Quenjule Slaven is a teenager who loves Filipino movies, has a thirst for learning and in her own words, makes mistakes.
Quenjule is also a 15 year old from Moamoa who is a top student at St. Mary’s College who will go from Year 10 to Year 12 in 2017; is learning guitar, Chinese and sign languages; goes to tutorials from time to time and is in the choir at her church.
She is an award-winning story writer; a ‘Newspapers in Education’ columnist for the Samoa Observer; has won regional poster competitions and was selected by her school to be an ambassador for Samoa Stationery and Books.
Oh, and on Monday and Tuesday afternoons after school, you will find her at the Nelson Library in Apia, running an educational programme for child vendors which she started at the beginning of 2016.
Quiet and unassuming but with a steely determination and commitment, Quenjule is not only an observer in life, she is a full-on participant, activist and leader.
In an interview earlier this year with Samoa Observer’s, Vatapuia Maiava, Quenjule described how she became a teacher and a source of hope for other children at the age of 14. “It all started when I was in town and I would always see child vendors everywhere instead of being in school getting an education for a brighter future,” she said.
“I saw them at McDonald’s and Sunrise restaurant; I asked my mom ‘Mom why aren’t they in school?’ and she said because their parents can’t afford it and these kids support and provide for their families.”
Not knowing the question she just posed was a germinating Good Samaritan seed, she continued on with life.
“After I participated in the human rights poster competition sponsored by the Ombudsman, I realized that these kids also have human rights,” she said.
“The right to an education, the right to have a voice on the issues in their lives; and so my parents helped me, they were my inspiration.”
“Once we decided what to do, we came here and asked the manager of the library if we could use their facilities and once they approved it, we began the following Monday.”
“I also visited the Ombudsman who supported the idea and his staff has also come on board as volunteers.”
“I feel that it is important to walk the talk; we shouldn’t get drawn in to only speaking about the problem, but instead we need to act on fixing it,” she said.
And as for her age, “I believe you can make a difference at any age.”
“Martin Luther King once said ‘faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase’ it’s not about how bad the situation is; it’s what we do about it that matters most.”
“I know that these children have a hard time on the streets, but I believe we all have the ability to turn each and every one of their lives around.
And the programme is definitely not a one way process.”
“It has really helped me with my Samoan language,” she admitted. “At midterm, I got 18% and at the end of year it was 30%.”
“I have also found I love teaching.”
“I realise that to get ahead in life it’s about challenging yourself and not drawing comparisions with others.”
Her parents and family members she says, ensure she stays grounded.
“My parents remind me this is not about me and my sister often mocks me,” she said.
Experiencing the smiles and delight of her students as they progress, Quenjule has attracted funding from friends and supporters which will enable her to give full, school scholarships to eight of her 14 regular primary school age students in 2017.
The scholarships will be paid from a bank account suggested and set up by Justice Vui who was one of her earliest supporters.
As for the children, “They are so quick at Maths, they’re eager to learn; they get mad easily; they’re eager to please and they are affectionate and grateful,” she said.
“They know someone cares about them.” In the future, Quenjule hopes that programmes like her own, will spread out to Vaitele and further afield after seeing the impact learning has had on the children who have attended classes.
“One girl came ninth out of her class of 50 this year. Her grandmother told me she studied all night. She had never seen this behaviour before. She values education.”
To make changes and as the eldest in her family, it is important to be a role model, Quenjule says.
She too has her own role models.
“Mine are my parents, grandparents and family – they’re always supporting and encouraging me and they are the most hard-working people I know.”
“I also admire the nuns of Samoa because they have dedicated their whole lives to helping others and serving God.”
With 2017 fast approaching Quenjule said her goals are to prioritise her time better, admitting she has ended the year exhausted.
“I need to learn to cut down on some things and to say ‘no’.”
This may simply mean that there will not be so many Filipino movies in the coming year.