Tuesday, August 30, 2011

“The best laid plans of mice and men….

Gang aft agley” (Robert Burns To a mouse, 1785). Or in other words, sometimes you need to re-visit your original plans and come up with plan B, C, or D. Luckily we have many women on the team as well as men (and no mice) so when things go “agley” the outcome is not as definite as Burns would suggest.

After a highly successful fortnight in Samoa we had some news which resulted in a re-shuffle of our village consultation schedule. More on this later; first a recap of the consultation in Mutiatele, Malaela and Poutasi villages. We spent three days in each village; the programme of consultation has been explained by Michele in a previous post. In Poutasi, as in Mutiatele and Malaela we again got to showcase our dancing skills. Luckily for the villagers we had more to offer than amateur dance steps, the draft evacuation zone maps, signs, and information boards were very well received. The level of interest in tsunami science, as well evacuation planning, was again very high.

We had tweaked the facilitation process a little, based on Vaitoa’s expertise in the community consultation process. For Poutasi we took a more structured approach to discussion of the signs and information board drafts, with resources discussed in the order they would be encountered from the coast (you are in a tsunami evacuation zone)to furthest inland (you have reached the safe location). All the facilitators have been doing a fantastic job, but there are always ways you can improve delivery of your information and make understanding and knowledge sharing easier, so we were very happy with the amendments Vaitoa made following the visit to Mutiatele and Malaela.

The importance of consulting with a range of villages has been highlighted already, not only are the villages we have worked with so far topographically different, there is also quite a different feeling in terms of gravitas, the degree of emotional recovery, the number of high chiefs (more in Poutasi) and the resources in the villages, Mutiatele and Malaela have a some small stores, two churches and a primary school, Poutasi has a hospital, high school, preschool, police station, two churches, large village hall, and some small stores. The discussion in Mutiatele and Malaela felt somewhat more light-hearted, there was recognition that tsunami planning is a serious business and of prime importance to the village people; they were very grateful for the work we and the Samoan government are doing. In Poutasi the feeling was more subdued; the same recognition of the importance of planning was present, but there was a more serious feel to the proceedings. Our impression was that the emotions that arise when discussing tsunami, were closer to the surface in Poutasi. It is humbling to be in the villages and feel at the same time the grief for those lost and the joy of village life. Again we were catered for magnificently, and I discovered that my passion for Koko Samoa (locally grown cocoa with no bitterness and a rich, strong flavour) was undiminished.

Joe Annandale, a local resort owner and high chief in Poutasi has been thinking a lot about tsunami evacuation planning since 2009. He was a great help during our visit, in terms of organising the walkthrough/drive-through of evacuation routes (very well attended), and ensuring tsunami planning remains high on the village agenda. A big thank you is due to Joe for all of his support of the project and the team. Again we included a school visit in our trip, this was very well-received and the level of understanding of tsunami science among the high school students was very impressive. We left Poutasi with a great set of maps for evacuation routes and sign placement and some regret to be heading back to the big smoke of Apia.

Unfortunately while we were in Poutasi we did get the news that we had a cancellation from Faleu village, the next consultation location. A short-notice change to the dates of the nationwide Teuila festival now created clashes with our consultation dates. This festival is the big annual event of Samoa, and village life is focused on training for long boat races and festival planning.

Time for plan B. We considered that the visit to Satupaitea (the last village on the schedule) was also at risk so we made the call to return to NZ for two weeks and come back to Samoa after the festival was over, and meet with our last two pilot villages then. This plan was agreed to by all parties.

So we missed the snow and came back to a relatively warm New Zealand. I am now just getting the final preparations together for our next two consultations. Brenda Rosser will be travelling with me on her first visit to Samoa and we are both very excited to be going to Faleu Village on tiny Manono Island (famous in Samoa for its wildlife) and then directly to Satupaitea in Savai’i.

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