Stuck in Hawaii, Samoan students take up campus jobs

Samoan students stuck on campus over the holidays are taking up jobs at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Hawaii while they wait to get home.

Some were scheduled to return to Samoa on Friday 27 November 2020 but in the wake of a suspected case identified in quarantine the Government opted to postpone the flight direct from Los Angeles until an as yet undetermined date.

They have taken up positions in the cafeteria, or on the campus grounds. 

Some of them used to have jobs at the Polynesian Cultural Centre but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to find new work.

Fernanziah Peseta, who is majoring in exercise and sports science, is working at the campus cafeteria. She told the campus news site Ke Alaka’i that the pandemic’s impacts on her life made her feel disappointed and scared.

Sports, school internships and social activities flew out the window as case numbers in Hawaii rose. 

“I felt anxious and fearful when coronavirus started,” biochemistry major Angel Fafai, now working on the campus grounds. 

“Until the coronavirus is over, I want to stay safe and keep others safe. But in the meantime, I’m working to provide for myself.”

Hawaii had a serious spike of COVID-19 cases during August, and daily case numbers over November have been around the 100 mark. 

So far it has had 18,256 cases and lost 244 people. As of Wednesday 03 December, there were 139 new cases reported.

Kauihelani Lesa is studying political science. Like other Samoan students, she used to work in the Polynesian Cultural Centre’s concessions department but has since tried nearly every other job there is at the Centre just to stay employed.

“I have no relatives in Hawaii or the states to depend on, so the only option was to work despite the pandemic,” she told Ke Alaka’i reporter Lisi Tiafau.

“I have been working as a custodian, groundskeeper, painter and construction worker. The tasks given were difficult. But I had sacrificed … to work so I can provide for myself financially during this crisis.”

Former concessions stand worker Bitner Lameta is studing information technology. He said his family and friends check up on him often over the phone, and so far he feels he is coping, with movies, enjoying food and trying to enjoy his time on campus.

“Some of the tasks I do are sweeping dry leaves in the Marketplace, taking trash to the dumpster, cleaning and watering plants, and painting,” he said.

“What keeps me going through this pandemic are my friends and my family. They are always there for me, and my family always calls to check up on me.”

Another concessions worker who is now employed on campus at B.Y.H. Hawaii is Aotearoa Au Peseta, who is studying Pacific Islands Studies. 

She said the pandemic has had a silver lining: more time to connect with family and friends, and taking care of herself too.

“I know everyone wasn’t expecting this, but for now, I am grateful for COVID-19.

“I got to spend more of my time with friends and family on social media. I get to experience more new things. I get to have more time to myself and to take care of myself.”

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