The U.S. Embassy’s residence at Vailima last night was a place of celebration where guests gathered to mark the Peace Corps Samoa’s 50th Anniversary.
The celebration included songs by the FiaFia Trio who first performed together in the 1970s. Galumalemana Al Hunkin was there as an original member of this Trio along with several former Peace Corps Volunteers.
There were also dance performances by currently serving Volunteers along with a series of video shorts featuring Samoan leaders talking about the impact the Peace Corps and Peace Corps Volunteers have had on Samoa.
These videos feature their Highnesses Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi and Masiofo Filifilia Tamasese; Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa; Raema Von Reiche and her son Jordan; The Secretary General of the Samoa Red Cross Namulauulu Tala Mauala with Gorett Wulf, the Health Coordinator; and, the Leading Tatoo Artist of Samoa Su’a Suluape.
Speeches were made by the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Keneti Sio, the US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, Scott Brown and Peace Corps Country Director Dr. Sherry Russell.
The 50th Anniversary Celebration of Peace Corps/Samoa commemorated five decades of Peace Corps service to Samoa.
The very first Volunteers arrived in Samoa in 1967.
Samoa suffered a devastating cyclone in 1966, and shortly thereafter the government requested assistance from the Peace Corps. Many of the first Volunteers to come to Samoa were architects, engineers and economists.
Some of these architects and engineers assisted in the construction of the old Parliament Building, the original Faleolo Airport Terminal, and the reclaimed area along the waterfront which is now the site of the National Bank.
The early economists assisted with, among other things, the setup of the National Provident Fund.
Other volunteers introduced the first water seal toilets, famously known as the fale Pisikoa, and worked in agriculture, health, fisheries, forestry and of course in education.
Many community leaders and leaders in business and politics speak openly and appreciatively about a past Peace Corps Volunteer who has had an impact on their lives.
During the past several months, some of the Peace Corps staff and Volunteers had the privilege to spend time with several of these leaders collecting their stories in video format about the impact Peace Corps Volunteers have made.
Peace Corps Samoa is focused on helping Samoa to achieve its development aspirations by providing technical assistance and building the capacities of individuals and institutions.
As the needs of Samoa change, Peace Corps Samoa, in partnership with the government and other host country and development agencies, continually re-evaluates its projects and programmes.
Currently, at the request of the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C), the majority of Peace Corps Volunteers are working in government primary schools to support literacy development.
In a recent conversation with A.C.E.O Maina Field and the Senior Education Officer, La Leao Leaana, of M.E.S.C, they spoke highly of Peace Corps’ impact on education.
In the schools where Volunteers are currently placed, Mrs. Field recognizes improvement in computer literacy, English and reading and writing programs at the primary level.
“The [recent] inclusion of technical training for teachers where M.E.S.C and Peace Corps Samoa worked together was a highlight in our relationship,” she said.
Mr. Leaana further elucidated that he sees the inclusion of Peace Corps Volunteers in rural classrooms as a stepping-stone for primary-level students to college-level and is very supportive and appreciative of the work currently undertaken by those volunteers in remote areas.
In Sagone, Savai’i, a principal who works directly with a Peace Corps Volunteer, spoke about the value of the Volunteer’s contribution to his school.
Principal Tapuai Solomona Sasita says: “I’m very happy because … the schoolchildren learn the fundamentals of reading [and] I can see the improvements in the children’s scores.
“It is helpful because we try to coordinate assistance with the parents and community.”
He adds: “Both the community and the Volunteer learn from each other. They make decisions and work together to build and develop the village. The Pisikoa learns the fa’asamoa way and the Samoan language and the Samoan people learn English and about North American culture. Both sides benefit.”
Indeed Pule Tapuia’s comments resonate with the initial vision for the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps was established in 1961 by John F. Kennedy not just as an agency to provide technical assistance, but also with the larger vision of promoting global peace and friendship.
That ideal rests on the relationships that Peace Corps Volunteers build within their schools, organizations and communities. As Sergeant Shriver, the first Director of the Peace Corps articulates, “Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.”
This recognition of our commonalities only comes about when we live and work together side by side, learn each other’s languages, laugh together, and realize that we are all just human beings.
So while Peace Corps Volunteers have had an impact on Samoa, Samoa has also had an impact on Peace Corps Volunteers and on all of the lives they touch after their service.
When Volunteers leave Samoa, they leave with an indelible mark, like an invisible tattoo, that signifies the impact Samoa has had on them.
All Volunteers carry this with them wherever they go after their service. This tattoo is not only the mark of Fa’aSamoa but it is also a symbol of the deep friendships and relationships that Volunteers form, and of the love that Volunteers give and receive during their time in Samoa.
Perhaps there is no greater testament to the impact Samoa has on Peace Corps Volunteers than the fact that for the 50th Anniversary celebrations, more than 40 former Peace Corps Volunteers and their spouses and friends travelled from around the world to come back to Samoa to commemorate the anniversary and to visit their Samoan families, friends and former colleagues.
There were even four former Peace Corps Volunteers from Group 1! These Volunteers first came to Samoa in 1967 and, after 50 years, still hold Samoa dear to their hearts.
“On this occasion of Peace Corps Samoa’s 50th Anniversary, Peace Corps Samoa would like to thank Samoa and all of the wonderful Samoans who have so generously opened their homes and their hearts to Peace Corps Volunteers over the years. Mai le ta’ele o matou fatu, fa’afetai tele lava!”