When Caritas Samoa, a small new Catholic organisation, launched in 2008, they did not expect to be building houses in the wake of a storm.
But in 2009, just days after a tsunami simulation exercise, the real thing hit.
Instead of gently meeting the parishes, the then brand new Catholic institution hit the ground running, with disaster relief, food packages, and urgent rebuilding of homes.
In Apia to celebrate ten years since their launch, former director and founding member Puletini Tuala said he’ll never forget that experience.
“I was the new kid on the block, I was inexperienced,” he said.
But the support of the international Caritas community kicked in and the newly minted group was able to build 70 homes in just two years.
“Between 2009 and 2011 all we did was recovery,” said Mr Tuala.
So much so, the Catholic community didn’t get a chance to understand who this new organisation in town was, leading some to believe perhaps it’s simply a funding agency.
“Now, we have to make it a priority to teach at that grassroots level the principals behind Caritas.”
Five years of learning and consultation prepared Mr Tuala to establish Caritas in Samoa. He said after visiting the branches in Tonga and Papua New Guinea, it’s a relevant organisation here.
“I think it can revive in Samoa the spirit of giving, the spirit of volunteering,” he said.
Not only that, having an Oceanian network of “comradery” makes a difference.
“It reminds us of our humanitarian obligation to respond, in any way you can.”
“When something happens, I know who to call – for help, advice, ideas,” Mr Tuala said.
Learning from each other’s experiences and adapting successful programs makes the Caritas Oceania network important.
Today, Mr Tuala is the Regional Oceania director for Caritas, encompassing Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Aotearoa-New Zealand and Australia.
He said joining Caritas Samoa again for the 10 year anniversary is a humbling recognition of how far the organisation has come.