Read about the work and travel of VSA's staff.
Published on 12th June 2015
Media Officer Sarah Barnett blogs about a field trip to visit our volunteers and partners in Samoa in June.
It’s hard to know where to begin, talking about a field trip to one of our partner countries. We pack so much in to these trips, meeting with volunteers and their workmates, checking out their life outside their assignments, that it is overwhelming when you sit down to process it all.
Right now, I’m eating breakfast on Savai’i – Samoa’s “big island”, where 25 per cent of the population lives. Apia is on Upolo, where we spent the beginning of the week. Breakfast is fresh banana bread, papaya and eggs provided by the local rooster’s harem. He (the rooster) was also my 4am alarm call.
We’re at water’s edge, looking back towards Upolo, and on the sound system they’re playing Coldplay’s “Paradise”.
It is a paradise. Here on Savai’i, it’s a rural village life, green and relaxed. Over in Apia, things are changing rapidly. We’ve travelled with our International Programme Manager Junior Ulu, who was last here for the Small Island Developing States conference in September last year and says there are buildings up in Apia now that weren’t then.
Meeting volunteers and their workmates gives an insight into the need for support that is still there, even in a country like Samoa, which is more developed than our other partner countries. Our volunteers support their organisations to reach more people, whether it’s through supporting small business owners, educational facilities or those in most desperate need.
Tapu Tuisuga, volunteering with the Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG), works alongside Lina Chang, who founded SVSG in 2005 to help child victims of sexual abuse. In the last 10 years, SVSG has developed relationships with police and the courts, and have continued their work with children who’ve been abused or abandoned, as well as women escaping domestic violence, anger management for perpetrators, and working on suicide prevention. None of this receives government funding; Lina works night and day to secure funding and vital supplies for their shelters – day-to-day supplies for infants, for example, which she says they’re always short of.
Tapu has worked as a counsellor and Lina’s offsider, freeing her up to spend more time fundraising and doing the vital management work needed on such a huge programme. Nearly everyone who works there is a volunteer and, like Lina and Tapu, they work long hours.
In nearly every country in the Pacific where we work with organisations like SVSG, they’re led by incredible women with huge mana – Lina here, Sister Lorraine in Bougainville and others all over the Pacific – and they sacrifice so much, including risking their personal safety, to do this vital work. It’s humbling to meet someone like Lina and see how VSA volunteers can contribute.
We’ve been working in Samoa for 50 years, and it remains a special relationship. I can see Upolo from here, covered by a long white cloud.