A tale of two men, our heroine and tomorrow's champions

It was only yesterday, when the courageous act of a young Samoan man working on a cruise ship in Europe, graced the front page of your daily newspaper. 

Vailolo Tala, 21, saw a woman jump off the MSC Seaview last Monday as it docked in the Italian port of Genoa and was the first to respond. He saved a 43-year-old Irish woman — who reportedly jumped off the ship after a fight with her husband — and was later recognised in a small ceremony by the ship’s top brass for his brave and courageous act.

A day later another Samoan man made headlines, but for the wrong reasons. The 30-year-old Terry Faati of Sinamoga and Siufaga Falelatai pleaded guilty to one count of rape of an Australian woman on November 21 last year. He will be sentenced by the Supreme Court next month. 

The social media reaction to the guilty plea of the accused has been instantaneous, drawing condemnation from the public, with some going further to express concerns at the implications that the man’s horrendous act will have on Samoa’s tourism industry. Justice has to take its course and we can only hope that the penalty will ultimately serve as a deterrence to others, who choose to commit crimes against women and girls despite local and international condemnation.

The actions of the defendant would be 10 steps back for Samoa, a nation which prides itself on its Christianity ethos and its people’s embracing of the Fa’a Samoa. But thanks to the selfless efforts of Vailolo Tala, the country can look forward to the future with confidence, knowing that there are young Samoan men out there who treat women with respect and are willing to even put their own lives on the line.

While it is always considered healthy to acknowledge the country’s social ills, which includes gender-based violence as well as sexual assault, a nation should also celebrate the ability of individual citizens to rise above adversity to protect a life or lives and to strive for a peaceful and violence-free society. Vailolo Tala is in that mould. So too is 18-year-old Samoan girl Leilua Lino.

Leilua was sexually assaulted by her biological father and had the courage to face him in Court, and assisted the prosecution with evidence that led to his incarceration. She then created the Peace Garden in 2017, as a way to heal from her experience of sexual violence, and to date her movement has reached out to 20,000 children in Samoa through her various advocacy programmes under the auspices of the Samoa Victim Support Group (S.V.S.G.). 

She was recently in London, as one of five winners of the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Innovation for Sustainable Development Awards, which was presented by Prince Harry, Duke Of Sussex.

Last November Leilua was one of three finalists for the International Children’s Peace Prize 2018, which is a global child rights award presented by the Amsterdam-based not-for-profit KidsRights Foundation. She was also a 2018 finalist for the Samoa Observer Persons of the Year. Her profile will continue to grow and she will continue to become an inspiration to more young people. 

And with the Pacific Games just over a fortnight away, the eyes of the Pacific will be focused on this island nation, which took on the job to play host 18 months ago after Tonga threw in the towel. Samoa will be on the cusp of creating history, when the opening ceremony gets underway on July 7. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi has rightfully called the 2019 Pacific Games the “miracle games”, and we can see where he is coming from as the head of the host-government.

With all the flags lining the roadsides and hundreds of students in various schools participating in art, craft and dance connected to the various participating Pacific Island nations and territories, we can feel an air of excitement. And while the nation celebrates the efforts of its heroes and heroines in promoting a peaceful and prosperous society, we acknowledge too the long hours that Samoan athletes are spending behind-the-scenes to prepare for the competition in their dreams for top sporting accolades.

Have a lovely Saturday Samoa and God bless. 

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