Monday, August 15, 2011

Fa'a Samoa

The GNS team are at Lalomanu over the weekend and enjoying a small break after our first village consultation of the project at Mutiatele and Malaela on the south-east coast. For Graham and Kim it was their first experience of Samoan village consultation and Samoan village ceremony and protocol (the Samoan way= fa’a Samoa). The villagers were very welcoming and pleased to see us all. The consultation kicked off with a welcome and an ava ceremony with the matai, followed by a huge morning tea (so much food!) and then an overview of the project for everyone given by Vaitoa Toelupe from the Disaster Management Office (DMO). This outlined the reasons for the project, and agreed the expectations from the 3 day visit for both the DMO and the village. More food followed (lunch this time) which included traditional Samoan delicacies like taro leaves in coconut cream (Graham’s favourite), Samoan chicken, marinated octopus, fish, taro, breadfruit, Samoan coca (hot cocoa) and fresh coconut juice. I can see keeping the weight down on this visit will be a problem!

After lunch, the real work started with the villagers breaking into three groups (matai (chiefs), women and male youth to discuss the signs – the language on them and where they should be located, and the evacuation zone maps. We three split up at this point, Kim going with the women, Graham the youth and myself (Michele) with the matai. Our role was to support the Samoan facilitators who we’d given a training session to earlier in the week, mainly to be there to answer any questions and to give the facilitators confidence if they needed it. One of the satisfying parts of the project already has been seeing how the facilitators from a variety of agencies have already picked up the project and run with it – they were enthusiastic and very well prepared for their role, giving us confidence that after the pilot the DMO has enough capacity to help continue the programme in other villages.

Day 2 saw the groups breaking up again (after morning tea and a prayer) to complete their discussion before all returning to the main fale to give presentations to everyone on what they came up with. There was a lot of laughter with every group finishing off with a song and a dance. The groups had identified slightly different issues but there was quite a lot of agreement. The main recommendations included having two zones instead of three (red and orange), some changes to the words on the signs, including adding some english to the information boards and maybe the addition of a lava lava to the figure on the signs to give them a Samoan flavour! The groups had each drafted up evacuation routes, with the location of directional signs and assembly areas marked. Everyone then walked the evacuation routes checking sign locations and ‘safe’ assembly areas. We also took the opportunity to talk to the school children, who all came together in a special session to hear about the project and what the rest of the village had been up to. Several of the youth expressed an interest in learning more about the technical details and tsunami science and a special session was also set up for them. Visuals worked the best here, with good old fashioned flip charts and hand-drawn diagrams being the order of the day.

On the last day after an ava ceremony and morning tea Vaitoa presented a summary of the village recommendations and final map for agreement. This was followed by a farewell which included more dancing (by us this time!!) and an exchange of gifts. Graham (aka “John Key” as nicknamed by the high chief) excelled in his dancing and was ‘claimed’ by several of the older village women which created a lot of laughter. Neither Kim nor I were quick enough! It was a great privilege to be involved in the village in this way. Sometimes it’s difficult to know when to speak out or what’s appropriate but the warmth of the welcome and the support gave us the confidence to speak up. While we had orators to speak on our behalf the high chief mentioned to me that my efforts to speak as the palagi matai were very much appreciated and was something that occurred only rarely by visiting palagi. Farewell Mutiatele, Malaelu and the island of Namua (where we stayed). When we next visit in November for the simulation it’ll be like visiting old friends.

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