Person of the year 2015

31 December 2015, 12:00AM


The Chairman of the Ah Liki Investment Group, Taimalie Charlie Westerlund, has been voted Samoa Observer’s Person of the Year for 2015.

Taimalie is an entrepreneur armed with the knowledge and the drive we believe can steer Samoa’s economic canoe in the right direction, at a time when this country needs people like him to stand up and be counted.

Taimalie was among many outstanding nominees recommended by members of our community for this honour. The Samoa Observer staff and management discussed the recommendations and the decision was made to choose additional individuals as our "People of the Year."

The truth is that there are many other outstanding individuals who are not on this list. But it is impossible to have everybody included. For today, we are highlighting the stories of just some of the people who have made a real difference in this country this year. The list has no specific weighting and is also in no particular order.



Taimalie Charlie Westerlund 

– Samoa Observer’s Person of the Year

By Mata’afa Keni Lesa


At this point in Samoa’s journey as the South Pacific’s first colonially free and independent nation, a political milestone it proudly achieved fifty three years ago with such resounding aplomb as its shocked neighbors were looking silently on not knowing what to do and yet with lustful envy, the truth is simple enough.

Today, Samoa’s economy should be flourishing blissfully along as the Pacific’s first wonder democracy and yet it is not; instead it is barely moving and why is that, if we may ask? 

Because instead of its foundation being built on a sound export-driven strategy designed to enable its people to reap the rewarding benefits, especially from their being able to get jobs, it is built on aid.

And that is where this new breed of entrepreneurs armed with the knowledge and the drive that they believe can steer Samoa’s economic canoe in the right direction, one of whom is Taimalie Charlie Westerlund, the Chairman of the Ah Liki Investment Group, have entered the fray.  

Incidentally, Taimalie has been chosen as Samoa Observer’s Person of the Year 2015. It was not an easy job. There are several – in fact many – of those who could have been chosen, but then unfortunately there is only one slot to be filled, and Taimalie – even though he refused to be interviewed when he was asked - was chosen anyway.

That is the nature of the man. He does not care about being recognized publicly. All he cares about is his duty to this country, and that it’s being done the right way.

At a time when this country sorely needs jobs, it’s safe to say Taimalie is a beacon of hope. With more than 1,000 people on the payroll of his different companies – and multiplying quickly - it’s hard to ignore Taimalie’s invaluable contribution to the lives of thousands of people in this country.

Indeed, when we talk about hard working individuals who are making a difference in Samoa, Taimalie’s contribution over the past years has been immense.

But you wouldn’t hear Taimalie openly brag about his success. Not at all. In fact, when the Samoa Observer contacted him about being our Person of the Year, his response spoke volumes. He recommended that the award be passed on to another eligible candidate who “really deserves it.”

We disagree. We say this for the simple reason that this year has been Taimalie’s year. We can only detail a few of his many accomplishments in this piece.

What with the growth of Samoa Beverage Company in Samoa and overseas producing beer and soft drinks, the popularity of canned Samoan delicacies like palusami, the introduction of tuna flakes, these are without a doubt impressive feats.

But there is more. Think of the Krissy Company factory, which processes sausages, salted beef, corned beef and more. We’ve seen how the growing Farmer Joe Supermarket chain has transformed the shopping experience in Samoa. And let’s not forget the Tanumapua Chicken Farm as well as Taimalie’s contribution to Samoa’s taro exports.

People close to Taimalie know that his heart is all about helping people, especially at grassroots level. It is why his most recent beer was launched in Savai’i – of all places - during the Agriculture Show there.

 “Everything that I and our investment group have achieved boils down to helping our people through employment,” Taimalie told the Savali some time ago. “In every investment we make, profit margin is always a consideration but ultimately it’s the new employment opportunities that decide the ultimate fate of any investment."

“Our success is from team work. Without the dedication of our employees, the Ah Liki Investment Group would not be where it is today.”

There is no doubt that Taimalie and his companies have come a long way.

For Taimalie and his family, their success is firmly grounded in a legacy of hard work, commitment and dedication to achieve a purpose that has been passed from generation to generation. It is a legacy found deep in their blood so that the term 'giving up' is not anywhere in their veins.

When the Taxi range of soft drinks was first launched in 2013, Taimalie recalled the story of how the name came about.

 “This land where SBC is located [at Falelauniu] was our first learning centre,” he said then. “This is where the Germans had plantations in the past."

 “This is where I learned to plant, dry and market cocoa.  This is also where I learned to plant cabbages." 

 “My father, Mani Westerlund, had a cocoa and coconut plantation and he also ran a taxi stand which opened in 1968."

 “By 1970, he had thirty taxis and it was around this time when Government Ministries and departments did not have vehicles." 

 “My father’s (taxi) stand had many taxis compared to other stands and so the Government gave him the priority of transporting these Government employees.”

As a young man at the time, Taimalie helped to service the taxis that needed repairs.

 “I would look after the taxis and fix the old cars that were run down,” he said.  “I would go to school at 6am and at 5pm in the evening, I would help out repairing the taxis."

 “By the time I reached High School, I continued to do repair work on these vehicles but would finish around 2am the next day."

 “When I went to school, I would be sleepy in class and so I thought to myself, if I do not pass my University Entrance exams, I will be fixing taxis for the rest of my life. This was an incentive for me to study hard at school to gain a scholarship for further studies."

 “From that experience I learned engineering skills and how to identify car problems. I had to adapt to heavy (machinery) work and I had to learn the importance of education. These were lifelong skills learnt and I would encourage you students to do the same if you want to become successful in life.”

Feel good stories like this are just the sort of thing this country needs.

But this is not the end. Far from it.

At 24 years of age, Enele Westerlund, one of Taimalie’s children is following the footsteps of his father. He, brother Clyve and sister Kristabelle Cowley are all hard working individuals, playing critical roles in the success of the companies. And beside a strong family is an equally strong woman. 

Dee-Ann Westerlund is that woman for Taimalie and his children, keeping the family even stronger.  

During an interview with the Samoa Observer earlier this year, Enele paid tribute to his father, saying one of his strengths was in exporting taro and that’s how he started. And although he has since started a lot of other businesses, everything always went back to the farm and plantations.

For Enele, he knows he is being groomed for bigger, brighter things.

“Charlie always made it a point to bring [us] back to Samoa every single break and go straight into work, so when SBC started, I was in my second to last year, but came back eight times a year,” he said.

 “The way I have been brought up, I have definitely been prepared as much as possible. I’ll never say I’ve learnt everything I could. I’m always in a position where I know there is a lot more to learn. Especially when you’re in this industry and you’re working under businesses like Ah Liki Group...”

Within the next five years, Enele wants to see their products in countries where any Samoan lives or travels to. And with that comes those much-needed jobs that will keep the local economy turning.


Latafale Auva’a 

– Courage, inspirational and true beauty 

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 

By now, the story of Latafale Auva’a has been well told. 

The young Law and Music student at the University of Otago is a former Miss Samoa, former Miss Pacific Islands and most recently became the most popular Pacific representative on the world stage when she represented Samoa at the Miss World in China. At the time, there were countless wonderful tributes to her commitment, perseverance and how she overcame the odds to be an inspiration to thousands of Samoan women all over the world.

But none more personal, touching and accurate than a post by one of her friends, Karla Lua'ao Leota, of Island Thrift, on her Facebook page. It captures and depicts Latafale’s journey perfectly.

It reads: “She chose to postpone her degree and try out a beauty contest, she chose to play at the Pacific Games instead of staying to greet the All Blacks, and she chose to go to Sanya, China and compete against over a hundred girls in the Miss World contest instead of giving her crown away at the 2016 Miss Pacific Islands." 

“Now she has held 4 crowns, a silver and gold medal, she has made the live shows for the Miss World, and has made the top numbers for almost if not all the categories including 4th in the latest sports challenge!" 

“Life is always going to throw you choices, and sometimes ultimatums." 

“Be brave enough to choose the ones that move you out of your comfort zone for the better, choose to grow and ultimately lead your choices with prayer and faithfulness to God." 

“He's called you, yes every single one of you to live progressively for Him, and to love. He will never give you something you can not handle and he will never call you to be content. Chase dreams, chase opportunities, chase your calling... And fight for it.”

When it comes to Latafale’s courage, success and persona, it’s hard to disagree with Ms. Leota.

Latafale would agree herself. And looking back at the whirlwind year she has had, she said that although it has been “overwhelming,'' she remains humbled.

“Commitment, prayer and patience were key to my success,” she said.“I had a lot of encouragement from Samoan communities all over the globe, especially in New Zealand.”

She thanks everyone for their support – including the thousands of Samoans and non-Samoans who uplifted her journey in prayers and well wishes.

By way of background, Latafale was born and raised in New Zealand by her European mother and Samoan father. Currently at University, she is a fourth year student of Law and Music, with aspirations of a career in musical theatre or practicing family law. 

An active individual, Latafale is a skilled musician, playing a variety of instruments, and is a competitive touch rugby player, winning gold and silver medals in the sport at the 2015 South Pacific Games. 

Indeed, she is an inspirational young woman who deserves the best for whatever she chooses to do.

We end this piece with an interview Latafale shared on the Miss World website.  

Interview for Miss World:

What’s your current favourite website?

Pic Monkey – I am able to edit photos, videos and create collages of memories.

If you could invite anyone (living or historic) to dinner, who would it be and why?

Martin Luther King – So that he could encourage me in my walk of life and teach me how to inspire people for a greater cause.

What would be your dream job?

To be a voice-over for a Disney character.

If you could work with any fashion designer, who would it be and why?

Tex Saverio – Amazingly creative and captivating fashion designer who brings art, fashion and life together!

What item of make-up could you not live without?


Mac or PC?

Definitely Mac!

Sweet or Savory?


If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?

The power to heal! The elimination of sickness would make life so much better!

Which Challenge Events do you feel most confident about?

Talent and Sport.

Why did you enter Miss World?

I see Miss World as a platform, not only to showcase my nation but to empower the idea that beauty has a purpose. True beauty is in the humility of character and kindness of heart and Miss World provides an incredible opportunity to affirm the identity of young women on a global spectrum and also to creatively serve under privileged communities internationally. A job I would zealously undertake.



Le Mamea Ropati

- Heart for Samoa, a visionary leader

By Deidre Fanene

Politician and businessman, Le Mamea Ropati Mualia, needs no introduction.

Having served the people of Samoa selflessly in multiple roles for close to 40 years, the veteran Member of Parliament for Lefaga and Faleseela, is a visionary leader.

And as he is calling it a day on his political career, Le Mamea has no regrets. As he should. He has done it all, having been a Cabinet Minister as well as an Opposition leader. Not many people can say they have done that in their lifetime. Mind you not many people can lay claims to the creation of a University either. 

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Le Mamea said he is looking forward to the chance to take it easy and focus on his pharmacy at Sogi.

For Le Mamea, his decision to enter politics was always about making a difference.

 “When I became the Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture Affairs in 1983, I was so happy because this was exactly what I wanted,” he said. 

“I wasn’t happy when I saw that many students who failed, didn’t have anywhere else to go. So I wanted to build a University for not only these students but also those other students who weren’t able to get scholarships.”

As a scholarship student to Otago University, he said there were a lot of students who failed, returned home and had nowhere else to go.

This is what motivated him to push the government to begin a University, what has now become the National University of Samoa.

 “In 1984, the National University of Samoa was established with just 47 students at the time,” said Le Mamea. “Looking at the University now there are more than 4,000 students. That is one of the major things that I have achieved during my time as the Minister of Education." 

“I believe that everything in life starts from education. It doesn’t matter what kind of family you come from, whether your parents are poor, or your family don’t have anything, if you have a good education, if you’re able to get a scholarship and do good, you can change all that.”

Le Mamea also said that behind those successes were some very tough challenges.

 “It wasn’t easy at all,” he said. “It was really hard because there were a lot of parents who complained. I don’t blame them."

“They were not happy with the fact that their children had gone overseas for scholarships and now they were attending university here in Samoa. I would have been the same if I were the parent." “The problem was it was not anybody’s fault, it was their fault because they had an opportunity but they didn’t take it seriously.”

There was another issue.  “It was the fee of $5tala,” he smiled. “The parents were trying to figure out how $5tala was going to pay for everything but I was adamant about this project despite the complaints and all the challenges."

“I pushed hard for this because we cannot rely always on New Zealand and Australia. I knew there would be times that they would not be able to pay for scholarships and even with that, there was a limit to those scholarships as well."

“That was one of the choices that I made throughout my life that I have never regretted because I see the University growing. I can see that it is improving the lives of young people and changing Samoa for the better.”

Another proud achievement for Le Mamea Ropati is his tenure as the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. “I was happy when I was chosen to be the Minister of Agriculture because this is the workforce that has huge potential to push our farmers,” he said.

“We don’t have factories like overseas and a lot of people from the rural areas don’t get the chance to go to university."

“So the only thing that we can do is create opportunities for these people on their farms, to have incentives and motivate them to develop their own blocks whatever size so they can help themselves." “They can grow cabbages, taro, bananas and so many things and they can take to the market and get money from. Those are the opportunities given to them so they can build up their own families and themselves."

“From 2011 until now, I have seen a lot of improvements and I am happy that I was able to give people jobs and help them during my time as a politician.” Asked what he will remember during his time as a politician, Le Mamea said he will remember the positive changes he helped to create to improve the lives of Samoans.

“I will always remember the challenges that came with the great successes not only in the Education system but also in the Agriculture and Fisheries ministry,” he said.

“We must always focus on the bigger picture and that is to help the people of Samoa to live a better life.” 

Le Mamea, a Pharmacist by profession, has had a colourful career. He entered politics in 1979. In 1982 he served as the Minister of Lands Survey, Post Office and Broadcasting. 

He subsequently served as Minister of Education, Youth, Sports & Cultural Affairs and Labour in the government of Tofilau Eti Alesana.  Between 2001 and 2006, he was Leader of the Opposition Samoa Democratic United Party.

In February 2010 Ropati revealed he had been asked by his village to run as a candidate for the Human Rights Protection Party. 

Le Mamea and his family owns the Le Mamea Pharmacy at Sogi and other business ventures including Hotel Elisa. Married to Maiava Elisa Fagalilo with seven children and 14 grandchildren, Le Mamea is also the Secretary of the E.F.K.S. Church’s Finance Committee.


Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i

- For the love of country and the game of rugby

By David De Lorean

If there is one word that describes Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i, it would have to be “passionate”. He has lived and breathed rugby his entire life, and since February has directed that passion into helping the embattled Samoa Rugby Union (S.R.U.), during one of the toughest periods the organisation has ever gone through.

The challenges of the S.R.U. are well-known to all Samoans.

In the past few years, questions were raised over the organisation’s finances, and a rift that had been created between players and management for countless reasons, all building up and coming to a head.

Repairing the damage will take a long time.

But it’s a challenge Faleomavaega is taking head on.

The rugby fanatic’s schooling and professional life has led to this – and although he’s not on the field, it’s a role he is more than happy to do.

Born 22 December 1964, Faleomavaega has spent most of his life in Samoa.

He was initially educated here, first at the Marist school, then at Chanel College.

Faleomavaega and his family then, like many Samoans, made the move over to New Zealand, where they settled in the capital city, Wellington.

He attended St. Patrick’s College in Wellington, before heading off to Europe for a couple of years for his big O.E. (overseas experience).

But Samoa was still home, and in 1992 Faleomavaega permanently returned to local shores, got married, and found work.

The whole time, rugby was on his mind.

Faleomavaega made the St. Patrick’s College first XV in 1983, something he said was a huge boost for his rugby aspirations.

“I think we only had one loss and one draw in the whole season,” he said, remembering his days on the rugby field at school.

The year after, he became a Marist St. Joseph’s club member in Samoa, and began his climb to international rugby stardom.

From 1988 to 1991, Faleomavaega played for the Manu Samoa. He toured Wales and Ireland in ’88, went to Europe with the first team to officially be called “Manu Samoa” in ’89, and travelled to Australia in 1990. Retiring in ’91, he just missed out on selection for the upcoming Rugby World Cup. But the Manu Samoa experience was a huge part of his life.

 “That was...a great honour, to represent your country.” Once he had come down from the dizzying highs of international rugby stardom, he started working in the travel industry.

“I just like to travel, and then when I got back [to Samoa permanently] I applied for a job at Air New Zealand."

“We had a small team back then. There was only five of us, I learned a lot.”

He got to work in the office, handle freight, cargo, and much more. “I basically covered all areas, I could have walked into any job in the airline industry in New Zealand with the experience I got here.” Instead, he opted to find work with Polynesian Airlines. In 2001, Faleomavaega’s wife asked him to come and work for her, at a travel agent.

The couple were in business, and Faleomavaega continued his work in the travel industry, helping out with Samoan rugby whenever he could.

He managed to open a sports shop in that time, too, which helped fuel another of his much-loved sports.

“One of my passions is golf and I was convinced back then to resurrect the Samoa Open Golf Tournament.” He did just that, and has been a tournament director since 2006, with the exception of this year.

The shop was “just to make sure I'd get my time off to go play golf”, Faleomavaega laughed.

The years passed by, with Faleomavaega overseeing the Samoa Open and organising the Marist Sevens. Then, the All Blacks announced they were coming to Samoa.

Local rugby management needed to find their Richie McCaw, and fast.

And with his travel connections, event management experience, rugby career and passion for sport, Faleomavaega was the S.R.U.’s man.

“When I came on board I think I had to get all those contacts and resources outside of the union to help me put that event up,” said Faleomavaega.

He ensured the S.R.U. worked closely with the Samoa Tourism Authority as preparations for the Manu Samoa vs. All Blacks match progressed.

He got the New Zealand High Commission on board as well, to help offset some of the massive costs of the event.

“We wanted to make sure we were putting on something fitting for the number one team in the world.”

As preparations continued, Faleomavaega said player safety was the biggest concern of the New Zealand Rugby Union and All Blacks management, especially since it was a Rugby World Cup year.

“I think their (All Blacks) demands were very high and we met them head on, with the assistance of the government.”

Apia Park had to be up to scratch, and that took a lot of time, money and effort doing the place up.

“We wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be their last visit to Samoa, and we wanted to tell them that Samoa can host anything."

“I think the only downside to the whole thing was the capacity of Apia Park."

“The cost of the tickets was an issue [but] somebody had to pay for bringing them over."

“We only had 8,000 capacity so we had to look at upping the cost to make sure that a sizeable [portion] of that bill was [covered by ticket sales].”

With the match broadcast all around the world, Faleomavaega said the promotion of Samoa was invaluable, and probably the most satisfying part of his time as the S.R.U. Chief Executive Officer  so far.

“I think putting on that event and the way the team performed was so encouraging that we started to win back the support of the fans.”

With some last-minute sponsorship money coming in, the S.R.U. even managed to turn a small profit on the event. 

It was the game of the year, and another step in Faleomavaega’s journey to save the S.R.U. Having been Acting C.E.O. since February, Faleomavaega was officially named as the S.R.U.’s Chief Executive a few months ago.


Matautia Rula Levi

- She leads by example

By Marj Moore

In 2015, as the Samoa Housing Corporation celebrated its Silver Jubilee, C.E.O. Matautia Rula Levi could look back with quiet pride at her own work over the last 10 of those 25 years.

Positive and quietly spoken when she is at her most persuasive, she has restored a sense of pride in S.H.C. which was certainly once viewed as the poor relation amongst the larger financial institutions.

It has largely been during her tenure from 2005 to the present day, that this previously small and largely unknown Corporation, which was set up in 1990, has really come to the fore.

Prior to moving to the Corporation, Matautia spent many years working in various positions at the larger Development Bank of Samoa.

And before that, she had graduated with a degree in Economics from Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand. Even in those early days, there were already signs of her natural leadership skills in the social and professional circles.

But it is 2015 in particular that stands out as a time to look back in terms of change, growth and development both locally and globally.

It has been well documented in other articles how the S.H.C. has leapt ahead.

Hitting the ground running in 2005, it was soon obvious she had a well thought out plan.

She began by rebranding the Corporation; purchasing their own building to make access easier for their clients; setting up an office in Savai’i for those clients who previously had to catch the ferry over to Upolu and dealing with a backlog of outstanding loans and languishing applications which had blocked any forward progress of the Corporation.

These were just a few of the steps Matautia initiated in the first few years.

And always it was how to better service the needs of the people, how to take care of the money entrusted to the Corporation and build so that others could benefit too.

By 2009, the Samoa Housing’s portfolio had grown from 14 million to 20 million. 

And she didn’t stop there.

At the same time, the Samoa Housing Corporation became a member of regional and global organizations; thereby putting Samoa on the map and providing the essential networking opportunities that are vital for a small island country. 

Samoa’s profile was lifted as they joined A.D.F.I.P. the Association of Development Financing Institutions in the Pacific.

The following year, S.H.C. became members of the larger Association of Development Financing Institutions of Asia and the Pacific, A.D.F.I.A.P.

“Being a part of these organizations, helped our country’s profile and allowed us to network and share with other financial institutions, both big and small.” 

Suddenly she was a sought-after speaker or a chairperson at these global meetings.

Samoa was beginning to be noticed.

She had always enjoyed working as part of a team and partnerships with like-minded C.E.O.s and organizations were welcomed.

An example of which is the project with the Habitat for Humanity, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (A.D.R.A.) and with support from the New Zealand government. 

The project aims to provide better, stronger homes which are better able to withstand natural disasters.

And on a global scale, “One of our membership outcomes has been that the Corporation along with the National Provident Fund, the Development Bank and the National Bank, will host the next A.D.F.I.A.P. conference in Samoa in December 2016.” 

“Everyone wants to come to Samoa,” said Matautia. “It also means that some of the heads of financing institutions from smaller island nations who cannot travel to Asia and Europe for these meetings, will be able to attend because of their proximity.”

This concern for others is very much an example of how she is inclusive and genuine and why people respond accordingly.

This year, and in the past few years, there have been local and overseas awards for leadership and the achievements in the Corporation as well as recognition of their strong role in assisting their clients into affordable housing.

Growth of the Corporation can be seen in the figures from 1993, when there was 15 staff, a portfolio of 2.5 million tala and 300 clients. 

In 2015 their staff numbers are 32, their portfolio is 42 million tala and they have close to 3,000 clients on their books. An added asset is the 72 Government houses now worth 3.8 million and with an annual rental income of 380,000 tala.

“There was no budget for them (houses) and many of them were in a poor state of disrepair so we have had to borrow from our Core Function Fund and take a one million tala loan from U.T.O.S. to upgrade them so they will be in a good state for clients.”

 But, she says, despite the expansion and the additional responsibilities, S.H.C. is still a pretty “lean, mean machine” in terms of staffing numbers.

And while lean and mean it may be, there is no lack of compassion for many of her clients who simply don’t have the means to access loans from banks and other financial institutions.

“They can still expect that we will judge each case on its merits and try to work things out so we can say yes to their loan applications,” says Matautia. 

Cyclone Evan made 2012 a watershed year for the Corporation. 

 “We set up a special interest-free relief programme for our clients and our performance through our Annual Reports was acknowledged by the Parliamentary Sub Committee.”

A point of pride for the organization is that over the years with Matautia at the helm, they have been able to pay 1.5 million tala in dividends to Government.

“Good governance is the key; valuing people’s money and ensuring it is well utilized.”

Valuing her staff is another trait of Matautia’s personality which has in return ensures loyalty, experience and hard work

She is also prepared to patiently explain the need for people to honour their debts. 

“We impress on people who are not repaying their loans that the money is needed so it can be turned over to help others. It’s really so we can look after all the stakeholders.”

On some occasions she has even been known to send staff to their clients on pay day to ensure their loans are paid regularly without incurring penalties.

It’s all about being willing to go the extra mile for those in need.

Matautia is married to Lands and Titles Court judge, Lavea Tauatele Fosi Levi. They have five sons, Tinoi, Gerhard, Alesana, Imo and Niko. 


Tupua Fred Wetzell

- Blood, sweat and concrete

By David De Lorean

There’s no place like home for Tupua Fred Wetzell.

He’s spent more than 40 years running Apia Concrete Products in Vaitele, gradually expanding that business into the concrete monolith it is today.

And now the 82 year old is enjoying the fruits of his labour, with his “tonka toy”, a farm in Savai’i, keeping the businessman busy.

It’s been a long journey for the man – from Samoa, overseas and back again.

Tupua Frederick Wilhelm Wetzell was born on 13 May, 1933, in Apia.

“I didn’t want to say that,” laughed Tupua, between sips of a drink on a deck overlooking the concrete empire he’s spent much of his life building.

He spent his formative years on the Wetzell Family Siusega Cocoa Plantation.

“I enjoyed it, I made my own carts, I made my own wheelbarrows, I made my own slingshot from a guava branch,” said Tupua, reminiscing about his childhood.

He attended Apia Primary at Leifiifi from 1938 to 1945, and then underwent one of the biggest changes of his life to that point, by moving to New Zealand.

His family ended up heading to the North Island, and Tupua found himself attending Porongahao Secondary School in Hawkes Bay, then Napier Boys High School.

Once he finished up at school, he was awarded an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic at John Andrew Ford Motor Company in Auckland, New Zealand.

Over the course of the next decade, he travelled between New Zealand and Samoa frequently, spending a significant amount of time in both countries.

Even when he was in N.Z, Samoa was in the back of his mind, and after spending 15 years building up a service station business, working on a cattle farm and cocoa plantation in Samoa and more, he decided to permanently return to the shores of Samoa.

“My heart was here in Samoa. I missed the lifestyle here, the palm trees, there’s no coconuts in New Zealand.”

It was around 1971 that he permanently returned, with a business plan.

He constructed the Lake Lanoto’o Road, in a bid to establish a resort there, but the work fell over.

That saw him devote all his energy to his second business idea – Apia Concrete Products.

“When I first arrived here and I studied cement that was bought in from overseas, it was bought in bulk.”

“The net would go down, they’d throw the bags in there, come up, put it on the flatdeck, stack it up, take it to the shed, offload it.”

Tupua constructed 200 pallets to make the job easier.

“Everybody was buying pallets off me.”

His efforts resulted in the establishment of Apia Concrete Products.

“It was commissioned on the 22nd of June 1973, by the late Prime Minister, [Mata’afa Mulinu’u II],” said Tupua.

The business has been a true labour of love, which he believed had enormous growth potential.

“It was only time, energy and of course money is the root of all evil but it assists.”

“A lot of people thought that I kicked this off with a big lump sum of money. The original capital was $5000 tala. And I struggled through that, and there’s a lot of people that I’ve endlessly thanked. One is Allan Grey and the other one is Dick Meredith.”

At the start of the business, Tupua only had a small concrete plant and a crusher to his name.

But through sheer determination the business grew, and he secured key jobs which saw his business balloon over the years, expanding all the time.

“The historical pour in Samoa, that was after the cyclones in 1991 and 1992, and the Japanese aid. That whole foreshore, from the wharf to Mulinu’u, we poured that, and the tetra pods [by] the reef.”

That historic pour saw 20,000 cubic metres of concrete poured.

“And it just continued from there, and kept on going.”

He’s now run the business for close to 43 years – and owns it completely.

“I had five shareholders, I bought them all out. When I bought the last one out, the boardroom table went out the window. That was it, that was the end of any board.”

The Tupua-steered business has had its capital grow exponentially, and expanded its asset bank as well.

A.C.P now has $225,000 in capital, and assets including more than 30 trucks, as well as pickups, landcruisers, forklifts, excavators, frontend loaders and much, much more.

Tupua is relaxed nowadays, and enjoying his “tonka toy” – his pet name for his farm in Savai’i.

But the businessman has even had to fight for his toys.

“Unfortunately for me, my father’s famous words: don’t start anything you can’t finish.

“And when the cyclones hit me in the 90s, I had a quarter of a million taro plants in the ground...27 acres of bananas and 300 Tahitian seedless limes starting to bear.

“I went 450 feet above sea level, climbed on a huge rock and I looked up to heaven and I said ‘Lord, tell me, what am I supposed to do?’

“I said ‘bugger it, I’ll have another go’. And I’m still there!”

Looking back on his more than 80 years on God’s green earth, that attitude sums up his approach to life, and gives him a piece of advice for all Samoans.

“Get off your ass and do something constructive. Do it right and fear nothing.”


Fiu Mataese Elisara 

- A passion for treasures of Samoa 

By Mata’afa Keni Lesa 

Fiu Mataese Elisara is a man with a passion for Samoa. In everything.

And with such a passion comes a responsibility to translate his immense knowledge and experience on global environment conventions into tangible outcomes to benefit his people.

As the Director of O Le Siosiomaga Society Incorporated, Fiu understands the need to promote the wise use of natural resources and the conservation of Samoa’s treasures. 

One such treasure, or inheritance as he would put it, is customary land.

With such a colourful and illustrious career spanning close to 40 years, it’s hard to pin point and highlight all that Fiu has accomplished. 

But one fight he will be remembered for – and why the Samoa Observer included him as one of our People of 2015 – is his fight for customary land.

Contacted for an interview about this, Fiu said he was humbled but he was quick to point out that the honour doesn’t just belong to him.

 “On the customary lands issue, I appreciate very much your kind consideration for this recognition and humbled by it,” he said. 

“But I believe that if this was recognition for this effort, it rightly belongs to my colleagues Leulua’iali’i Tasi Malifa, Lavea Dr. Kenneth Lameta, and Telei’ai Dr Sapa Saifaleupolu.”

“Like me, my colleagues have taken this on because of our firm commitment to protect the rights of our peoples as the rightful owners of their customary lands.”

“We do it for them as Samoans and leave our efforts to the good Lord for his blessing and reward our deeds if He sees it warranted.”

For the uninitiated, several years ago, Fiu and his group filed a letter of complaint against the Asian Development Bank over a project they fear could alienate 80 per cent of customary land in Samoa.

The group stated that their research showed the A.D.B. and the government of Samoa began their customary land project some 15 years ago, ending in a number of laws, including the Land Titles Registration Act 2008, and the Customary Land Advisory Commission Act 2013.

 “We are concerned that the ongoing funding by A.D.B. to help our government implement its intention to allow use of our customary lands as collateral for economic development is tantamount to ultimate alienation of our customary lands, and thereby will lead to violation of the rights of our Samoan people here and overseas.”

The group argues that there was no proper consultation process. 

So the four matais launched their first complaint with A.D.B in 2013. This was rejected by the A.D.B. However, it was later found, after the complaint was submitted with the Office of the Special Project Facilitator, that they had a case.

A six-member team was sent to Samoa late last year for three weeks to investigate the complaint. Meetings were held in Upolu and Savai’i and with prominent people in the civil service who were involved with the first round of consultations.

A Roundtable meeting was held and attended by the four matais, with representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development. The Customary Land Advisory Committee (C.L.A.C.) was also represented.

The fight is far from over but Fiu is adamant that they will not give up.

He says they will continue to fight against the use of customary land as collateral, arguing that the collective owners of customary land must be consulted. 

For instance, he wants meetings in Savai’i, two meetings in Upolu, three in Australia, three in New Zealand and for the Samoans in the U.S.A. to be included.

This, Fiu said, will capture the diaspora.

 “We believe we have a very strong and powerful case. We hope to make changes.” 

 “If they continue to exploit and extract without due regard to nature and the creation God gave us, it will have a negative impact on our people.”

Away from his role at O.L.S.S.I. in Samoa, Fiu is also the Observer for Indigenous Peoples in the Climate Investment Fund (C.I.F). Fiu has also represented the indigenous peoples in many of the global conferences since U.N.C.E.D. in 1992. 

He helped provide leadership for the Pacific delegation to the first ever Summit on climate change for Indigenous Peoples held in Anchorage Alaska in 2009. He has represented the Pacific Indigenous Peoples in a number of conferences and authored a number of critical critiques of these global processes receiving wide coverage in Samoan and Pacific media avenues. 

Prior to O.L.S.S.I, Fiu worked with United Nations Development Programme (U.N.D.P) in Samoa from 1993 to 2001. 

He was responsible for the Global Environment Facility (G.E.F) and was closely involved with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programe (S.P.R.E.P) and other environmental partners in the implementation of environment programmes around Samoa and the Pacific Island countries.

Before joining U.N.D.P, Fiu was the Director of the Department of Lands, Surveys and Environment. 

He was one of the official government representatives who followed the global process during the negotiations of the climate change and biodiversity conventions throughout the early 1990s.


B.S.L Nobesity Samoa and Visceta Meredith 

- Homegrown health Superheroes

By David De Lorean

Samoa is in peril. The streets run white with sugar. The public is under siege by heart disease and diabetes. The population is ballooning in size - literally.

It is a public health disaster, and the country is crying out for help.

Enter Nobesity – a team of homegrown superheroes answering the call, and doing everything they can to get Samoa back to good health.

Established in February this year, the group includes WonderV (Visceta Meredith), IronJman (Jonathan Meredith),  Supaleno (Lenny Solomona), Mighty Tai (Tai Solomona), CommandoR (Rudolf Meredith), SuperbArnie (Arnold Meredith), TH Train (Tihati Devoe), Double J (BJ Meredith), Nice Nigel (Nigel Stowers) and Magnificent M (Mercy Solomona).

On top of full-time jobs, parenting and countless other responsibilities, the group has week in and week out, been teaching Samoan kids about healthy eating. 

“The programme is a mixture of exercises and fun games, and then the nutrition side,” said Visceta Meredith, a.k.a. WonderV.

The superhero aspect adds an extra flair to the process, “just so that the kids can relate to us, rather than us coming and just being parents”.

“They are only with us for an hour, three days a week, we want the message to go out further, to the homes,” added Visceta.

That initiative has seen the super team hold sessions with parents as well, teaching them about nutrition.

From a humble beginning, with about 20 kids involved in the team’s nutrition programme at the start of the year, they finished 2015 with 120 kids taking part.

They’ve gone to six schools in Samoa throughout the course of the year too, meaning the team has reached more than a thousand children.

“We’re very happy with the numbers considering the size of our team and the resources that we have,” said Visceta.

And the results of the programme speak for themselves, with the super team hearing all kinds of stories from parents about changed eating habits in their children.

“There’s a red light now...they are more aware of the supermarket aisles now,” Visceta said, speaking of some of the kids’ behaviour while grocery shopping.

“Little things like that, it tells us that the kids are learning and they’re picking up on good habits.” “There’s one kid that wakes up and does sit-ups now.”

One of the team’s best success stories is that of 10-year-old Zumah, whose life has completely changed since Team Nobesity came along.

When they started working with this child in term three of the 2015 school year, he weighed 147kgs – more than the adults leading the programme.

“When he first started, he couldn’t run and he couldn’t walk properly,” said Visceta.

“He can do a 400 metre lap now.”

Nobesity spoke with the boy’s parents about his health, and all the factors that had caused him to become obese.

“You naturally love [your] child and when they’re hungry, you give them what they want. But there is a line we have to consider.”

Having worked closely with Zumah and his family, the boy even made his way to the top of Mt. Vaea this year.

Visceta stresses that the super squad are not nutritionists – they are simply people who want to help address a growing problem in Samoa. They want to ensure people like Zumah get to have a good life, free from heart disease and all the issues that obesity causes. “We launched together with the Ministry of Health, because we thought this was a way of the community assisting with all their health awareness efforts throughout the year.”

“[We’re] slowly introducing good eating habits for the kids, we believe that will last a lifetime with the kids’ memory growing up.”

Despite the superheroes’ efforts, a villain has appeared.

And that villain is the root of all evil – money.

Visceta says healthy food has become expensive in Samoa.

Families have gotten busy too, and the abundance of cheap fast food has meant nutrition has gone out the window in recent years.

“I would say the range of snacks that we have nowadays, it’s now way cheaper than the fruits.

“There’s easier access now to the bad food or snacks we have around.

“Parents need to invest more time to prepare meals for the kids...rather than just running out to get a hot dog.

“I also see the government coming into this in terms of the cost of good food...[it’s] quite pricey.”

In modern times in Samoa, mothers have careers and fathers are busy, too, meaning it’s difficult for families to make time for making healthy meals.

“I just feel like someone needs to make time to help parents.

“Somebody needs to take the kids out and do something.

“With the technology we have now I know it’s even harder for parents.

“If they’re not on the TV they are on the phones. It’s everywhere around them and it’s sad.”

That lifestyle has lead to drastically increasing weights in Samoan children.

“You’re looking at an average of 85kgs [in kids] from 8 years old to 13.”

The whole team want that situation to change, to stop obesity from further crippling Samoa.

And they have a plan, as Nobesity eyes its second year in existence.

 “We are going to do DIY gardening...introduce that to the kids, having their own garden patches, even if they just have one vege.

“I want to look at something that’s sustainable for the families.

“It’s too expensive nowadays to feed your family within a week.”

But the efforts don’t stop there, as Nobesity looks to take the fight to their arch-enemy: sugar.

At the moment, the team is asking fast food joints and drink companies around Samoa to get involved in a sugarless week.

“Just a week where we ask the business just have a week or days that they will offer water or niu to replace their fizzy drinks.”

The team’s war on obesity will expand as well, as they target children in rural parts of Samoa.

“They may look slimmer than the ones in Apia but they are still lacking [in terms of nutrition].”

The efforts will keep the team busy throughout 2016 as well, on top of their work and family responsibilities.

“When I decided to do this it was a big commitment, having two jobs and being a mum. It’s kind of too much at times,” said Visceta.

But in the end, changing the lives of children like Zumah, and fighting back against the health crisis gripping Samoa makes it worthwhile for WonderV and the homegrown heroes fighting obesity with her.


Toepo Eliza Hunt 

- The Samoan filmmaker 

By Pai Mulitalo Ale

Samoa’s love affair with their Filipino movies might soon become a thing of the past if a determined Toepo Eliza Tiava’asu’e-Hunt has her way.

The woman behind the ever so popular Silamanino Series and a host of other films including “E lelei le Ali’i” and “Ufi le Tama ua gase” is transforming filmmaking on these island shores. 

While there are many Samoan filmmakers o

31 December 2015, 12:00AM

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