosts and welcoming in strangers, and yes, all that is true! However, I am happy to see that the American youth are able to run the race too and leave some deep impressions on three boys from the South Pacific! Many thanks for that! Many thanks for showing my students how fortunate we have been to attend our studies in an American school system where all are respected and listened to and creativity and innovation are encouraged and fostered!