Returning to Paradise

By Sharlene Tanuvasa ,

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THIS IS WILL: Mu Pagoa Falls is in between my parents village Puleia and Gautavai in Savaii.

THIS IS WILL: Mu Pagoa Falls is in between my parents village Puleia and Gautavai in Savaii.

This is Will. Will is seeking a new direction in life.

So, Will moved to Samoa from New Zealand to find balance in his lifestyle and to learn more about his roots.

Will is Smart. Be like Will.

Every year in Samoa, thousands of possible applicants flock to Immigration NZ  (New Zealand High Commission offices in Apia) to try their hand at being selected as part of the Quota of Samoan citizens vying for permanent residency in New Zealand(NZ). 

On the 21st of August 1982 a signed agreement took place between the late Tofilau Eti Alesana (Acting Prime Minister in for the then ill Prime Minister Va’ai Kolone of the Western Samoan Government) and the late Sir Robert Muldoon (Prime Minister of the NZ Government). 

This agreement was used by the Government of NZ to pass the Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982. What this meant for Samoans was that the previous New Zealand-British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948 which entitled all Samoans born in Western Samoa between 1924 and 1948, and their children, to be automatic citizens under NZ (as NZ was administering Western Samoa at that time) was made void. 

Those affected and residing in NZ at the said time, who were permanent residents, were given the chance for citizenship but for anyone residing outside of NZ, their claims were no longer valid. As cruel as that may appear to some, this did however open up the opportunity for the general Samoan public to be eligible for the yearly quota. 

According to the Immigration NZ website, the Samoan Quota Scheme “allows up to 1,100 citizens of Samoa selected by ballot, to be granted residence in New Zealand each year”. It can then be assumed that those who were lucky enough to be selected in this ballot are overjoyed at the prospect of living in NZ legally. But what of the children born abroad to parents who became citizens under the first Act? Switch on the television or the internet and the results of first generation Samoan New Zealanders (Kiwis) speak for themselves. 

 Athletes, business men and women, actors, lawyers, technicians etc… the success rate of NZ born Samoans is growing rapidly. These first generation Kiwis have made a home for themselves in NZ and their presence is felt. But how successful has the migration been for these children when in reference to the actual country Samoa? Tourism advertisements picture Samoa as an idyllic slice of Heaven with beautiful beaches, exotic fruits, exciting nightlife and hospitable service with a smile but would Kiwis take up the chance to explore Samoa as more than just tourists/visitors? And is it worthwhile for these first generational children to pack up and leave familiar surroundings and return to live in paradise? 

Enter: Will Iopu. 

Will Iopu starts his day at the Home Café, Malifa, as the newly appointed Café Manager. Responsible for the daily run of hospitality for this delightful cafe, Iopu works steadily ensuring that all staff are on deck and up to scratch with the day’s duties. Boasting beautiful dishes and proud to promote product from both local farmers and businesses, Iopu is in his element.  He is a determined sort. He has focus, he has goals and he is happy.

Newly migrated from NZ to Samoa in November 2015, Iopu is part of the generation of children that have returned to the islands to commence a new chapter of their lives. 

Descending from the villages of Puleia (father) and Gautavai (mother) in Savaii, Iopu’s parents Talouli Sao Letusia Samasoni Iopu and Tuiava Iopu (nee Viliamu) married in Savaii in 1974 and soon embarked on a journey in search of the NZ dream. On arrival, they stayed with Iopu’s uncle (Su’a Talitua) and Talouli gained employment with Pacific Steel, Otahuhu while his wife Tuiava settled in to take on the role of full time mother to their future children. (Over the years, they eventually saved enough money to purchase their own home)  Iopu, the eldest son of four children was born, and as all kiwi kids do, he went through the educational processes from primary to high school level. Being raised in NZ, the values and morals instilled in Iopu were those of his parents Fa’a Samoa culture. They attended a Samoan church and had Samoan gatherings keeping their roots alive in this new land and ensuring that it was passed through to their children. At home, Samoan was the main language and English was kept for school; something Iopu is immensely proud of as it gives him the ability to communicate in both worlds. And while his natural love exists for NZ as his birth country, his pull to Samoa has always been strong. Iopu reminisces on his experience. “I remember being 11 years old and doing a family trip to Samoa for the festive season. A few days before my parents, siblings and I were due to fly out, I told a cousin I didn’t want to leave Samoa and I wanted to go to school here, so we went to Leififi Intermediate, had an interview with the principle and was accepted.  With the biggest smile on my face we headed back home to tell my parents. Two days later they were dragging me in the plane kicking and screaming.  Throughout my life I have been waiting for that perfect timing to move and live in Samoa and now that I'm older I decided that it's now or never”.

And so it was. 

Whilst in Auckland, Iopu made plans to move, first resigning from his job of 9 years. His parents were shocked by this decision to give up on a lucrative career, but they quickly praised the efforts of their son to identify with his roots, as he prepared for the big move. 

Being of Samoan descent, Iopu was able to obtain citizenship and eventually a Samoan passport. This was extremely helpful as it ensured that Iopu was able to gain employment prior to arriving. With employment, the difference between wages in Samoa and wages in NZ is significantly vast, but this hasn’t deterred Iopu from wanting to remain as the balance in lifestyle works for him. 

“The pay is not the same as it would be in other countries but there are jobs here in Samoa that pay well, so people need to understand that they will get a pay decrease.  In saying that, the lifestyle here in Samoa I believe is better than anywhere else, like I can go to the beach with my friends anytime of the year, while in NZ it's winter, cold and wet”.

Sounding like quite the easy transition so far this can only be put down to Iopu preparing himself extremely well. Doing your research before moving pays off. Frequent trips to Samoa in the years preceding his shift have enabled him to make strong connections. 

On the housing issue, Iopu had initially planned to look for his own place but good friends Taualai and Dionne Fonoti stepped in to ask if he would move in with them as they themselves were planning to travel abroad and needed a house sitter. The timing could not have been any better and the living arrangements have been successful. Additionally he discovered that the natural course of doing things in NZ has not necessarily been the same as in Samoa and on start-up this was a challenging time for him to process the different systems. 

Over time, he has kept his expectations real, modifying himself to fit in with changes by adapting the positivity of an open mind. He’s also found in the work sector that physically putting himself out there rather than relying on communication via emails has been the best way for him to do business. The urge to find opportunities all over Samoa has been challenging though. Had circumstances been different, Iopu would love to have lived in his home village but the variety of work and the availability of it have not been comparable to Apia. With continuing developments taking place all over Samoa, the shift to Savaii is still a possibility on the cards for Iopu’s future.

So, has it been worthwhile moving over? By all means, for Will Iopu, it is an emphatic YES. “I have been very lucky that I have frequently travelled to Samoa before relocating over so I already have a great group of friends living here.  I have met so many more amazing people since arriving and I have formed a close friendship with most.  They don’t treat me any different. At the end of the day we all treat each other with respect regardless if we were born a local, overseas, afakasi, different sexual orientation, we all just respect each other”

But life doesn’t end with the socialising aspect of it. Iopu has plans to integrate himself into Samoan society as much as he can.Potential plans for study at the National University of Samoa are imminent and involvement in society has already taken place.

 During the SIDS 2014 conference, Iopu flew in to Apia as part of the NZ Samoan Victims Support Group. (SVSG) Working alongside SVSG Samoa, their aim was to reinforce the current initiatives in place and to show what support NZ has been instrumental in aiding towards Samoa’s goals.  For now though, he is content to establish himself in his current work position and immerse himself in as many cultural experiences as he can.

In the case of Will Iopu, the success of migrant parents moving abroad and having their children return to try life in their mother land has been achieved. The statistics supplied by the NZ High Commission via the Statistics New Zealand website show that in the 12 months leading up to November 2015, NZ Citizens returning to Samoa was numbered at 437. This has been a gradual decline from the previous two years. In 2013 the figures were 532 and in 2014 462. The reasons for this are not apparent but none of this has held Iopu back in advancing his life here. His optimistic view for others to follow in his footsteps is present, even with his siblings.” My brother Nathan lived in Samoa in the 1990’s and attended Samoa College for 3 years .He now resides in Brisbane with his wife Margaret and children while my youngest brother Junior, successful in his career, will be marrying his fiancée Angelina Solipo in 2017.  

I wouldn’t rule out my brothers moving to Samoa, but for now I don’t think it's in their current plans, but they are coming to visit in March this year”. 

Some would count that as a maybe, but in Samoa, most likely a yes.  Whatever the outcome, this 360 degree turn around of returning children, is a successful tribute to the teachings of parents who have kept alive the love of their Samoa by planting it in the hearts of their young. It isn’t strange to hear Kiwi accents throughout the country and their determination to give back to the community is commendable. For Iopu, it is an opportunity not to be missed. 

His last words sum this up splendidly; “If Samoan and born outside of Samoa and thinking of moving to Samoa, just do it.  I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, I have no regrets whatsoever, live life!”

© Samoa Observer 2016

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