I’d like to address a singular point raised in the “Life is a Choice” letter published in the Samoa Observer, written in reply to my initial “Letter from Hawai’i: Samoa deserves better.”
In “Life is a Choice”, the writer who identifies his or herself only as “Chicago” demands: “If you can work - get a job!”
This is my job. I am a journalist. Many problems my children and I have faced in Honolulu stem from my choice to serve others with the writing gift I’ve been given by our Almighty God. My work yields no income but it reveals truth. It brings light to an entire people who have long been left in the dark.
I’ve held two paid “jobs” here at the same organization since I left the Samoa News newsroom in 2010. I didn’t ask for them nor did I look for them, rather the work found me. Since I’ve left that organization, I’ve received numerous inquiries which seek to know why I am no longer there. Inquiries drive this field of journalism. Good journalists answer the inquiries.
A question sent to me via Facebook message asks: “What happened to the school?” Others inquired in person. So much happened at the school.
The truth is that I left the school when I discovered that the founder’s idea of professionalism in regard to ethics, accountability and transparency were not in line with my own. The name of the school is Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center. It is a federally-funded project which operates out of Island Family Christian Church on Salt Lake Boulevard. Its office (when I worked there) is located at the director’s home on Ala Ilima Street in Salt Lake. The founder/director’s name is Elisapeta Tu’upo-Alaimaleata, former employee at the University of Hawai’i and the American Samoa Department of Education.
My involvement at the school began with volunteering, lending my support during events like Samoan Language Week. I went to the school with a friend of mine on the day NFL Seahawks Defensive End Michael Bennett visited the school with his family. Bennett’s wife is part-Samoan. Her sister was attending the school. I took photos and my friend Vanessa Matautia, special events director for the Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance, interviewed people for a story. Vanessa wrote the story but it was never printed. I posted some of Bennett’s photos on Facebook.
I’d often communicate with Tu’upo-Alaimaleata on Facebook. Facebook is where our relationship started. Gradually, I started spending more time at the school. Eventually, I enrolled my children there. When the director offered me a teacher assistant position, I took it. Later, I was asked to join the school’s executive team as administrative specialist. I did.
My oldest sister soon got involved at the school. She also enrolled her children there and taught siva Samoa to the children. Family and friends who saw our work at the Center on Facebook soon joined and enrolled their children. Many others inquired but were waitlisted as there is a high interest for Samoans to have their children learn the language. For those who don’t know, I come from a dancing family. We teach siva Samoa. You can see our work at the Faletuiga fan page on Facebook. I’m the journalist in the family.
When I first took the administrative specialist position (we worked out of the director’s home) I was informed by the director that the previous “admin” Soteria Moli did a number of things that set the school back -- like deleting one of the school’s gmail accounts. I told myself that I should try to be a better “admin.” It was no secret: I did not like admin work but I love my Samoa so I tried hard to do the work. The director kept me for an extended period of time by promising there would be opportunities for me to write. In my spare time, I would still cover events and write stories and place them on tautalatala.com or send them to Samoa News in American Samoa.
The director and I attended several events together. At these events, I attended as a journalist, not as an admin of the school. One of the events we attended together was the meeting hosted by the American Samoa Government at the Hokulani Community Center at Pearl Harbor. At this 2014 meeting, ASG officials, in the territory’s move toward self-governance, spoke to U.S. Army soldiers stationed in Hawai’i about their desire to place the veto override power in the hands of the Fono, American Samoa’s bi-cameral legislative body. The veto override power currently lies with the U.S. Secretary of Interior.
Another event we attended together was the January 2015 funeral of late ASG Office-Hawai’i Director Afimutasi Gustav Hannemann. I covered the funeral at the request of Samoa News. The story can be viewed here: http://www.samoanews.com/content/en/afimutasi-fiercely-proud-samoan-loving-brother-and-cherished-patriarch. According to Le Fetuao’s director, Afimutasi wanted to run the school.
A third event we attended together, in January 2015, was the U.S. Army Force Structure and Stationing Community Listening Session held at the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki. The meeting was hosted by Army leaders from the Pentagon. My story from the Pentagon meeting can be viewed here: http://tautalatala.com/news/2015/politics-military-travel/yes-or-no-should-us-military-reduce-its-number-soldiers-hawaii
It took me a while to realize it but the director did not like when I wrote about the government. Tu’upo-Alaimaleata didn’t like when I posted Facebook statuses that shared the concerns of the Samoan community as they were relayed to me.
She’d say things like: I didn’t tell you to write that! When I posted about the City and County of Honolulu one day, she asked me to please stop.
I held the admin position at Le Fetuao for about one year, starting in March 2014. The director had asked me to stay on through 2016, however, the conflict between my journalism work and working for the school became all too apparent when I was asked to create, edit and publish a newsletter for Le Fetuao called “Folauga.” The word in the Samoan language means “Journey.” I’d written several stories for the school but they were never used.
Conflict between the director and myself continued when I chose to fly to Las Vegas in February 2015, in order to find out why I was denied a field media pass to cover the USA Rugby Sevens Tournament held at the Sam Boyd Stadium. I didn’t find out why but I was able to witness that media allowed onto the field were mostly men. I saw just one female on the field who had blonde hair. I found it offensive that I was denied a pass to cover these games as our team the Manu Samoa Sevens and other Pacific teams were playing. Fiji took the Cup home at this tournament.
Conflict escalated when, at her home (maybe around January or February of 2015), Tu’upo-Alaimaleata introduced me to her nephew a young man she said she “practically raised” named Stanford Leti. On his Facebook profile, he makes the false claim of being “Frontline in God’s Army.” Stanford is the son of Rev. Faulalo Leti and faletua Mrs. Fialelei Leti. Rev. Faulalo is secretary for the Methodist Mother Church in Samoa.
After I came to know Stanford extremely well, I discovered that his behavior was completely contrary for someone who would be “Frontline in God’s Army.”
Stanford and his friend Paul Honda (a sports writer for the Honolulu Star Advertiser) played strange games on Facebook to the point where I asked Stanford to remove himself from my friends list and block himself. He did. I blocked Paul Honda myself. If you run a Google search of Stanford’s name, you will find that Honda wrote about him when he played quarterback, wearing the No. 7 at Moanalua High School. Stanford told me he played college ball in Arizona but “got into some trouble.” Tu’upo-Alaimaleata confirmed that in college Stanford “got into some trouble.”
Around May/June I rid myself of my phone to keep Stanford and Tu’upo-Alaimaleata from contacting me. He sent me a strange message on one of my YouTube videos and harassed me on Twitter which is why I closed my Twitter account. Recently, Stanford unblocked himself on Facebook and sent me messages asking me to “hit him up.” I, in response, sent him this link: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2009/10/repent-that-i-may-heal-you?lang=eng
Stanford also contacted my cousin with whom I was staying and sent her a friend request. I got on my cousin’s phone and denied his friend request for her and blocked him. I also asked a male cousin of mine to ask Stanford to leave me alone. I don’t know what became of the request but even after I blocked him on Facebook, Stanford harassed me on Twitter.
Tu’upo-Alaimaleata was also blocked from my friends list in June after the death of my mother. A few days after my mother’s death, the director contacted me via Facebook to ask that I re-arrange the newsletter I completed on June 11 to include a story on my mother. The director’s daughter, said Tu’upo-Alaimaleata, was my mother’s last siva student.
The director also spoke about her eighth grade teacher, current Manu’a Fono Rep. Faufano Autele. She said Rep. Autele (who I know well because we taught together at Tafuna High School) is very supportive of her work. I jokingly suggested to Tu’upo-Alaimaleata that she could perhaps suggest to the Fono Rep. that he draft a Fono Resolution in honor of my mother. She immediately agreed and asked me to send her my mother’s information, including my mother’s Manu’a ties. The mention of Manu’a was a red flag. My mother’s only Manu’a ties are my brother and myself, through our father Puia’i Tufele. My father has been in the news recently because he holds the Te’o title in the village of Pago Pago.
Our Manu’a elders teach us that Manu’a stories stay within Manu’a. Those who have no ties to Manu’a, have no business inquiring. As Manu’a people often say: “Le Seaula e le fesili.” I was reminded about the importance of guarding Manu’a stories and heritage by Sauileoge Ueligitone, Mataisau, lead artist at Le Fetuao. When no one was around, he’d share a Manu’a story with me. He told me that he only shares them with me because I am a Manu’a. He was so supportive of my writing that he created a banner for my news site tautalatala.com, for free.
I told Tu’upo-Alaimaleata that it was not a priority for my family to place a story about my mother in the newsletter. I told her the Fono resolution was not necessary. I told her to not to come to my mother’s funeral but she did and brought several teachers along feigning good relations between her and myself. I declined signing an agreement she offered to me that would have bound my pen to perform work on this newsletter. I denied scholarships she offered for my children to attend her Tech Camp. I’ve asked her time and time again to leave my family alone. When she contacted me again before Christmas, I went on Facebook and posted several messages asking her to leave me and my family alone.
I told her to make a donation for my work on the newsletter but she created a false invoice, stamped it “paid,” wrote a check and signed it, placed the documents in an envelope, wrote my name on the envelope, drove to my sister’s home and left it with my daughter. I still have the invoice and check she signed. I was trained by Tu’upo-Alaimaleata that this is not allowed in the operation of a federally-funded project. I have her false invoice and check tucked away in my Samoan language Bible to remind me of what I do not want to be. A photo of the false document and check have been sent to the Samoa Observer. My concerns about the validity of the invoice were sent to her executive team. In her response, Tu’upo-Alaimaleata apologized for it and called it a “miscommunication.”
Rather than address the falsified invoice, in late July, the Center’s Principal Investigator Fepulea’i Dr. John Mayer contacted me to ask that he make things right between Le Fetuao and myself. Fepulea’i is Chair of the Department of Indo-Pacific Languages and Literature at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer and Trainer in Samoa from 1970-1976. He founded the Samoan language program at UH in 1976.
I informed Dr. Mayer that I would only work with their school if its executive director would start telling people the truth -- in conversation and in print. Communications between me, Dr. Mayer and Tu’upo-Alaimaleata, have been provided to the Samoa Observer.
Lest some are led to believe that I took the job at Le Fetuao to investigate the school, that could not be further from the truth. I was there because I love my Samoa. I was there because I wanted my children to learn their language. I was there to offer my skills and talents to the children of Samoa. I was there in service to my people. My entire family supported my efforts at the school, including my mother.
When I taught a one-week writing course at the Language Center, we took the students on a field trip to the Honolulu Star Advertiser press barn. The primary complaint from the youth was that they never got to meet any of the news writers. The aspiring writers said not meeting the writers made the field trip “boring.” If Tu’upo-Alaimaleata thinks news writing for our children is out of their reach, that’s all right. It’s the reason this job belongs to me.
If I could go back and change anything, I would have to say that I should have never made friends with Tu’upo-Alaimaleata or her nephew Stanford on Facebook. They were never my friends. They were just pretending. Their evil work is enabled by the secrecy made possible through private messaging on Facebook and other forms of social media.
My experiences with Elisapeta Tu’upo-Alaimaleata and Stanford Leti taught me a great lesson that all of God’s servants can learn from. They remind me that good servants of God stand for Him at all times, in all things and in all places. It’s easy for many of us to stand for Him publicly in front of other people but it’s most important for us to stand for Him behind closed doors. That’s when He needs us the most. That’s when our faith is being tested.
No one is perfect but we all have to try to be good. Each day, we should rejoice, because it gives everyone a new opportunity to be better.
Let us usher in 2016 with love, peace and happiness.
Happy New Year my Samoa. God bless!
Tina Mata’afa -Tufele