From fish seller to Leulumoega Fou College dux
A 17-year-old who sold fish on the side of the road and endured taunts from teenagers in her village is the dux for Leulumoega Fou College’s Class of 2020.
Even as Tuna Pita Ifopo from Mulifanua leaves Leulumoega Fou as its top student, she remains humble and returns all glory for her resolve and accomplishments to God.
“I feel excited. I’m so happy. It was unexpected,” Tuna told the Samoa Observer on Friday after graduation.
“I want to say thank you. First of all thanks to God because without God I would not be in this position and have all these blessings. My motto is that with God everything is possible and I know that with God no one can go against me.”
She topped six subjects in her class: Geography, History, Art, English, Samoan and Religious Knowledge.
But despite the seeming ease of her success, 2020 was not an easy year for Tuna or her family. Her parents are dad Mau’u Pita Ifopo and mom Lemafoe Pita Ifopo.
“I’ve been through a lot this year. My dad is a fisherman. My family lives off the ocean so I have to make time to sell fish...after school I come home and sell fish even if I have to sell [it] in my school uniform,” Tuna said.
“This year I have been through a lot of ups and downs...family problems and school problems but I had to face them. You cannot escape your problems.
“You have to face your problems...there is [always] a struggle and I struggle for the better for my parents my family and a brighter future...to have the opportunity to go up to higher levels of education, to make my parents proud, and to succeed.”
She was often made fun of for selling fish on the roadside.
But it never affected Tuna, who says she is not embarrassed about her work.
“Most of the money we earn is from my dad’s fishing because that is how we provide for our financial needs and to support my education. Nuuausala kids pass by and laugh at me and mock me,” she said.
“But I am okay - I am not even embarrassed to do this.
“I am doing this for my dad and this is how we earn a living and I appreciate what I have in my life. I don’t care what people think about me even if I have to do this in my school uniform.”
Like most industries, their fishing business was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her father would go fishing three or four times a week and they would earn up to $600 tala a day.
“My dad would go fishing for four or three days a week. So my dad would go fishing and come back home,” Tuna said.
“My mum would go to sell the fish in the morning and wait for me. After school, I go straight and do the selling and my mom goes home to do her work.
“Before COVID-19 my dad would earn up to $500 or $600 a day but when COVID-19 [struck] we earned about $200 or $300 a day. That is how we earn money.
“He does not go fishing as he usually does. Now he goes two days a week while I try to sell the fish.”
The fish that does not sell goes into the freezer or distributed to their elderly neighbours in Mulifanua.
The year was wrought with challenges but Tuna said she remains grateful for all that 2020 has brought.
“I am grateful for this year even though there were a lot of financial challenges in our family, with the village and church my dad and mom, my sister and my brothers were able to support me in my education,” said Tuna.
“Especially my dad. I love my dad so much he does all the fishing from the start and now I have graduated. I know that next year, when I go to university fishing, will be paying for those semesters. Yes, I will be selling fish.”
To her Leulumoega Fou classmates, Tuna said “this is not the end.”
“This is just the beginning. We are just getting started...do not let what anyone says get you down...I want to tell you that with God you can do far more greater things in your life,” she said.
Tuna looks forward to enrolling at the National University of Samoa (N.U.S) and has her sights set on a Geography and English Scholarship.
When she steps onto the N.U.S. campus, she wants it known that she will be there to take her studies seriously.
“When I am entering the gates of the university I will be like I didn’t come to muck around here and go eat with my friends at Macca’s while my dad is fishing, sweating, working hard for me. I came here to succeed and to do God’s will and if this is God’s will for me, I trust in His plan,” Tuna said.
To the other teenagers who made fun of her, Tuna says she doesn’t need to answer the negativity with negativity.
“I don’t need to stay negative about them but I will just say that there will come a time when they realise that being up there and mocking other people is not a good thing,” she said.
To the class of 2020 and her fellow duxes, she says “time is precious” so waste none of it, stay humble and keep love in your hearts for your families and others and to keep your priorities in order.
“Always know that when all doors are closed somewhere God opens a window which is a symbol of remaining hope so there is always hope as long as we trust in God’s plan and believe in Him. Have faith in Him,” Tuna said.