By Quenjule Slaven. 23 May 2016, 12:00AM

I am free.  I am proud to be a Samoan.  I am strong.  I am persistent.  Like our country’s foundation, built by the blood of our ancestors, I will not be silent.  I have a voice.  I will not be broken.  I will stand up to fight for what is right and I will defend. 

I will not sit back and do nothing, when I was created by God to do something.  I will never give up hope.  I will endure.  Freedom will not be taken easily away from me.  I will prevail.  I will overcome.  Hooah!

Patriotism to me is a commitment, an undeniable connection with the land where we were born and live in.  Love and pride for our country are some of the ingredients, but freedom is where the patriotic heart lies. 

Freedom is a treasure, a rare gem that most will go to fierce battle to have.  Freedom is the most precious gift, our ancestors’ blood has been spilled to attain it for many generations to come.  Even today in some countries, lives of thousands have been laid down for it in-past, present and maybe in the future. 

Without freedom, I say I am a slave in shackles rotting in prison.   With freedom, I say I am a colonel leading a fight to a good cause.  I am an eagle soaring in the sky.  I am a north star guiding those who are lost.  I am a key that opens doors to opportunity.  I am whoever and whatever I choose to be.   

My heart swells with newfound patriotism every time the Independence Holidays rolls in.  For many people, celebrating Independence Day means getting a day off from work but for me when I think about our Independence Day (which is coming up shortly- June 1st), I think about the price of my freedom. 

I think about the movie, “Braveheart.”  I think about the colours of our flag- red, white and blue which flow freely through my veins.  I think about bravery and sacrifice. I think about our ancestors, warriors who have courageously fought for Samoan independence and today’s inheritance. 

We are beautiful flowers from the same garden.  Like the saying goes, “United we stand, divided we fall.”  We are people with much pride in where we come from, and in who we are.  We share one colour, one faith, one language, one culture, one family, one people and one soul.  

Our Independence Day is usually a two to three day holiday to honour both our independence from New Zealand and freedom.  It’s a time where people put aside differences and unite to celebrate the birth of this country’s freedom. 

The old and young are up early at the crack of dawn to part-take in marching, something instilled and passed down from generation to generation.  The marches held on these days are formality to show respect and love for our country.

We do it to honour our ancestors who paid the price for us to live free.   With food, music, marching band performances, parades and traditional dances, everyone enthusiastically applauds and sings the national anthem. 

Sometimes, we get to watch a colourful show of fireworks explode over the water (hope we get lucky this year).  We should not only celebrate Independence Day, but remember how blessed we are to enjoy freedom, hard earned by the blood and sweat of our ancestors.      

Sadly, some people spend their whole lives as slaves and will never experience the essence of freedom like we do.  During my research on the internet for a recent class assignment on human rights, I saw sketches of torture and stories of torment in some places around the world which have never tasted freedom. 

One story that stuck out like a sore thumb, was a young man by the name of Shin Dong –Hyuk.  He says his memories seared violently in his brain with his time in the North Korean prison camp.  

Shin was born in Prison Camp 14.  Can you imagine having your fate sealed by someone else because you were born a prisoner?  He says he was forced to watch the execution of his mother and brother. 

Tortured in prison, in 2005 he managed to escape, this is an unimaginable idea and almost impossible to carry-out with the electric fence surrounding the prison.  If anyone tried to escape or think about it, he would be tortured or even executed. 

Shin said, “We were treated like animals.  I would describe my life in the prison camp that of a slave.  Many times I thought I would be publically executed or have my arms or legs or head cut off, but I was thankful I only had my finger cut off. 

Currently, family, friends and companion are still living there in the prison camp, with no hopes of escape and are enduring hardships.  They are living in fear and very hard lives.”

This true story is an example when there is no freedom in our lives.  Without freedom, we would have to do what the authorities always tell us to do.  Without freedom, there is no room for mistakes and so it would be harder to learn about life. 

Without freedom there is no hope for life.  Without freedom there is no creativity, no happiness and no peace.  There is only fear of torture or worse, death.  So many take this precious gift for granted.  Yet there are many others who are deeply thankful and grateful. 

We have a duty to preserve our way of life, it is how we repay our debt to our ancestors.  I heard once the secret to happiness is freedom and the secret to freedom is courage. 

Abraham Lincoln was remembered for his vital role as a freedom hero.  He once said, “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and under a just God, cannot long retain it.  Free labour has the inspiration of hope; pure slavery has no hope.  Freedom is not the right of what we want, but what we ought to do.” 

By Quenjule Slaven. 23 May 2016, 12:00AM

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