Mother seeks donations to return home

A Samoan mother and her four sons are appealing for public help through a fundraising appeal to secure their spots on a repatriation flight from the United States scheduled for later this month.

The repatriation flight is scheduled to bring Samoans homes from Los Angeles, and California in the United States (U.S.) on 27 November.

Aiaga Aloniu, who is listed by the GoFundMe fundraising platform as a co-organiser of the appeal, has so far received USD$1340 in donations of her total target of USD$10,000

The web-based appeal was established only two days ago. 

On the site, Mrs. Aloniu explains publicly that she and her four sons have been stuck in the U.S. since they arrived in February 2020.

The flight from Los Angeles to Samoa is an answer to their prayers but is just out of the family’s reach because of the expenses involved. 

“So, here goes the quicksand that I happened to step into. The borders to our home country, Samoa, completely closed shortly after we arrived here in the States in February 2020,” Mrs. Aloniu said in her post to the fundraising website.

“My four children and I have been stuck here in the U.S. ever since. Yes, we are homesick and yes, we are just dying to go back home.”

When approached for an interview by the Samoa Observer on Friday, Mrs. Aloniu declined. 

But she outlined the difficulty of her family’s situation on the online site,  

“With the rising numbers in COVID-19 cases globally and especially here in the States, there have been no flights in or out of Samoa until recently,” she said. 

“After eight long, emotionally and financially stressful months of surviving the pandemic in the States, altered lifestyle, and just trying to find our way home, our prayers have been answered.”

But Mrs. Aloniu noted that the good news comes with a price and a “very high one at that”. 

“The chartered flight is ridiculously expensive and the passengers have to shoulder the costs,” she writes. 

“On top of that, to comply with Samoa’s travel advisory so as not to bring the coronavirus to our small island, two very pricey documents are needed.”

She said all five in their travelling party are required to provide two medical documents: a report from a certified medical practitioner for each passenger (carried out three days before the flight) and a negative COVID-19 test for each passenger (also conducted within three days before the flight).

“If you haven’t already figured it out, there is quite a lot of financing involved in this sorry state that we are in. An arm and a leg even,” Mrs.Aloniu said.

International airfares for chartered flights have skyrocketed to about USD$1300 for each passenger, she said.

“Getting checked by a medical practitioner is expensive. These kinds of services usually cost about $200-500 U.S. dollars. We don’t have the money and insurance for this. - There are free testing centres, but they usually take 2 weeks to get results,” Mrs. Aloniu said. 

“Expedited results for COVID-19 tests will be at least [USD$150] dollars per person. 

“My sister and her husband have been kind enough to house and feed us for 8 months and counting. We have stretched their resources and finances and they can no longer afford to help with our flight, even if they wanted to. I am unemployed and can’t find work under the table even if I wanted to.”

With her husband in Samoa, Mrs. Aloniu said he has been helping whenever he can by wiring over money whenever he can. 

But the relative position of the Samoan tala to the U.S. Dollar makes those contributions only stretch so far, she says.

At the latest rate of exchange, it takes $260 to equal USD$100 the website said on Friday. 

 “[W]e are in Arizona but the flight is from Los Angeles, California to Apia, Samoa. The trip alone to get to California whether by car or plane plus accommodation will cost about $500-$800. Roughly, it will take about $2300 U.S. dollars to be able to fly each person home,” Mrs. Aloniu said.

“But if we could raise at least $2000 U.S. dollars…it will go a very long way. The rest, my husband (the only working person in the family right now) can shoulder.  There are 378 people on the list of stranded people to be repatriated but only 302 seats on the flight from Los Angeles on Nov 27th. The rest will have to transit through New Zealand on an unconfirmed date. 

“It just screams uncertain and more expensive.

“I have to get my finances sorted right away.

“I need money [as soon as possible] so that I can secure seats for me and my four babies before they are all occupied. I am not one to ask or beg for anything, even if I needed it to survive. I am even embarrassed to ask my own blood brothers and sisters for money or things.”

Mrs. Aloniu says that her being stranded from her homeland during the lockdown has left her at her “lowest point”.

Even her youngest son was born while she was in Arizona and is yet to meet his father, she said in her post. 

“They video call at least three times a day “but it’s just not the same,” she wrote.

Her baby is five months old now and her husband has missed out on a lot of firsts: including his first taste of solid food and first-ever body roll. 

“It just breaks my heart that up until now my husband has not been able to hold his son. He is totally missing out on how fast our boys are growing. My dad (also in Samoa) who is sick with Parkinson’s disease is literally dying to see his grandkids,” wrote Mrs. Aloniu.

“His condition has worsened because he misses my kids' presence in his life. My mother and husband who are caring for my ill father need a break. They need me to help out; need the kids, my kids, to light up their days. We just really need to be home right now. What can I say more?

“Never in a million years, did I ever think I would come to this point in my life, but here I am. I need you. We need you. If you are still reading, thank you for making it this far. Anything helps us get one step closer to reuniting with loved ones. We are and will be forever grateful for your kindness.”

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