I went to a launch the other day at the Malaeola Samoan Catholic community parish in Magele / Mangere. The parish had teamed up with a health provider, South Seas, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, to start a programme within the Samoan Catholic community to address the issue of domestic violence and abuse. What I want to note here was the aptly named title for the programme: “E fofo le Alamea le Alamea”. The Alamea is a spikey starfish called the Crown of Thorns. If you stand on the spikes the poison can infect your body and can cause sharp stinging pain, nausea and vomiting for hours. However, if you flip the starfish on it’s back and stick the infected area back in, it will suck the poison back out. The figurative meaning is that our community contains the solutions to our own problems. We just have to be willing to stand up for it.
I’ve written a few negative posts of late, about the “poor oppressed brown people”, “blame the white man”, “inherent racism and structural inequalities” etc blah blah blah. I’m not retracting from my position in those previous posts, but I would like to respond to some of the feedback I’ve received asking: What are we doing for ourselves? After all the complaining, what is it that we as Pacific peoples / Samoans, doing to better ourselves?
I often think about an encounter I had while attending a motivational talk at high school. Throughout the day there were the usual workshops, practical skills sessions, team building exercises etc. But I kept on feeling “I’ve been here, done that”, waiting to be hit with something new, something I’d never heard before. I needed to be re-motivated again. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of fun, and plenty of heart-felt stories shared amongst the participants, but I was half waiting for some big surprise to jump out at me and knock me off my feet! And so it wasn’t until the last speaker of the day that his words hit me.
The speaker was brought in and was not part of the organising crew for the programme. He was no-one special or out of the ordinary. He seemed like your ordinary Samoan guy. He begun by asking all us participants to thank the organisers and those who had previously shared their stories. He then said, the best way to thank these mentors, was to go out and mentor others: your brothers, your sisters, your little cousins, your friends.
I had spent that day waiting for the programme to cater to me, to provide me with answers. But as the speaker had said, we are our own best mentors, we already have the skills and empowerment to go forth and “make an impact rather than be the impacted”. We have our own solutions to our own problems within our own hands.
The Pacific Islands Dream Fonotaga, or simply known as Dream Fono, was an initiative founded in 2002, by well respected, academic and all round funny guy, Samoan, Efeso Collins. The vision of the fonotaga is to inspire Pacific senior high school students to higher education. The fonotaga encourages students to aspire to being all they can be and offers guidance on taking real and practical steps to making those dreams a reality.
Key to the success of the programme has been the participation of Iunivesite o Aukilani / University of Auckland students who have been in menTOA roles. (MenTOA is a play on words combining the denotative meaning of the word mentor and the pan-Pacific word TOA, loosely defined as warrior or fighter).
The Iunivesite website states that high school students have consistently commented over the last four years that they have appreciated working alongside Pacific Iunivesite students who have been role models for them and shared part of their life-journeys with the participants.
In the past motivational speakers have included Jerry Seuseu (Niu Sila / New Zealand Warriors rugby league / lakapi liki player), Sandra Alofivae (Lawyer / loia), Lapi Mariner (Singer), Linda Vagana (Silver Fern netball / netipolo player), Ronji Tanielu (AUT Pasifika Liaison Officer), Dr John Hood (former Vice-Chancellor of the Iunivesite o Aukilani), Kevin Senio (Waikato Chiefs rugby union / lakapi player) and Sela Alo (NiuFM radio host).
Schools involved have included: James Cook, McAuley, Massey, Gisborne Boys’ High Schools; Tangaroa, Otahuhu, De la Salle, Aorere, Wesley, Tamaki, St Paul’s, St Catherine’s (Ueligitone / Wellington), Liston Colleges; Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate and Auckland Girls’ Grammar.
This year the event was held at the Christian Youth Camps in Ngaruawahia, Waikato with nearly 150 students participating in the week-long event. I had the privilege to be loosely associated with the Dream Fono a few years back, and the experience was mind-blowing. I can tell you that the menTOAs and staff got as much personal growth out of the camp as the high school students.
It’s always a good start to recognise that our parent’s and the generations before us had left our tropical homelands for a better future for ourselves and our children. Re-telling our migration story begins to re-focus the kids vision of the past and in turn their future. A focus too often muddied by contemporary issues, such as gangsta mentality, family economics etc.
Then throughout the weeks there were stories of kids having to work at two different McDonald’s stores in Aukilani Saute / South Auckland to help support their parents and study when they could. Another story about a boy having grown up in a “bloods” family, and struggling to wear blue (which incidentally was the assigned colour to his group at camp), but truly broke down some barriers being amongst other Pacific youth. And another guy admitting he’s gone off the rails because of the break up between his parents. Yet in the same breathe they still held on to their dreams to become a doctor, a lawyer, a plumber, an electrician, a musician, a sports person etc. It is true, dreams are for free, and we all dream. Somehow we lose that drive to attain that dream along the way, whether it’s by teachers looking down on us, family financial pressure etc. But the Dream Fono programme only begins to re-connect those dreams with the drive to achieve, and the knowledge that they can achieve those dreams.
Dream Fono, from my understanding, was never created to provide answer to all our youths problems, but it was there to stand by our youths and say: “you can dream again”. One week will never be enough, and so at the end of each Dream Fono the high school students are warned that the warm fuzzy feelings will soon subside once they’re back in their familiar surroundings. But hopefully they will have realised that they are already well equipped, have the necessary skills and the motivation to go out and be menTOAs to their own younger family members.
Afterall, we have our own solutions to our own problems in our own hands. “E fofo le Alamea le Alamea” – we just need to be brave enough to stand up.
An insightful commentary on history, politics and community from the perspective of a 20-something year old, 3rd generation immigrant, New Zealand-born Samoan. Journey into NiuZila, Land of Full Fat Milk and Welfare Money