Senese appeals for help to continue providing services

Inclusive education non-government organisation Senese has appealed for public donations as the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic in Samoa is felt in the community and is affecting services offered to children living with disabilities.

Senese Chairperson, Ladesha Stevenson Papalii, said in response to questions from the Samoa Observer that they’ve noticed a reduction in funding from donors to non-government organisations during the pandemic.

“However, in the case of Senese there were past management issues with budget compliance reporting and record keeping that have adversely impacted Senese’s ability to apply for further funding in order to keep essential services going,” she said.

The Government’s declaration of the state of emergency [SOE] and the subsequent March 26 to May lockdown led to the closure of schools, with according to Mrs. Papalii was a difficult time for children with disabilities and their families.

“Children with intellectual and physical disabilities thrive on routine and need more consistent care. These major disruptions in services have set back any progress our kids achieved at the beginning of the year,” she said.

“We also feel for the parents who rely on our staff support and guidance to help them cope while managing their children’s education and wellbeing.”

The office of the local N.G.O. was previously located at Vaitele in a building owned by the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa [CCCS], but the Chairperson said they couldn’t continue paying the lease and had to move out.

“We are very fortunate that the Church was kind enough to allow Senese time to make payments of the outstanding rental,” she added. 

“We have been incredibly blessed to be offered rent free premises in Vaitele by Papalii Frances and Lizzie Caffarelli which has enabled Senese to continue their services. This is only a temporary location and we hope to be in a position by next year to relocate and re-build Senese in a permanent location.”

The lack of funding support brought on by the pandemic has also led to the N.G.O. losing half of its teacher-aides, who Mrs Papalii said would normally accompany children with disabilities who are registered with Senese to their schools.

She revealed that to date Senese has 24 teacher-aides who have been working without pay for extended periods of time.

“Due to the financial constraints, Senese had to significantly reduce its costs to stay operational. Unfortunately we lost a lot of our teacher- aides who accompany registered kids with.

“The teacher-aides are more like caregivers and are approved positions only unique to Senese by the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture [MESC]. 

“They hold an incredibly important role by making school life easier not only for the student with disabilities but also for teachers who are already pushed to their limits in our school system and do not have the skills and resources to cater to children with disabilities.”

 Mrs Papalii added that the provision of teacher-aides by Senese is free and considered essential to their operations.

“This is a free service offered by Senese and it is an essential service. Parents are more at ease sending their child to school knowing there is someone accompanying them. 

“Without teacher-aides, students with intellectual and physical disabilities are unable to integrate with their classmates and communicate with the teacher.This will ultimately result in these students not returning to class and this is not an option for the Board.”

Despite the challenges that lay ahead for the NGO, Mrs Papalii emphasised that the Board is determined to keep the organisation running and vowed to not let the children down.

“Despite the tough road ahead for Senese, the Board will do everything it can to keep this organisation in operation because we cannot let our children down.

“Right now there are children with disabilities who are falling through the cracks in our education system, because they are without their teacher-aide and we feel for the parents who are stressed out and need support to cope with the repercussions of reduced number of teacher aides.”

Turning to those teacher-aides who have continued to work without pay, the Chairperson highlighted their sacrifice and courage to continue working.

“Furthermore, our remaining teacher-aides are currently working without pay and because of their sacrifice, courage, and generosity of spirit, our children with intellectual and physical disabilities are able to continue their progress towards a brighter future.”

In addition to providing free hearing screenings to the public and providing funding for teacher-aides, the N.G.O. also visits schools around Samoa to monitor and support the work of their teacher-aides and check on the progress of the teacher, student and the parents.

“Our Early Learning 2 member team supports 57 pre-school aged children across Upolu and Savai’i; 44 are in preschools and preparing to transit to primary schools while 16 are at home preparing to transit into classroom learning,” she said.

“Since our vehicles have been garaged and unfit for travel for three months now and out of service and preschool visitation has been on hold. Senese urgently needs assistance with vehicles and travel costs.

“Our vision is to rebuild new premises for Senese that is purpose-built for the services we provide, at this time we have some challenges in implementing playgroups and family support groups due to limited space and accessibility.”

The N.G.O. recently joined forces with e-commerce firm MAD Pacific – which provides a multi-vendor platform for consumers and businesses in the Pacific – to source donations with Mrs Papalii indicating that since their profile and donation link went online last week they have so far raised NZ$50.

“We are very thankful to the founder of MAD Pacific, Sally Chan Mow for her kind assistance to Senese. Her innovative approach to e-commerce business has enabled their overseas customers to easily donate funds to Senese or any other charity and N.G.O. in Samoa,” she further reiterated.

“MAD Pacific also offers online shopping options for people who want to purchase groceries, fabric, homeware, even E.P.C. [cash power] top up, Digicel and Vodafone top ups. Senese would be thankful for any type of donation.”

Mrs. Papalii concluded that it has been difficult and the Senese Board is dealing with unresolved issues, which inherited from previous administrations and are working through them case by case.

“It was not an easy decision to reach out to the public for help, especially considering that everyone is hurting at this time due to the impact of the global pandemic on our economy,” she said.

“We want to acknowledge the hard work and resilience of Senese’s staff who continue to persevere through the many difficult transitions the organization has had to undergo while we try to steer Senese to safety and ensure that no child is left behind.”

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