We discover the angel in our nature by committing to cause of most vulnerable

By Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi 04 March 2018, 12:00AM

Right now I feel like I am hanging on a string with stretches from purgatory to hell.  

That sounds depressive and I wonder whether in my condition I am a client who needs attention. 

So I hope you will forgive me, if refer to what I had said in 2010 and 2014. It says it so much better than anything I can say at this point. I have just returned from a conference where, like Peter Jones, I feel thoroughly buggered.  

I want to thank the board for reappointing me as Patron. 

I feel very humbled and honored that notwithstanding the many minuses for Goshen in such a decision, they have appointed me for another term. I have been involved for a long time in mental health work because I am convinced that we discover the angel in our nature by committing ourselves to the cause of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Since 2009, Goshen Mental Health Trust has set out to help mental health consumers, and their families and friends, gain access to love, care and support needed to be emotionally, mentally and spiritually well; and to stay well. The ultimate goal is to see that these consumers are rehabilitated and reintegrated into society and to live to the best of their ability, within their families and communities. 

I want to thank the Chairman, Tuifagatoa Dr George Tuitama and the Board for the hard work that you have put in this term.  Recently the Trust has benefited from the support from the Apia Hash House Harriers, Samoa Business Lunch Group and Australian Aid. Funding support was also received from the World Health Organisation via the Ministry of Health. The Trust will be signing into a partnership with the Salvation Army next week which will allow Goshen to obtain further funding and social service related support in relation to mental health and alcohol and drug support. On behalf of the board I wish to acknowledge Lieutenant Rob and Jenny Carey for their commitment and ongoing support which is intrinsic to the Trusts undertakings and capacity building. All of these are very positive movements forward. 

In 2014, I had the pleasure of delivering a keynote address at the Samoa Medical Association 67th Annual General Meeting & Scientific  Seminar. In this address, I made the following reflections: 

In our Samoan culture there is a saying “Lou muamua le ‘ulu taumamao” (Pick the breadfruits on the far-off branches first). Mental health it seems is one of those far-off branches of the health sector that is often left to last in terms of resource prioritisation. However, for those who have undertaken the arduous task of collecting breadfruit for a large family get-together, they will know that the most prudent thing to do is to first attend to those breadfruits most difficult to get. But as another saying goes, each new breadfruit season requires a new lou, “o le fuata ma lona lou”. In this regard we might say that as society changes, the pressures on people change also. As our knowledge and understanding of the causes and effects of mental illness develops, our tools for meeting that new understanding must also develop. However, what our breadfruit culture reminds us about is the symbiotic relationship we have as humans with the cosmos. In our pursuit of modernity and global recognition we (our minds, our bodies and our souls) have lost the spiritual connection it once had with the healing powers of the environment. Because of our excessive exploitation of the environment for our own selfish gains, our people are suffering, literally and metaphorically. Taking time to reflect and meditate, to anapogi, and to search for wisdom, for the tofā sa’ili, is in mental health ever more pressing now than in the past.

There is much in our traditional culture that can be drawn upon to help us navigate where we wish to go with our efforts in mental health. There is also much that we can be grateful for from medical science in terms of understanding mental health. The two need not be in competition with each other. In fact, they are most powerful when the best of both traditions can come and work together. Mental health’s problems of language, of resourcing, of information gathering, and proper professional recognition, are not insurmountable. But they do require understanding Shakespeare’s wit when he says in Troilus and Cressida, “purblind Argus, all eyes and no sight”! Translation: there is no health without mental health!

In 2009, Charlotte Paul made the following remarks in an article published in the New Zealand Listener titled “a question of compassion”.

 “It is not easy to feel compassion for someone who is hard to care about. The demanding task is to nurture the capacity to go on feeling compassionate, in order to go on caring. In this difficult situation, moral sources need to be discovered. What follows is a personal list; others may draw on different traditions.

First the old idea of reciprocity: that we are somehow given to each other. Caring requires a double vision. Alongside dependence and the need for care, the free agency of the person cared for must be imagined and respected.

Such respect is possible even when very little capacity for autonomy can be exercised. I realised that my almost helpless husband was comforting me when he knew his death was near. Reciprocity happened through shared jokes that undermined the sentimental stance to the sick: “in-valid”, “culpable sclerosis”, “de-habilitation”.

Shared experience of sustaining words also matters. … I read aloud selections from John Donne’s Songs and Sonnets, and poems of George Herbert. After each poem Kevin sighed. His sighs were sociable and included me; and they were composed of sadness and contentment and appreciation – sheer wonder that human beings could grace the world with such phrasings and such perceptions.

Second, religious traditions can be drawn on. The idea of a suffering God and the love of God for humans, through which humans love themselves and one another, is part of the Christian tradition. It is central to Donne’s and Herbert’s poems. Our modern ideas of benevolence can be traced back to this source. It is not easy to love people for their attributes when they are disintegrating. But love can be powered by a deep attention to the person who is suffering.

Third, there is the experience of failure and of trying to prevent failure turning into giving up on oneself. Failure is almost inevitable. It is too tiring to do all the caring when it goes on for years. Eventually, you may abandon your relative to hospital level care. If this is accompanied by giving up on one’s own capacity to love, then it might really be abandonment.

As Yeats’ poem Easter 1916 says: “Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart”. Moral sources that recognise human frailty offer the possibility of self-forgiveness and of continuing to care and/or attend. It is possible to make a room in a geriatric hospital an extension of the rooms at home.

… By focusing on rights and obligations, we are neglecting the other side of morality. Perhaps we should focus [instead] on nourishing the capacity for compassion. …Compassion is a great ideal, but it brings with it difficult or even impossible demands on the heart that shouldn’t be underestimated. It needs to be actively sustained within the healthcare professions. It is not the stuff of a code of rights.” (Charlotte Paul, “A question of compassion”, New Zealand Listener, 2009 (Aug 15), pp.33-34). (p. 3-4)

In closing, I wish to acknowledge and remember Alalatoa Breda Tipi-Faitua who passed away in 2015. I wish to recognize her efforts as a Board member of the Goshen Trust and as a leader in raising the profile for those in our society who are most vulnerable. I want to thank Savea Tuitogi and her family who are heading to Cambodia to work in a Missionary school; you have been, as we say in Samoa, the sail and the anchor of Goshen since its launching, and to Dr Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni who had to withdraw due to additional workload in her new role as Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Auckland. Thank you and God Bless. 

As a nonprofit organization, Goshen Mental Health Trust relies completely on the support, prayers and generosity of our community. We thank you all for supporting this evenings event and hope that you may continue to show your love for the Trusts works in the coming future.   

Finally, a special word of thanks to Tuatagaloa, Sose and Nelson of the Sinalei Reef Resort for using their 22nd anniversary and the facilities of their resort to fundraise for Goshen. It is not only extremely useful in raising much needed resources, but it has also been an advertisement for the work and the sacrifice of some very dedicated people on behalf of some of the most vulnerable citizens of our community. Faafetai. Soifua. 

By Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi 04 March 2018, 12:00AM

Trending Stories

Samoa Observer

Upgrade to Premium

Subscribe to
Samoa Observer Online

Enjoy unlimited access to all our articles on any device + free trial to e-Edition. You can cancel anytime.