Give them space to breathe

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Life goes on. With the celebration of our 54th Anniversary of Independence done and dusted, the reality of life is back today when many of us return to work and school for one last time this week.

Unless you’re a public servant – or a student attending a public school – whom the government have blessed with an additional day off to go shopping, the majority of ordinary folks are back to the grinder, with the independence anything but a distant memory. 

Such is life though. We enjoy and we move on. 

Indeed, all is well that ends well. With our special guests for the 54th Independence Day making their way back to their countries, we look back with fondness to the past two days and take with us the lessons learnt. 

Many of us will have different things to remember. Whether it’s catching up with old friends, families or the party you cannot remember how it ended, these are memories of a life time.

Personally, my highlight came amidst the joy and jubilation of the national celebration at the Tuana’imato Hockey fields on Wednesday. It was the ifoga (traditional apology) performed by the Ola Toefuataina performers in the boiling sun. 

The gesture was unexpected but it was deeply touching. There was hardly a dry eye at the Stadium. For good reason.

It was significant. It spoke of a desire by whoever dreamt up the idea to right a wrong they obviously felt needed national attention. The ifoga was not just for the masses at the Hockey Stadium. The fact it was beamed live across the country on national TV – and possibly live streamed all over the globe - meant it touched thousands more than perhaps what the performers initially had planned. 

And that’s why it was significant.

You see, when it comes to members of the Ola Toefuataina group, for the uninitiated, they are prisoners and people who have obviously made a mistake. The group is part of their rehabilitation programme.

While some of them are repeated offenders who have made a habit of breaking the law, the majority of them are truly remorseful. They accept their predicament and they are genuinely keen to serve their time, get out of Tafaigata and take another shot at making something of their lives.

I shed a tear. And so did many others. That apology touched me because it came across as genuine. 

We know those prisoners have made a mistake. There is no doubt that many of them have caused this community much sadness and heartache through one act of crime or another. 

But are they the only ones? Would if be fair to say that the only difference between some of them and some of us is the fact they have been caught?

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not referring to hardened criminals who deserve very little sympathy because many of them have obviously chosen a life of crime as second nature. 

But some of those people deserve our compassion. They deserve mercy and love. We have all made a mistake. I’m forever grateful that the ones I’ve made have not landed me in jail. 

But when we stop to consider some of the cases (not all the cases) of prisoners who bowed before the nation on Wednesday, it’s not necessarily their fault. They are a product of a vicious system that’s led them astray. 

There are many wonderful and intelligent minds who have ended up at Tafa’igata because they were driven to do the unthinkable by the pressures of Samoan society. 

We are talking about the countless men and women who end up stealing from their places of work merely to make ends meet and to satisfy the whim of proud parents and families. We are referring to daughters and sons who break the law because their parents just cannot understand the meaning of the word enough when it comes to church and cultural obligations. 

This is part of the vicious system we are referring to. It has to end. It has to stop. For goodness sakes, we have been independent for 54 years now. And yet at times, it feels like we are going backwards because we seem to have enslaved ourselves to the demands of everyday life.

And what is it all about? When we dig deep within us, we find that it is all about pride. Silly, ridiculous pride.

It’s such that causes us to want the most elaborate funeral in Samoa, it’s such that drives parents who can least afford a big birthday to stage the biggest birthday in the village. It is that pride that forces church Ministers and village leaders to demand such exorbitant amounts from their members. And those demands have the trickle down effect. 

The contributions or the saogamea has to be paid by someone and in some cases, the lives of those bright minds at Tafa’igata. It’s a sad reality but unfortunately it is so true in our Samoa today.

As we reflect on the celebrations of the past couple of days, it’s important to truly embrace the desires and the hopes of our forebears when they fought and achieved political independence many, many years ago. They not only wanted this nation to be free from outside interferences, they would not have wanted our people to enslave ourselves. 

We need to stop enslaving ourselves by making life difficult through the demands placed on families and individuals. The thing to do is reduce the demands by family, culture and church on people. As a country, we need to give our people space to breathe, that’s what true freedom is about. 

Have a fabulous Friday, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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