It takes an entire village
Pe ni a fa outou? ai se tagata o i ai mamoe e selau, afai e se le tasi, na te le tuua ea le ivagafulu ma le iva i mauga, a e alu o ia e saili i le na se? Afai foi na te maua, e moni, ou te fai atu ia te outou, e tele lona olioli i lea, a e itiiti i le ivagafulu ma le iva e lei se. E faapea lo outou Tama o i le lagi, e le finagalo ia ina ia fano se tasi o i latou nei e fa’atauvaa. Mataio 18: 12-14
In the same way, it is not my Heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.
As the National Youth Week in Samoa drew to a close earlier this month, I wanted to honour and encourage all those who work with and for the children and youth of Samoa. Malo lava to the Division for Youth and Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development. To all those who connect to this genuine heart to uplift and empower our youth – especially those who may normally be overlooked. To all government and non-government agencies, including the Samoa National Youth Council, Faataua le Ola and Samoa Victims Support Group – malo lava le taumafai ma le faamalosi.
It was sad to read last month about a few youth vendors who assaulted a man in Apia. The wise question was asked if we as a community are failing our children on the streets. The reported increase of child vendors and their antisocial behaviour was described as a ‘disease’ by one person spoken to in the article. Can we do anything else? Big or small?
For almost two years now, I have been working with at-risk youth for the NZ Police. Unfortunately, I have seen many very similar and more saddening situations in Auckland. The youth, even children, who are struggling come through the Youth Justice system. Child, Youth and Family services (CYFs) also work with them there or in a capacity for care and protection. If their parents or family cannot take adequate care of them, they are placed with other family or in CYFs custody with someone else. Just last year a critical review was released and since then a plan has been made to overhaul the system and create a Ministry for Vulnerable Children. The system is by no means perfect and may not get it right all the time but the New Zealand government is trying.
When I saw the word ‘disease’ used to describe the negative behaviour of some child vendors in Samoa, I was reminded of the movie Moana. There was a scene where the villagers and council of chiefs were unsure of what was effecting their crops and fish. Grandma Tala said it was a disease from afar that was reaching their island paradise.
While this issue of child vendors and at-risk youth may seem new or out of the ordinary for Samoa, it is unfortunately quite common around the world. One of the main themes from the film Moana centred around this young girl asking who she was. A question many young people ask themselves - who am I? Am I loved? Worth caring about?
Children in the Samoan way of life have also been described as ‘measina’ – treasures. Every child deserves their basic human rights. The right to adequate shelter, clothing and food. The right to an education. I’ve read about some great initiatives in Samoa encouraging and empowering children and youth through sport and community projects, programs focused on their health and education, assistance from business owners and even a young female tutoring child vendors at the library in Apia.
Recently I attended the NZ Prime Ministers Youth Program formal dinner. The program celebrated youth with a week of activities to build rapport with the youth, build their self-esteem and
leadership skills. The youth who had been nominated and applied had made some bad decisions in the past but had since made many positive changes. One of the youth services that delivered the program was The Village Community Services Trust. Before the Hon. Prime Minister Bill English presented the youth with their certificates, General Manager Maliena Jones thanked those who work with the youth and support the program. She honoured their parents and families and acknowledged that their youth service recognizes it takes a village to raise a child.
I remember a family member who also works with at-risk youth encouraged me with this analogy some years ago. A child was walking along the beach when he saw a starfish had washed up on the sand. Looking down he could see that it wasn’t doing well and needed to return to the water. So he picked it up and threw it back into the ocean. As he walked on he could see another starfish. And another. A long stretch of the beach was covered with so many starfish – something must have happened. As he reached down to pick up another & return it to the water, an adult was walking by and told him, ‘you shouldn’t waste your time, you won’t be able to save them all.’ The child paused. Then he picked up another starfish to return to the sea and answered the adult, ‘but I just saved that one.’ And as he reached for another he said, ‘and that one.’ As I picture that child carrying on that way down the beach, I think of that line from Lilo & Stitch. “Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten.”
Remembering and seeing the young ones and all their potential gives me hope. Seeing parents and extended families raise their children with joy and perseverance makes me grateful. Seeing the passionate committed people who work with and for children & youth inspires me. Seeing children and youth overcome difficulties and realize their potential encourages me. I pray and hope that our villages, our churches and our communities can set the right course for our generation and the next generation to come. That they will come to learn they are truly treasured. They will know who they are from their culture and faith and the way they are loved.
One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left. Matthew 19:13-15.