Samoa’s “prolific tourist” brings 4000 pairs of shoes

One morning, Jo Mikarna’s friend in Samoa, a newly appointed landscaper, called Ms Mikarna with a request: on her next trip to Samoa, could she bring him a pair of work boots?

Ms. Mikarna is a policewoman in Victoria Police, Melbourne, and here in Samoa earned the nickname “the prolific tourist” for making trips to Samoa nearly every eight weeks.

 “I told him, I can’t afford boots, but I did look around the office, and I realised yes, I can get you some boots!”

She quickly realised how many unused pairs of perfectly good work boots are waiting to be recycled out of Police stations. So from her branch in Melbourne, to every department across the state, she has managed to bring not one pair, but 4000 pairs of work safe boots to Samoa, and 500 trousers too.

She wants them distributed around vulnerable and low-income farmers, who do not have the hundreds of tala needed for boots to protect their feet from the elements.

“I had set a goal of a thousand. I took the one pair to my landscaper, and it grew to 4000 and now we’ve got pants as well. 

“We’re looking at AUS$1.6 million dollars’ worth in that container right now.”

While in Australia, the boots are weeks away from a date with a commercial shredder, to be recycled into more shoes. Here in Samoa, the boots are destined for a more honourable cause, both environmental and social.

“We’re protecting the kid’s feet in the sense that they won’t need hospitals as quickly if they are standing on things,” said Ms Mirkana.

The boots are of high quality, and not “rubbish” being thrown away by Victoria Police, Ms Mikarna said.

Police moving through different roles leave many boots unused, which means they are perfectly usable today. Ms Mikarna said she has had her own pair for more than 10 years and they are in great condition, and said they suit the Samoan climate perfectly.

“I follow Samoa Observer and I have asked that we get a list of the people you put in the paper regularly, and [MAF] will help me go around and get to them, because they are the ones I want to help.

“I have explained to the Agriculture Minister and his team that if his staff or if other people are seen wearing these boots and they’re not in the right industry, it’s not looking good.

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“These are for the vulnerable, who can’t get to the extra money.”

Ms Mikarna said she was pleased to hear how seriously Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr Sa’ilele Malielegaoi is taking the project, going so far as to say he will proof read the list of recipients himself.

The collection for 2020 has already begun. Ms Mikarna already has 30 pairs of boots waiting to get to Samoa, and she would like to give them to the Fire and Emergency Services Association (FESA).

A line of communication between Victoria Police and the Samoan community has been opened, and Ms Mikarna said she is very proud of that.

Because of her work bringing resources to farmers and their families, Ms Mikarna has been in conversations with Samoa’s Police Commissioner Fuiavailili Egon Keil about potential partnerships with Victoria Police.

“We do have Samoan “naughty boys” back home, so maybe we can work together to understand the culture and how we can solve our problems as well.

“It’s so huge, it’s grown from one little phone call to benefitting the whole community.”

And if the shoes and trousers weren’t enough, Ms Mikarna packed the empty corners of the container with toys and games for children. She and her friends will visit kindergartens and playschools across Upolu over the next few days to distribute them for free.

“We closed the container at 9:30 and we finished at 8:30, so we raced to the supermarket and spend over 2000 tala in children’s toys to fill in the gaps,” she said.

One of Ms Mikarna’s supporters, who helped get the container to Samoa is Patrick Aumua, who is also the Chair of the Samoan Community Leadership Network in Melbourne.    He said it’s good to see the farming industry get a sorely needed health and safety boost.

“I think Jo is making a great change to the farming industry,” Mr Aumua said.

“Sometimes we Samoan’s can be afraid of change, but this is a good thing.

“I hope the families who receive this help will appreciate what it can do for them.”

To congratulate Ms Mikarna on behalf of her home country, Australian High Commissioner Sara Moriarty attended the ceremony. She said is proud of what Ms Mikarna achieved.

“I think it’s a really great example of someone who has visited here, and gone away and worked really hard to get resources together and make a big difference in people’s lives,” Ms Moriarty said.

“And not only does it provide the boots but it is enhancing the relationship at the community level between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Victoria Police and that’s good as well.”

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