From match box seller to international fire dancer

Two years ago, Saipele Semo was spotted selling boxes of matches on the streets of Apia. Fast forward to today he is preparing to fly to Brisbane for his first international fire dance performance.

His rise from the backstreets of Samoa’s capital to a recognised fire dancer has been phenomenal, thanks to the owner of the Siva Afi dance crew, Leota Lene Leota. 

Saipele, 15, of Leone is part of a dance crew from Siva Afi who have been invited by the Samoan community in Brisbane, Australia to perform. 

The trip, scheduled for the late November and early December period, will see them participate in workshops and shows in Brisbane over two weeks.  

Leota said Saipele is the youngest of the three dancers, who are all in their early 20s.

He has 10 brothers and three sisters, and lived a tough life on the streets of Apia selling boxes of matches, when he was spotted by Leota and recruited.

Saipele learnt the skill of fire dancing from Leota and older crew members and is now undertaking training in fabric printing, which Leota himself is teaching. 

“I saw Saipele when he was selling stuff. Now we are teaching him in the printing factory, it is not only about going to school, but to do something they can enjoy and use. Some of them are still attending school and some still sell the stuff on the street.

“There is never enough to help, sometimes giving them some ice cream to take home or money for the bus etc. to support them is what we are doing.

“It’s to take him (Saipele) so he can see a new life. He might be changed when he comes back, I hope so. I think it is about giving these kids a chance. No matter what they are doing just to give them a way. It is as well to show parents other opportunities and ideas,” Leota said.

Saipele told Samoa Observer that he loved to do the fire dance and and has not had an injury since he learnt the art, and is excited at taking his first ever overseas trip.  

Coincidentally, Saipele is not the first Siva Afi dance crew member to be recruited from the streets, as Leota has indicated giving similar opportunities to other children, who still sell items on the streets of Apia in their spare time. 

“I want to give back to those kids. When I was a kid when I finished school on the way home I collected four of those empty bottles of coca cola and that was enough for my lunch the next day. So every day when I finished school I provided my lunch for the next day. So I look at all those kids which are in a similar situation as me,” he said.

While the dance group’s travel expenses including visas to Australia have been covered by their various fundraising activities, Leota says they are still looking for a sponsor to get a return ticket for Saipele. 

The dance group has just over four weeks to finalise their travel. Anyone who wants to support Saipele to enable him realise his dream can contact Leota on +685 26128. 

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