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!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Next Steps

Workers climbing limbs of the pulu
trees on beach road as they cut them down.
It’s now six days since Cyclone Evan hit Samoa. It’s official that it hit as a Category 3 storm. Since last Thursday, it crossed over the small French Territories of Wallis and Futuna and moved on to hit Fiji as a Category 4.

Back here in Samoa life is starting to get back to normal, or at least as normal as it will be for the months ahead. Power has been restored to most of the capital, although all the rural villages away from town still remain without electricity. Stores have continued to clean up. Construction is taking place on the roof at McDonald’s and most stores have moped out the layers of mud that coated them a few days ago.

The first addition of the Samoan Observer was printed yesterday, loaded with pictures of the damage and stories of heroic acts that took place during the storm. Concerns are building about the possibilities of food shortages which almost seem inevitable. Most Samoans depend on basic foods such as bananas, breadfruit and taro and much of these crops of been destroyed, either by wind or water. The ocean, which has always been a source of food for Samoans, has suddenly become ever more important as a source of food. Rice, which has also become common in most households, is sure to see a price rise and other imported goods as well. I keep reminding myself that Samoans have been living on these islands for the past 3,000 years and this isn’t there first time through this, yet this is a new generation that is experiencing this storm, given the fact it has been 21 years since one this strong has hit.

Saulo, Milo and Neueli are growing ever more anxious for our departure on Friday night! Because of limited transportation and roads that are still being cleaned up, the parents and I have decided to keep the boys at my house which is closer to the airport and town, as opposed to going back out to the village where it would be expensive for transport to and from. They’ve been in touch with their families over the phone throughout the week and their spirits seem high. I think they’ve realized they aren’t in this alone; all of Samoa—and now even other Pacific islands, are going through the same thing.

In my last blog I commented on how the Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative has already begun in many ways, with the bravery they’ve shown and their patience in waiting for the program to begin. There is no doubt that the program will have a different tone to it, as their minds will certainly be on their families back in Samoa. However, it is my hope that the program will give them a chance to keep busy and still accomplish the original goals and objectives we set from the beginning.

Below are some more pictures of life here in Samoa over the past few day. We thank you for your continued prayers and support!

Today, one of the first freighters arrived into Apia. In the foreground are limbs that liter Apia Harbor.

Digicel, the dominant telephone provider for Samoa, realized that when cell phones are dead, no money is made. They've set up tents around the country, such as this one, where people can come and charge their cell phones by generator.

Damage at the bus stop.

Sardines and rice have been our food for the past 6 days. We buy instant noodles for variety. We are fortunate, however, to have food.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cyclone Evan

Lilli and I walked to the bridge
near the Peace Corps office to find this!
I’ve faced countless challenges in Samoa the past three years, but the past few days have required me to dig deeper than I ever have before. Emotions have been high and trials many, but with the grace of God and the love of the Samoans who make this country so great, we’ve been getting through the toughest moments together.

On Wednesday the ocean looked rough as I headed out to my old Peace Corps village to meet up with Saulo, Neueli and Milo, the three boys I’m taking back to Michigan for the Youth Empowerment Initiative. I had been so busy preparing the program that I never heard news of Cyclone Evan until Thursday morning when I woke up at Saulo’s house. The radio reports were saying it would hit by 2p.m. as a weak Category 2. I headed to town with the boys’ parents to take care of some last minute paperwork with them. When I left my village with them, I never knew it would be the last time I would see it as I have for the last three years: the next time I would return it would be completely changed.

On our way into town, Saulo’s dad was having to dodge banana trees that had fallen down early in the storm. We took care of our business in town and I said goodbye to the parents as I headed back to my house out near the airport. I had yet to pack. I debated about whether to go with them and ride out the storm with the families I knew so well, or to head to my house and try to prepare for our trip.

Apia quickly closed down and by 12p.m. I was on one of the few buses back to my village and arrived just 20 minutes before the hardest winds started. I rode out the storm as the winds buffeted my house from the West and then about 2 hours later started coming out of the south and blowing rain into my bedroom. With a leaking ceiling and a metal roof I wasn’t sure was going to hold because of the sounds I was hearing, I kept wondering how others around the island group were doing. I was especially thinking of the three boys who had been so looking forward to heading to the airport on Friday evening to head to America. The last phone call I would be able to make to the village was at 2:30p.m Thursday.

That night, the rain had let up but the winds were still fierce and the roof continued to rattle the house. The next morning rain bands would come and go. I headed out to the road to try and get a ride into town. I found a lift with a man headed in and he dropped me at Lilli’s house, a Peace Corps friend from Group 82. I had been out of food at my house so she offered me some crackers! We headed down to town together to check on my flight and assess the damage. Downtown Apia was a mess with muddy flooded streets which were the only route to walk through to get to Air Pacific’s office. At that point the flight had not been canceled, but it wouldn’t be until 3:30p.m. Friday that it would be canceled.

With many of the huge pulu trees down in front of the government building and piles upon piles of logs clogging the river near Aggie Grey’s Hotel, the Apia landscape just didn’t look the same. My goal became to try to get to the boys to see how they were. I had hardly slept the night before wondering if they and my village were ok. I found a lift from some men in a truck and we headed out on the East Coast Road. As we traveled that side of the island I found out that that side of the island had been hit much harder than the side I had ridden the storm out on. All the trees on the mountains had been striped of their leaves, making Samoa look like November in Michigan, other than the battered Coconut palms hanging after the brutal winds. That road that had been so familiar suddenly felt like a bad dream I couldn’t make sense of. My stomach felt sick and when we got a bridge that had severe damage, I realized we wouldn’t be able to get to my village. Turning around we headed back to town.

I stuck close to the Peace Corps office where Peace Corps friends were gathered. The Peace Corps office had been covered in mud. Only a few stores in town were open to sell food and power for the entire country had been knocked out. Friday night I stayed with the Peace Corps Volunteers in town to be ready to try and get out to the village on Saturday morning.

Saturday morning I went into Samoa Commercial Bank after asking the owner if I could charge my laptop, phone and camera while his generator was on. After an hour there I found a taxi van and made the journey out to the village where the boys were. The bridge that had stopped me the day before had been fixed enough for us to get across. The further we traveled the worse it got and the sadder I became. Huge trees on people’s houses, wires down. Samoans deal with grief by laughing, so I wasn’t at all surprised that the old man driving me was laughing at the scenes he saw. I wasn’t angry with him because I knew that is how they deal with it, but I didn’t feel bad for showing opposite emotions either. As we rode along he recounted some of the bad cyclones from the old days, such as ‘66, ’90 and ’91. Radio reports said this cyclone had been the strongest since 1991.

About half way out we passed a car from my village and I was belated! I then knew the road was passable. I said hi to the family and we continued along. As we went through the last village before turning onto the long narrow road back to my village, the mountains I had run along for two years looked like a weed whacker had hacked away at them. It just felt like another place. I had only been there two days earlier and it was pristine.

Dodging downed trees on the road leading to my village, we found a man walking who I knew and we offered him a ride. When he got in I asked him about the families and he told me Milo had lost his house and Saulo too. I started to cry. I knew what was coming but couldn’t stop it. I just wanted to see those families and hug them.

As we came around the last corner the village came into sight. Some light sun breaking through, the village looked like it had been through the worst. Most of the beautiful coconut trees lining the road had been striped clean of all their branches or only a few hung on. The mountain I had climbed twice back in 2011 was standing there as majestic as ever, but look wounded.

My old house came into view first and I saw it looked ok. Immediately, my eyes turned to Milo’s house right next to mine. I could see him sitting on the rocks out in front with only a few of the poles of the Samoan house still standing. I couldn’t hold it in. What was I going to say to Milo, this kid whose family had given everything to make me feel a part of their family the past three years. The van stopped and I walked towards the house, motioning for Milo to come towards me. He came over in his rain soaked shirt and I just hugged him. I had never been so happy to see him. I said I was sorry and told him how brave he was. His Mom came over with a smile on her face which quickly led to tears. We sat down in front of what was left of their house, a place that had held so many memories of the past three years. In true Samoan spirit, although they had lost everything they came over and offered me a coconut. I wasn’t thirsty or hungry; I was just sad.

We sat there for a few minutes. I asked Milo if he still wanted to go to America and he said “yes.” I asked his mom and she said “yes” as well. I felt relief, but I also felt concerned. I knew if this had happened to me the day before I was to come to Samoa I wouldn’t have left. That’s when I realized what these kids have that I need more of: faith! Milo had faith that all would be alright. He had faith that things would get better.

I explained that I had no idea when the plane would be rescheduled to leave and that we should go back into town right away. Milo said he would get his bag ready. I went over to Saulo’s house next and as we drove down there, the village was already cleaning up and working together; no one was waiting for someone else to do it for them. I saw people smiling and as they have for three years, waving at me as I went by and calling out my name. I had never been so happy to be there.

I rounded the corner by Saulo’s and his entire roof had been blown off. We pulled in and his dad walked towards us. His dad knew my taxi driver and with a laugh he said, “Aua le aka,” “Don’t laugh.” I could see he was taking it well but I gave him a big hug. He told me not to worry. Walking through the threshold of the house, I gave Saulo’s mom a hug as rain came down on us. I could see Saulo standing towards the back of the house, scooping cups of rice for their lunch. I walked to him and stopped him from what he was doing and just told him how happy I was to see him and that he was ok. I said I was sorry. We went to the side of the house and sat down and just talked about everything. I asked him the same question, whether he wanted to go to America and he said yes. He said his bag was already packed: he had been waiting for me to come and get him! That’s how much trust those kids have for me and I just felt humbled. He knew I would be there and that I wouldn’t give up on them. They hadn’t given up on me either.

As we sat there his dad came around the corner and said he wanted Saulo to go as well. Saulo got up and brought me a cup of tea. Again, these families have so many other worries but they still wanted to make me feel welcomed. I sat there talking to his mom and dad and realizing I had slept in their house just two nights earlier.

Saulo walked down the road with me to Neueli’s. Saulo said he and his dad were in the house when the roof blew off. I asked why they weren’t with the rest of the family in the church where it was safer. He said his dad wanted to keep an eye on the house. I asked Saulo why he didn’t go to the church then and he said he told his dad he wanted to stay behind to help him with the house. When the roof blew off they both ran for the church. Saulo said he was crying. I told him how much I admired the spirit of his country to start the clean-up right away and to work together.

We arrived at Neueli’s house which wasn’t damaged much, although everything had been moved out of their Samoan house and into their European style house where things stayed dry. One of the few things in their Samoan house was a sign I had given him when I returned to Samoa this year, it says, “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” He also assured me he wanted to go to America and his parents agreed.

The taxi came and we picked up his stuff and I said goodbye to his family and other neighbors. He was emotional, as well as all of his family and I just kept thinking of how brave these kids were, of how much they wanted this trip to happen. They were willing to leave their families during one of their greatest challenges and their families wanted it for them as well. We went to Saulo’s and picked up his bag. His dad had carved a Samoan plate and bowl to bring back to the States and raffle off, but he hadn’t had time to finish stain it or do any design carving on it: it was exactly how it was on Wednesday night when I saw it while staying at their house. It was an example of how time had stood still for a few days.

I said goodbye to all of Saulo’s family who had also been like family to me. I thanked them for their trust in me and told them I would take good care of Saulo. We took a picture of them together and then Saulo hugged each of his family members. It was painful to watch, but also so special at the same time. With their damaged house in the background we loaded into the van and pulled away—I could see Saulo taking a last glimpse back at his family and his village.

We made a few stops through the village so I could say goodbyes and I kept trying to make sense of everything that had happened. What an awful way to say goodbye, what a sad way to leave these people who meant so much to me, these people I had been blessed to see again this year on my return to Samoa.

We arrived at Milo’s house and I saw his elderly grandma had come up the hill to say goodbye and was waiting there for us. We got out and Milo grabbed his bag. We took another picture and I watched as Milo hugged his grandma and mom. So much must have seemed unclear for his future, but he was going with us and trusting in God that his family would be ok. I hugged his mom and told her to give love to Milo’s dad who was in capital—he had gone in to sell some carved bowls—he was already starting to pick up the pieces by making some money for his family to start the rebuilding.

With none of the right words seeming to come, I just gave a hug to each of Milo’s family and got into the van. We waved goodbye and headed out down the road. With the village below us, it was an image I’d rather not remember. I wanted to remember the way it used to look; it would take a while for them to get back on their feet and for the landscape to recover. However, as we left I realized the most important thing was that everyone was safe.

Heading down the road, the kids were in shock of the landcape on those slopping mountains. I heard Saulo say, “Oh my!” I just sat there and tried to talk them through it. It was hard to leave but perhaps it was good for them to get away and have a chance to show some of their emotions. When they are around their families I think there is a certain guard they put up trying to act brave but I found out that evening that they had emotions they wanted to let out. I’m sure it was partly anger, sadness, confusion.

That afternoon we found out our flight wouldn’t leave until the following week, this Friday. We sat together at my house that evening and said payer together on the living room floor. It was a special moment and a chance for us to share our thoughts. We each took time to say a few words and offer a prayer.

On Sunday morning we overslept for church, probably out of exhaustion. I knew these kids needed something that represented church so I set up a small chapel setting in my house and we used my English Bible and Samoan Bible to each take a turn reading a scripture passage and then sharing a few words. Saulo went first and read from Job, and the story of how Job was tested by Satan but he didn’t give in and had faith in God. I read from Matthew about Peter’s walking on the water and how it is important to keep our eyes focused on God during times of confusion and when the waves seem scary. Milo read from Proverbs and Neueli from Matthew. It was such a simple prayer service but so powerful in the moment and in the wake of what we had all just been through.
At this point, the country is still in the beginning stages of recovery. The streets in the capital which were covered in mud are now turning to dust and causing the whole city to be covered. The mountains look bare and tired from what they’ve been through. A few places are getting power back or still using their generators. I’m at CSL, the only internet cafĂ© open. Next to me on the floor I have every electronic device I own that uses battery and am charging them up. Across the street part of McDonald’s roof is missing and the sign is damaged.

As far as flights go, we were at the airport last night ready to get on a flight to Hawaii but it was canceled because it was originating from Fiji, which is where Cyclone Evan is now hitting. Our prayers are with them. We are scheduled to leave on Friday night at the latest which would get us back to Michigan by Saturday afternoon. We’ve lost a week of the program for the boys, but this is God’s will and we will all learn things about ourselves and others which will make us stronger people. In many ways, I think the Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative has already begun—it began when these kids showed such bravery during this storm. They are the ones I admire. They are the future of this country and that makes me feel good about Samoa’s future!

Businesses boarding up on Thursday ahead of the storm.

Heading into town on Friday morning. Flooding along one of main roads.

All the mountains in the country are stripped of their leaves, making it seem like autumn.

More flooding in town.

One man's form of transportation.

Damage at McDonald's.

Pulu trees down in front of Government Building.

Mud covered floors at the Peace Corps office.

Swimming pool at the Pacifika Inn.

Saulo's house.

Saulo's house.

Neueli's house on left made it through without much damage & the old pool hall on the right, which didn't suvive the winds.

Milo's house.

My old house on the left was ok, but Milo's family lost the roof to their kitchen area on the right.

Neueli and his family.

Saulo and his family.

Milo and his family.

Heading out of the village. What a sight.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Excitement Building!

Three students from a rural village in this tiny island nation of Samoa are just two days away from stepping on board an airplane that will fly them to another hemisphere! They will be stepping foot on a continent for the first time in their lives, and in a country where everyone is raised to believe that anything is possible if they work hard enough for it.

Although they’ve seen America through T.V. and books, to live amongst a completely different culture will still be a real shock. They will be challenged in ways they’ve never been before, but it will all be in an effort to better them and make them more accepting of others and more motivated to make a difference in this world.

One of the biggest shocks for them might be the weather. None of them have ever experienced a temperature below 70 degrees in their lives. Even though the forecasted high for their arrival date is supposed to be in the 40s, relatively warm for Michigan in mid-December, this will still be brutal to their system. We’ve arranged for them to have warm clothes to help them with this adjustment.

Over the past few days it has been amazing to see how many people have become aware of this program here in Samoa. Last weekend when hitchhiking, the people that stopped to give me a ride commented on how I was the one taking three kids back to the U.S. Another day I was standing at a stoplight in town and a man and women sitting in their car in an adjacent parking lot called me over. I asked what they wanted and they said they had read my editorial in the Samoan Observer about the program. They expressed how excited they were for the kids and how much they supported the program.

The students also told me that their friends at school were asking about their trip and why they were going. Yesterday the students and I went to TV3 for our second interview where we talked about the latest preparations and plans for the program once we arrive in Michigan.

All of these occasions to make the program known are moments to inspire. They are moments to inspire others, especially youth, to work hard for a dream and then accomplish it. It doesn’t have to be a trip to another country, but something that is important to them and something that may require them to put forth more effort than they’ve ever been challenged to put forth in the past.

Saulo, Milo and Neueli are ready for this. They’ve been waiting a long time for this week to arrive and now things are moving fast. There are still last minute tasks to complete, but for the most part, things are in place and we will be ready to leave on Friday evening!

As the program starts, I invite all of you to check the blog as I plan to keep it updated daily with new posts. I thank all of you have given support to this program. This trip would not be happening without the generosity of so many people. You know who you are, and we thank you!

The boys and some of their family helping pick up rubbish in a neighboring village as part of a fundraising activity last week.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

One Coconut at a Time

Selling coconuts makes money!
With visas in hand and airplane tickets purchased, our last weeks of fundraising are going to help with costs during the trip, such as health insurance, food, gas, and money for incidentals such as museums. Throughout the whole lead-up to the program, I have wanted to include the boys with the fundraising effort. For them this has to be in ways which are realistic with what they have and where they are.

I asked them to have some more coconut sales recently. Saulo joined me a week ago to sell coconuts to a cruise ship that was docking in Apia Harbor for a few hours. We had prepared the night before by making flower ulas (leis) to sell as well. I have been given ulas for the past three years but had never taken the time to make one, so I finally got my chance.

Since there was no bus from Saulo’s village last Thursday we couldn’t get coconuts from there, which would have been free, so we had to buy them at the market for 1 tala, which is about .43 U.S. cents. I bought 50 to begin with and then set up a small stand next to the boat where several other vendors were selling Samoan crafts and clothes to the tourists disembarking the boat.

The coconuts didn’t sell too fast as people were getting off the boat, but things sure did pick up in the afternoon as the sun got hotter. I ended up having to go back to the market to buy another 30 coconuts. We were able to sell them for $1.00 U.S. dollar to make a profit, but the real profit came from donations! Since the boat had mostly Americans on board, I would stop them and introduce myself as being from Michigan and most of the time they seemed interested. I even met a man who lives just 15 minutes from my house! What a small world.

Saulo was right there next to me helping throughout the long, hot day. With Saulo dressed in his ie lava lava, he worked his charm and really put forth so much effort. He became so confident and friendly and was talking to everyone about his trip. The most common remark people made to him when they heard he was going to Michigan in December was that he was going to freeze!

By the end of the day I was sunburned and our legs were ready for a rest. It was a productive day and we met some great people who really took an interest in the program. I think it taught Saulo more about how complete strangers are willing to lend a helping hand and really feel a connection to a program that will better the future of Samoan youth, while at the same time affecting Americans they meet with.

A couple days later, it was Milo and Neueli’s turn to sell the coconuts. This time we got the coconuts for free, having brought them from kua (the bush) and only expending sweat, which came about by climbing the trees, which of course was done by the boys.

We again had close to 70 coconuts and sold them all by 12 noon, just in time for Milo and Neueli to catch their bus back home. They too had a lot of fun and became more confident in making a sale to a stranger walking by on the street. They are quickly learning the hard work required for such a trip and in that sense, I believe the Samoan Youth Empowerment Program has already begun!

Saulo working on making the ulas the night before the sale.

Katie, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Paraguay was on the crusise ship with her parents and stopped to say hi to us and lend support!

Saulo after a hard day of working!

Getting American money from the people on the ship felt weird, as I'm use to Samoan money now, but when someone handed us a $2 bill, that was even stranger!

The cruise ship was heading to Hawaii from Samoa and then back to San Diego.

Milo and Neueli were busy on Saturday selling coconuts in front of one of the big supermarkets in the capital. Here they are hard at work.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We Have the Visas!

When times get tough, and the work gets tedious, we often tell ourselves “It will all be worth it in the end.” When we say that familiar phrase it sometimes feels foolish, but then things do work out, the work does pay off and we realize that we our stronger for what we went through.

We recently received word that the three students selected for this program were being issued their visas to visit the United States! Although we had to prepare for the visa interviews, after we had done our part it was basically out of our hands. Therefore, in that respect, I feel as though we have jumped our highest hurdle and landed safely on our feet. The smiles on the faces of Saulo, Neueli and Milo and the joy from their parents serves as motivation to continue our work to make this a life changing experience for them. This is not work we have been doing on our own. As I’ve told you from the beginning, I personally believe this to be guided by God, who has also led us to all of those who have been so generous to help.

To date we have raised $4,006.47 U.S. dollars, which is amazing! Every donation that comes in, whether from family, friends or complete strangers, I am blown away at people’s generosity. However, we still have some work to do, as we need $2,492.87 more to meet our goal which will insure we can care for the students properly during their stay in Michigan.

After raising $4,000 dollars in such a short amount of time, I am confident we will be able to reach our goal. If you feel like you would be interested in donating towards the program for the students, I thank you in advance. All you need to do is click on the “Donate” link on the top right of this page and take a few minutes to fill out the information. As outlined in our program proposal, we are planning a community culture night where you will be able to come and meet the students to learn about their culture and share yours. They are looking forward to meeting many of you who I hope will be able to join us.

In the meantime, thank you to all of those who have already given so generously! Together we are going to “share worlds and change lives.”

The boys may be enjoying the warm weather now, but come December they will be feeling a whole new climate in Michigan!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Where We Stand

When we started to organize this program, we had $0.00 dollars. However, I am happy to announce that after just a couple of months we now have over $3,000 U.S. dollars and are nearly halfway to our goal of $6,499.34. We’ve made it this far because of generous individuals, businesses, organizations and churches. Let’s keep working to raise that bar and together we can reach the top! Thank you for your continued support.

Gaining a Stake

One of my goals for the Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative has been to involve the students and their families in the preparations for the program. With all of them living out in a rural village, my challenge was finding a way that they could best be active participants in the planning and fundraising. These are also families with very limited financial resources, trying to provide for their children while also meeting obligations to their village and church communities.

I first went to the fathers of Saulo, Milo and Neueli and asked if they would be willing to make some of their famous carvings. Their village is one of the few in Samoa that makes the traditional wooden bowls, plates and weapons. I told the fathers that we were having a Trivia Night and would love to raffle off their carvings to help raise money. They were very willing to help and had no trouble providing us with some of their best work which was a huge success for the Trivia Night!

However, I still wanted to ask more of the families and get everyone involved, not just the fathers. That’s when I decided we should send up a street vending stand to sell some favorite Samoan “fast foods” such as vaisalo, which is a tapioca like soup that uses the coconut cream and can be made in a huge pot! I also wanted to sell kokoa araisa, which is rice cooked with cocoa and also uses the coconut cream. I took my ideas to the families and they were excited to help once again. We also decided we would sell fresh coconuts.

As with most things thus far on this program, things began to fall into place. We needed a vehicle to pick up all the coconuts from along the road in the village and then transport them and the big pots of food in to town so I went to Funway Rentals in Apia and asked the owner if he would donate a rental for our use. He was very willing to help and seemed very interested in our program. He gave us a huge pickup truck to use for Friday evening and then return it on Saturday morning.

I had gone to Chan Mow shopping center in town and asked the manager there if we could set up in front of their business on October 13th, which was the Saturday before White Sunday and is typically the busiest shopping day of the year. White Sunday is a day to celebrate the kids of Samoa and families flock to town to buy ice cream, candies and clothes to make the day special. Having our stand in front of Chan Mow would be a sure win situation.

On Friday evening I headed to the village in the rental truck and met the students out on the road to start collecting the coconuts. It wasn’t just the three boys though, but their brothers and cousins who had also come out to help; it had become a whole family event as I was hoping it would. Night soon fell upon the village and we stopped to eat dinner. By 10:30p.m. we were back out in the bush, with one of the boys’ dad climbing coconut trees and the boys and I gathering them to load into the truck.

At 12a.m. we were back at the house but there was no time to sleep. Since we had to leave for town at 5:30a.m. it was time to start husking the coconuts and preparing the fire for the two Samoan foods. Even though we were tired, you could see the fun everyone was having working together through the night. The families had helped by the foods for the vaisalo and kokoa araisa. With everyone working together it all started to come together. Before we knew it, 5:30 had rolled around and it was time to head to town. After loading the trucks and changing out of our smoky clothes, we were on our way to Apia.

The morning foot traffic started off kind of slow but quickly picked up. Everyone became familiar with their sales pitch line they would use when people walked by. The boys’ moms worked at serving the soups and the dads opening the coconuts. We also had a 100 tala gift voucher to a hardware store in town which we were selling raffle tickets for and the boys enjoyed selling tickets for that as well. As long as we kept busy were able to forget the fact that we hadn’t slept all night.

We kept busy all morning as people walked by. Even those who didn’t buy anything took a moment to glance at the signs we had hung briefly describing the program. Some people bought several coconuts, or several raffle tickets. We had plenty of food but ran out of coconuts before the morning was over. We had gone through over 100 coconuts in just a few hours!

The busier we got, the more excited the families became and the fathers came up to me and said that they wanted to do this again and that next time we would make sure we had more coconuts. As we all worked together, you could see that they all felt they had a stake in the program—they all felt as though they were helping to reach our goal.

At 12:30p.m. Chan Mow closed its store for the day and most foot traffic had slowed down since stores clothes early on Saturday. After counting the money, we found we had made $425 tala, about $200 U.S. dollars. However, I realized that what we had accomplished was much more than that dollar amount; we had just found a way to involve the families in a real and meaningful way in a program they will all benefit from in the end.

Collecting coconuts at 11p.m. and loading them into the truck.

Milo's Dad climbs the coconut tree in the dark.

Things getting started at around 12a.m. The palm frond was used to make a basket.

A basket done in 5 minutes and ready to load coconuts into.

Saulo and Neueli's brother husking the coconuts.

Making the vaisalo.

Neueli and Saulo hard at work and Saulo and Milo's moms wait for customers.

They all did a great job.

Peace Corps Volunteer, Nancy Magsig has been a huge help in the fundraising efforts. She assisted us the whole morning with selling food and raffle tickets. Here she is during the drawing.