Lagomau-i-tumua Vena Laititi returned to his home village of Auala Savai’i from Idaho, U.S.A in 2009. Since then, he has seen the rise and fall of village living noting that things have improved somewhat since he and his late wife returned home.
Looking after the family home and land, Mr. Laititi told the Village Voice that he loves life in the village even though there are some limitations.
Historically, Auala is well known for its water problems and Mr. Laititi remembers the water situation was dire even when they first arrived.
“When we first moved back in 2009, it was terrible,” he said.
“We had to have our own tank because being further away from the source we didn’t get any water and the water authority supply lines were actually too big for the low volume that the pumps generated so they were never able to get pressure in those pipes to deliver to people out here.
“They may have caught on and now they have gone back again and changed the size of the supply lines from 6 inch pipe to a 4 inch and now we are able to get some water here even if they only turn them on for about four hours in the morning so we can get our supply.
“But the thing is if they only operate the pipe for four hours in the morning and four hours at night – that’s not enough water to supply a village because its too little.
“From 2009 to this year - that was a long time to go without a dependable supply of water, the only issue now is that the water is not that suitable for drinking.”
Away from the the constant struggles of water supply, there is one other issue that is equally as challenging for Mr. Laititi and he believes that it creates unnecessary financial burdens on the villagers who are already struggling with widespread unemployment and the rising costs of living.
“It’s beautiful here, I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” he said.
“For one thing it’s not too commercialised, it’s how it was when I was growing up here and we’d like to keep it that way as much as possible. Even though people are just trying to survive with whatever they can, I still wouldn’t want to change it.
“Here it’s pretty low key and there’s not too much anxiety or pressure about things. Things are slow paced and we manage what we have.
“The only thing is we have to generate money somehow to keep up with the high cost of living and give our church contributions because there are so much church things the pastors have to do these days …it’s not just about feeding them - we have to send them to seminars and they don’t go with $50 in their pockets they go with $1000 tala to a three day conference.
“The church have other functions that they are working to support, like schools in some parts of the island and also maintenance of church property, I think that’s ok but sometimes its way too much beyond the reach of ordinary people.
“Here, you’d be lucky if someone worked in your family and I am thinking that maybe you’ll be making $100-$200 a fortnight but if you don’t work you’re basically living subsistently.
“To me there’s far too much focus on raising money for things. If they were charity focused that would be great and the church should be sharing out to the needy rather than focusing on developing things that are not relevant to the survival of people who are already living subsistently.
“There needs to be a balance between the need to help the church grow, looking after the priest/faifeau and helping ourselves but no - the focus here is basically just on the church.”
On the topic of jobs, Mr. Laititi sighs and tells the Village Voice that while they have a lot of land in Savai’i the villagers are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Selling your produce to locals can backfire as the local markets are flooded with the same produce.
Exporting would be ideal but again the extra costs of competing with Apia farmers who may have less land but more capital is defeating and then add the extra costs to Savaiians to transport their produce to Apia and you have a losing situation.
Mr. Laititi believes that if the government looked again at developing the harbour and airport in Asau, commercial farming on this side of Savai’i could have a fighting chance.
“Everything is so Apia focussed because of the transportation and these are challenges that need to be looked at.
“We have the harbour here in Asau and in the old days they built this to help share the transport burdens but it lays wasted. Time is money and transport issues make us time poor and money poor.
“The only thing I see that Savai’i is capable of doing is focussing on the farming industry to generate jobs.
“Problem is, people can produce but the markets here are pretty slim, they saturate the local market fairly quick because people don’t buy it as much as they do in Apia but if you are farming for exporting there’s hope but most of the time the exporting is done in Apia.
“If you are a farmer here - on top of their running business costs you are going to have to factor in transportation from here to Apia. I know in the past the quota for taros never make it here, its all been supplied in Apia until they can’t fill the quotas and then perhaps they will look to Savai’i.
The Savai’i people gave up because, why make farms and then not be able to participate because you’re waiting behind the Uplou farmers?”