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Teen's passion for philanthropy behind library drive

The Paediatric Ward at the Moto’otua Hospital and schools from around Samoa will benefit from a new library building drive spearheaded by a 14-year-old from New Zealand.

For project's founder, teenager Epifania Tusani, the latest donation drive is not her first foray into charitable work in Samoa. Previously, she has been involved in fundraising projects and donating shoes to school students. 

The donations have been presented to St. Joseph’s Primary School in Leauva’a, which was also the first recipient of a new library under the project. The initial contribution began with a “chicken coop” library - a largely improvised structure on the outdoors of the school's grounds. But it has paved the way for bigger plans. 

She has returned to Samoa with her family to continue building libraries within schools not fortunate enough to have books or libraries.

Ms. Tusani said that her project aimed to provide children with the material needed to give them a chance to have equal learning opportunities to those she enjoys in New Zealand. 

“I am motivated to help others because I saw kids that didn’t have the things that I had, like shoes and clothes,” she said.

“I hope that supplies we give can change their lives and to let them know that there are people in the world that want to help them.”

Her father, Tuala Tagaloa Tusani, added that his daughter has a good heart but is very shy.

Tuala said that when his daughter was only seven she gave food to a homeless man she saw at K.F.C. - an early sign of her dedication to helping others but also a pivotal moment for her family.

“I think for me, at that time while I was so busy trying to secure a deal that night but my daughter saw someone in need 10 metres away,” he said.

The 42-year-old added that the events of that night changed his mindset completely.

“I think when she was nine or 10 she baked and saved $700 for the Salvation Army.

“It was when we were here in Samoa she saw some children in Lefaga with no shoes on and she asked me why that was when I said sometimes in Samoa that’s the way it is.

“There are people who can’t afford shoes and she just said 'well, that’s not right'.”

Just one year later, Tuala said, on the strength of his daughter's charitable baking efforts and with the help of some local businesses Yosida Jandals they brought over 150 pairs of shoes.

“My daughter provided for all the kids with school shoes. We had a discussion and she asked what I used to do here cause obviously, being born in New Zealand and things like that, it’s a different life to us.

“Epi asked what I used to do here for fun, you know there’s not much you can do growing up at that time, I’m talking about 87 [and back to the] mid '80s. 

"Being brought up in Leauvaa we pretty [ran] around and [chased] the other kids or [read] the old books you’ll see [in] the school's picture books.

“It was from there that she was inspired to do something more around that, so the first library was put into Leauvaa, St. Joseph’s Primary School.”

He said that they had plans to begin an initiative with Fletcher Construction last October before fate intervened. 

"[The idea came forth] because they [had] come through to sponsor one library which were supposed to be launched in October at [the] Samoa Victim Support Group.

“But then the measles epidemic hit and the Government obviously shut down the schools for good reasons.

“I am also a volunteer for [the] ASA Foundation, the Chairman for [the] ASA foundation asked if there any way the Foundation [could] partner with Epi and the libraries.”

The epidemic ravaged Samoa in so many ways but Tuala is hopeful that their charitable contributions can enrich life on the island in its wake. 

“The libraries will also remember those we have lost but at the same time inspire those who survived,” said Tuala.

The ASA Foundation has offered to sponsor three libraries for hospitals in Samoa. So far, the project has completed five libraries in schools at: Leauvaa, Faleula, and Lefaga.

Tuala added that the new libraries will hopefully come into use with the start of the new school year, in February. 

“We want to put these libraries in hospitals and go from there because we have so many sad memories there," he said. 

“We lost a lot of lives there and if we can use that as a space to motivate and also inspire those who go there and say: 'Listen we may have lost some of our loved ones here but it could be also something that could inspire the next generation'."

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