Youngest competitor with big dreams
He goes by the name “Afitusi” when he is performing on the stage at the Siva Afi show but many people may recall seeing him around town selling products on the street.
He is 13 years old from Leone and his real name is Saipele Semo but behind that familiar looking face he has a story to tell.
The Weekend Observer met up with “Afitusi” and the man who took him in and gave him a lot of reasons to enjoy life as a kid and not roam the streets day and night.
This is where it all started.
“Afitusi” is the youngest child of 13 children of Semo and the late Isu Anipale of Leone.
He doesn’t go to school anymore but instead he performs and works at the Siva Afi for the owners, Leota Lene and Clare Leota.
Two years ago, Afitusi first entered the lives of Leota and Clare as a street vendor.
He would come and go to Siva Afi but every time he came, Leota and Clare always welcomed him with open arms and took him in as one of their own.
“Afitusi” (match boxes) is what he used to sell on the street amongst other products,” said Leota.
“At the beginning of this year that’s when he started with the club and he has never really left.
“I first took him back to school at Falefitu Primary School because I knew he was young and that education is the most important thing in any child’s life.
“I bought him and his younger brother school bags and they went back to school but then I saw him again on the street selling things.
“I asked him why he was not at school and he said he was expelled from school because he wasn’t registered for the school, and so I brought him here again.
“One day he told me he wanted to attend Apia Primary School and I went and registered him there but it was the same thing he left again and started selling again.
“[But] while he sold things he always ended up here at our company at night and I would always welcome him here and feed him because I saw something different in this kid.
“So at the beginning of this year he came and said he wanted to know more about fire dancing and so I gave him the chance and now he is working here too at the printing.
“Everyone loves him because he is very innocent and I can see that he is determined to do whatever to make sure he gets a better life.”
Leota said Afitusi is like a son to him and he is loved by everyone.
“We all love him he has a great sense of humour and he loves his family especially his father,” said Leota.
“Every time I ask him what he does with his pay he said he gives it to his father to buy food and that is a really good sign that he is becoming very mature for his age.”
In an interview with Afitusi he told the Weekend Observer that he wants to travel the world byfire dancing.
“I am the youngest of our family and my mother passed away last year from diabetes,” he said.
“I have seven sisters and six brothers but four of my brothers passed away and it is very hard living without a mother and my father doesn’t work.”
As to why he doesn’t want to go back to school “Afitusi” said because he is the only one working in his family.
“The money I get from Leota I give to my dad to put food on our table,” he said.
“Leota gives me $100 tala every week and that really helps my father and my family, I have been learning how to earn money from a very young age and being able to work at a proper work place and not sell things on the street is the best feeling ever.
“I feel like I’m the man of my family because all my other brothers don’t work they just drink and smoke and stay home but being able to provide for my family and especially my father, feels really good.”