Family relies on tree of life for survival

Father-of-six, Felise Venasio, often begins his days climbing a coconut tree, which is referred to in Samoa as the tree of life, to make ends meet. 

But these labours are not yet enough for a family home with water, electricity and which is built to withstand the elements. 

The home of Felise is on the west coast of Upolu and 14 kilometres from Apia through the main West Coast Road.

It is accessible by a 10 minute inland drive along a dirt road. 

For the past five months, the family of Mr. Venasio has lived in an open-style house built with wooden posts, iron roofing and two small tarpaulins to keep the rain out. 

When the Village Voice team visited their home, the Venasio couple had just finished selling food on Saturday morning when

 “We recently moved [...] due to differences between family members,” he said.

But that recent upheaval means the family does not have access to electricity or water supply.

“We also do not have a toilet or shower facility, we use a relative’s home for all these needs only a walking distance away from where we live,” he said. 

“We did not want to use something that will cause health problems.

“When it gets dark at night, we use the light from our phones by placing it on the roof facing downwards so we can have sort of light.

“Despite our home being too small, we can all fit in this small space because my children are young and they don’t take up much space while we parents sleep on each side while they all squeeze in the middle.”

But Mr. Venasio said his family of eight fears rainy nights when they have to nail an ie lavalava (sarong) to block the rain from entering the house because the two small tarpaulins providing cover on either side are overwhelmed in heavy rain.

“Maybe it is the warmth of having my family close that we don’t feel cold but there are times when we shed tears but we must work hard to survive,” he said. 

“We are developing our own family which is why there is a great need of help.

“There is a great need for all the basic necessities but due to financial difficulties from not having a stable income with us being both unemployed, we cannot afford such things.”

The couple wakes up around 4 am to start preparing vaisalo (coconut porridge) for sale. 

“I climb the coconut tree to get some of its fruits because my children are too young and might fall and get injured,” he said. 

“By 6am in the morning the food is ready to sell, we walk around the village three times a week selling our vaisalo and if we are lucky we get $30 a day.

“It is my hope that my children will grow up in a safe environment and be successful in school; we have three children attending school.”

Mr. Venasio used to be a driver for a taxi owner, but if he could not meet the $300 target per week, he says he would only receive a salary of $10 for that one week.

“Some are saying the reason behind the struggles of our people is because of the Government but that’s not true,” he said. 

“It all comes down to the individual and if they are not working to survive. And in terms of food supplies, we are trying to develop our plantation.

“If I am lazy or tired my family will be hungry; it is my responsibility to make sure they have something to eat. It may not be a lot or others mocking and looking down at us for having a small home but it is better than nothing.”

If you are willing to help the family of Mr. Venasio please contact the number: 7611826.

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