Andrew Leota of Falealili has returned to Samoa from New Zealand where he and his family have been living for the last thirteen years.
However, this time the trip is not for a holiday. Instead he is here to make a difference to the lives of those he left behind when he migrated to New Zealand in 2004.
Leota is currently half way through his pre-trades electrical engineering course at Manukau Institute of Technology (M.I.T) in Auckland.
He was recently selected to be a part of a Maori and Pasifika Trades Training (M.P.T.T.) group to visit Samoa with Habitat for Humanity.
Leota decided almost two years ago that it was time for a career change after spending the majority of his time in New Zealand working in the public service at a prison facility in Auckland.
At 35 years of age, his focus was to find a career that would align with his beliefs and principles of being able to help people and also make a living out of it.
According to Skills, the Auckland based recruitment agency, Leota will be working alongside Habitat for Humanity by working on houses in Upolu which involve both completing unfinished homes as well as building brand new ones for families in need.
The group arrived last Saturday and will be working on the project for two weeks.
Speaking to the Weekend Observer, Leota shared their experience so far and what it means to him to be part of this project.
“I decided to go back to school and learn a trade,” he said.
“The kids were getting old and it was time to focus on what I really wanted to do. Before I was just making money just to feed the kids but now I want to do something that makes me happy… I just find it fulfilling to help people; its what keeps me going.
“Yes it’s good to have money. For me it’s more fulfilling to help people in need. Electrical Engineering appealed to me because it’s hands on, fast paced and I can make money and help out other people.”
While here, Leota has been making note of the prospects of building professional relationships with an eye for doing business in Samoa once he completes his Electrical Engineering course and has had some years working experience.
On his first day at the site, he realised when he looked around how urgent the need is for families here living in houses that were unsafe and in dire need of upgrades.
“I have an entrepreneurship kind of mind and coming back here is not just to make money, it’s to help people. I understand Samoa has adopted the stuff from New Zealand like regulations and the laws but nobody really follows it here. I just want to come and actually just work here because a lot of the houses that we are working on over here … man, they are really unsafe.
“People here, when they know a little bit then they start cutting lines. That’s their life on the line; they don’t know what to do. Samoa has adopted the Electrical Code of Conduct based on New Zealand’s one but from what I’ve seen, nobody follows it. I think you can’t really ask people who don’t have money to follow it but there are ways in which we keep people safe. However business wise I would love to start a business here.”
Leota makes it clear that while New Zealand practices and methods are far advanced and very useful to Samoa, he believes that our ability to be resourceful and our perspective on life is something that serves as teachable moments for the New Zealand trades industry as well.
“New Zealand is set in their ways. In Samoa we have to make do with what we have sometimes the cello-tape the boys use is just the normal cello-tape just to do the wires. They’re just being resourceful and to be honest - it works. However in the long run I think it’s unsafe. Also I think it’s important to be grateful for what we have.
“I know for a fact that in NZ they have everything and here we just make do with what we have and that has taught me a lot, for example one of the fuses that people are using here, New Zealand is getting rid of them.
“What that has taught me is that if it’s there, you gotta use it. We can cry over the most expensive stuff but if it’s there just make do with it to get the lights on that’s the value of the lesson that I’ve learnt here.”
Leota owes a depth of gratitude to Skills, one of the largest industry training organisations in New Zealand that work with industries to ensure that qualifications provide them and employers with the right skills.
“I’m here with Habitat for Humanity but I’m really grateful for what Skills has done for me. Skills is the arm of the government that really pushes us and helps us Pacific Islanders and what they have done for the many Pacific Islanders back in New Zealand has been tremendous.
“I’m really thankful for that especially people like Tony and Isaac. If it wasn’t for them, us Islanders would just shy away because there is no one that we can familiarise ourselves with and be confident that they have our interests at heart. Its never too late to learn and make money.”
Finally, Leota has a message for Samoans living abroad, looking towards our Islands with interest and exploring the idea of returning home.
“Come back and invest,” he said. “Back in New Zealand, our people are getting too comfortable, settling on the little things. There is so much knowledge in our people back in New Zealand. Build this nation into something that’s great. Imagine what kind of nation we can be if we put our knowledge and skills to work in our own country.”