VSA’s association with Samoa dates back to 1963 when our very first volunteer took up an assignment in Apia. Till recently, these assignments were primarily focused on education. In 2012, we began sending volunteers who are working in agriculture, livelihoods, community infrastructure and disaster preparedness. Our Samoa programme is managed from our Wellington office.

Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa, is situated in the South Pacific approximately halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. It sits squarely in the cyclone belt and is highly vulnerable to devastating storms. Around three-quarters of its 195,000 population live on the main island of Upolu; the rest live on the neighbouring island of Savai'i or one of the seven small islets.

The traditional Samoan way, the fa’a Samoa, remains a strong force in Samoan life and politics where family is all-important and elders are highly respected. Each village is made up of extended families that are represented on the village council by a chief (matai). The more western-style parliamentary system in Samoa is highly influenced by traditional social systems and the family, civic and political duties performed by the matai at village level. The country is predominantly Christian.

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Former volunteer Thoraya Abdul-Rassol with Samoa Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa (left)

 

What we are doing in Samoa

We send volunteers to Samoa on short and longer term assignments focusing on promoting economic development and building local capacity in the agricultural, small business and tourism sectors.

Agriculture employs two-thirds of the labour force with exports that include coconut cream, coconut oil, and copra. Subsistence agriculture supports around 75 per cent of the population. The economy is also dependent on development aid, overseas family remittances, fishing, and an expanding tourism sector that accounted for 25 per cent of GDP in 2007. By supporting small and medium businesses and increasing the quality of agricultural education, our volunteers are helping to improve agricultural practices and production, and increase job and business opportunities.

Much of Samoa’s economy operates informally, with only 18 per cent of the population formally employed in a salaried position. Many Samoans live a subsistence lifestyle and sell surplus produce at local markets. We focus on strengthening rural livelihoods and infrastructure to support agricultural development and economic growth.