'Survivor' walks around Upolu for measles

He survived 40 days in Nicaragua on New Zealand’s first season of Survivor in 2017. 

Now, Avi Duckor-Jones, is walking the perimeter of Upolu to raise money to fight the measles epidemic.

In just three days, he has walked 103 kilometres from Siumu to Lauli’i and raised $3,505 (NZ$1,982) though his Give a Little appeal page. He hopes to finish the lap in another three of four days and is giving the funds to the New Zealand Red Cross, who is working in Samoa.

Mr. Duckor-Jones arrived in Samoa a week ago, on assignment from a New Zealand magazine to write about climate change. 

But with 65 people already dead, he could not ignore the measles epidemic and its effect on Samoa’s youngest.

He was guided on his route – and provided accommodation for each night – by Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale from Poutasi. 

On his first day, Mr. Duckor-Jones set out from Maninoa, Siumu with a backpack and a sturdy stick and walked 32 kilometres to Matatufu, where he turned into Saletoga Sands Resort looking for a bed.

After learning his story, the management covered his night.

“I feel kind of guilty,” he admitted. “I wish I could say I’ve been rolling out my sleeping bag on the beaches as I went.”

“On the first night I stayed at the fanciest resort I have ever been at, and they were so hospitable and supportive of the trip and really accommodating. 

The next day, Tuatagaloa had set up him with a roof over his head in Amaile with a reverend and his family after his stretch of 25 kilometres.

Yesterday, the high school teacher walked a gruelling 33 kilometres from Amalie up Le Mafa Pass to Faleapuna, where he stayed at Le Uaina Beach Resort.

Then on Saturday, after 13 kilometres of walking, Tuatagaloa picked him up in Lauli’i for a day off, involving an afternoon with Helping Hands in Lotopa making fruit salad, boxing curry, and anything else they required.

“They are a real grassroots operation with all the support and are on the ground dealing with directly with families who have been affected, seeing the need and being in the space that is needed,” he said.

So far, 35 people have donated to Mr. Duckor-Jones’ fund, one of whom gave T$884 (NZ$500). He said people have been excited at the opportunity to give to Samoa, especially those who have been unsure exactly which channel to use.

One donor on the Givealittle website wrote: “How wonderful that you are doing this, Avi. Samoa is such a beautiful country and its people match its beauty. It is dreadfully sad they have been struck by this terrible epidemic.

“Even before I left heaps of people were really wanting to give but not sure where to put it. So this is a good personal connection, through my social media, my friends and family who know me and know I’m on the ground and so feel comfortable giving.”

Two other contestants from his season on Survivor are Samoan, Shayna Swain-Tapusoa, Matai'a Salatielu Tiatia, and they have been supportive and sharing the fundraiser in their communities too, he said.

Whilst out on the south coast, people he has spoken to told Mr. Duckor-Jones that measles is mainly a problem in Apia, and hasn’t reached them out on the south side. 

People inviting him in for a cold drink or a meal learn about his mission around the island, and tell him they are not affected.

Majority of the more than 5000 infections have been from Vaimauga West and Faleata West. To date there are three inpatients in the southern district hospitals – two in Poutasi and one in Lalomanu. 

Since November 12, The National Emergency Operations Centre (N.E.O.C.) has not published figures for cases across the country. But then, a month ago, the south coast districts had at least 30 cases of measles – a markedly lower rate than Faleata West with 121 cases alone. 

“Parents with small children with nervous or scared and told me they were waiting for vaccination clinics to come,” Mr. Duckor Jones said.

He even met a mobile vaccination clinic along the way, and asked them about their days work. But they were under strict instructions from the N.E.O.C not to share details. 

On the dozen hours on the road so far, Mr. Duckor-Jones has been relishing the opportunity to get a clear head. He has finished his second year of teaching high school English, while at the same time completing his Masters with the Teach First N.Z. programme.

“I have all these audiobooks and a huge library of music and I haven’t listened to a single thing, the whole time. I have just been quite present,” he said.

“Thoughts come and go and I have been interacting with communities and taking in my surroundings, and it has been a peaceful, meditative walk.”

Along the way, he has been sunburnt, run out of water and been afflicted with blisters. But a sturdy stick has kept stray dogs at bay, and he has motivated himself to keep going with positive thoughts, and the promise of a cold shower and a meal at the end of the day.

And the “alofa” in the country has been carrying him along too, he says.

“I have been amazed that while a country is in such great suffering that the alofa and hospitality and sense of community has been overwhelming on this whole walk,” Mr. Duckor-Jones said.

“Everyone waves out, everyone greets me, kids still play in the streets, music is playing, there is still volleyball. It shows great resilience.”

But he said he did notice a change as he arrived on the northern coast of Upolu, close to Lauli’i where three children to one family were killed by measles .

“On this strip there was a shift in the wind. Less ‘malo’s for sure,” he said.

Mr. Duckor-Jones’ fundraiser will stay open until Christmas Day on December 25. Donations will be handed over to the New Zealand Red Cross.

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