Young Samoan brings housing challenges to region's attention

“Imagine living in a home where your roof consisted of a tarpaulin held up by pieces of wood; a home without doors, bedding, bathrooms.

"Imagine lying awake at night and feeling the rain and wind as much inside your home as you would outside. Imagine a home that did not shelter.”

This was the situation 16-year-old Aruna Wallwork-Tuala asked delegates at the 7th Asia-Pacific Housing Forum to imagine themselves in this week. 

Miss. Wallwork-Tuala was one of three Pacific youth advocates selected to speak on the region's housing issues. 

Her aunt, Su’a Hellene Wallwork, accompanied her to the forum in Bangkok, Thailand, and said she performed exceptionally.

“She spoke so eloquently on the impact of education, climate change, traditional house designs and faalavelave on the quality of homes in Samoa,” Su’a said.

“Our future definitely looks bright with these young people who are already thinking about these issues and proposing solutions.”

In her speech, the young advocate admitted she never realised the extent of Samoa’s housing problems until she grew older, when she recognised it as a “problem that lay right under my nose".

“I cannot recall how many times I’ve driven through streets of Samoa, how many times I’ve walked over the cracked footpaths and never really stopped to look… to really see the houses and the people that called them home," she said. 

“I realised the very sad truth that the kind of home that was supposed to shelter and protect, was not the basic right of every Samoan child.”

The Asia Pacific Housing Forum is organised by Habitat for Humanity, a charitable organisation. It aims to solve housing issues by connecting potential partners with real solutions. 

This year’s theme is ‘powering collaboration for housing impact.’

Miss. Wallwork-Tuala’s presentation focused on young people, and how they may well be an untapped part of the solution to housing problems. 

She said in Samoa there are myriad problems fighting for attention, and very few youth are invested in housing challenges.

“With so many social issues already facing our young people; Suicide, abuse, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence and bullying; housing is again at the bottom of the list,” she said.

“Yet the solution lies with us. The youth of today can easily be the innovators, builders and engineers of safer, affordable housing tomorrow.”

But they do not yet have the tools, knowledge or pathways. She said schools should be engaging their students in this issue that many of them will be facing in their own lives, and empowering them to consider doing something about it.

There are other ways to engage youth too, she said.

“Instead of overseas volunteers coming to build homes in Samoa, could we not teach Samoan youth to build their own communities? It’s not that we don’t want to, sometimes we just don’t know how to.”

She closed her speech with the Samoan expression “O oe nei, o a’u taeao,” meaning “you are today, I am tomorrow.” 

“We have become great influencers socially with the help of social media and reach almost every young person in our community with the tap of a smart phone," she said. 

“When we become invested in an idea, when it is the safety and security of our families at stake, when it is our own future at stake, we become unstoppable.”

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