Samoan students at Victoria University talk lockdown

Samoan students studying at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand have spoken of their experiences trying to adjust to student life amidst a coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic and national lockdown. 

The university was initially scheduled to go into lockdown next week, but it was brought forward when the New Zealand government declared that the whole country is now in lockdown from Wednesday midnight.

Six Samoan students, who are residents at the Unilodge Stafford House, say there has been a continuous flow of emails from their Vice Chancellor Grant Guilford updating students on the measures the university is taking to protect them from COVID-19.

Student, Mia Malele, told Samoa Observer they are still able to shop around for essentials including food despite the lockdown.

"For Food and other essential supplies, we can still go to the supermarket but it is safer to order online and deliver it to your Hall,” he said.

“There's a lot of support for us Pasifika students from the university which is a very good thing. Some hall contracts are suspended so no payments for four or five weeks.”

Another student, Mesepa Pasikala Faasau, said international students who had no families living in Wellington were accommodated in alternative halls.

"I am one of those international residents who were placed at an alternative hall, where it is for those who have no place to go here in Wellington or for those who can't go back home. We were placed at Weir House as a place where they will cater to our meals for free,” she added.

Weir House currently accommodates 200 students, added Ms Faasau, drawing concerns that their large numbers makes social distancing harder and thus becomes a high risk area.

Nonetheless, the university is strict with the meals scheduling and students are asked to not eat in groups and to always self-isolate as a defense against COVID-19.

Ms Faasau said: "Having our meals sent to our rooms is very unusual and scary, we can't leave in groups but individually.”

Due to the overcrowding in some of the student halls, Samoan twin sisters Eleanor and Maryanne Penn moved out of campus and are living with relatives. 

They said while they remain concerned about their health and classes, their hearts and prayers are with their families and friends back home.

"We send our love to all our families and friends and we ask you to keep us and the whole world in your prayers. Let us acknowledge and take (New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern) Jacinda's word in action, ‘be strong and be kind’.”

Effective Saturday, March 28 the university will move its lectures online to stop students from going to the various campuses. Students without devices to access the university’s online learning system are being given one.

All Pacific Island students now have access to the university’s online resources, courtesy of the devices distributed by the university administration for use during the lockdown. 

The Samoan students expressed their gratitude to the university and the New Zealand government for taking care of their needs during the global pandemic. 

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