Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Clea Salavert-Wykes Lalomanu Library - a place to fire the imagination and nurture dreams.

Opening of the Clea Salavert Library, Lalomanu Primary School
Matt Anderson, Australian High Commissioner to Samoa
Tuesday, 5 October 2010

I was at a loss, truly, as to what to say this morning. When Cas called to honour me with the opportunity to say I few words, the well was dry. Eventually, I scratched down a few:


It was as I sat looking at the blinking cursor on my screen, that I received a copy of the Samoan Government’s report into the tsunami. The scale of the loss, the measure of endeavour, the accounting for gifts, and the mountains left to climb.

And you know how the Samoan Government chose to make sense from this tragedy? To find beauty amidst the rubble? They quoted from Jorge’s prose, Lalomanu.

Jorge, the Samoan Government took strength from your insights. Courage from your family’s courage. And found wisdom that can only come from one whose loss is so profound, that neither the English, nor the Spanish language has a word for it. As Trudie knows, it is a loss that most often can’t be said. It can only be felt. That was your first gift to the people of Samoa.

And this library behind me is the second gift, a most important gift. To some, libraries are nothing more than a store room for books. For others, they are a place of reprimand. When I grew up, the Christian brothers would send students to the library as punishment. “Mr Anderson, go to the library for the next period!” Now Jordi and Omar, I’m not saying it was the only reason I was naughty in class, but I did enjoy being sent to the library.

Jorge, Trudie and the staff from Amaroo know that it is in libraries that imaginations take flight. It is in libraries that boundaries are pressed. It is in libraries that dreams are nurtured. I commend you for ensuring that this will be far more than a building, but a monument to Clea’s love of learning, and a home for all her hopes, dreams and potential.

Of course, this library did not build itself. Far from the watchful crowd, Jason and Cas Green have nurtured this garden, with the help of Fuataga and Shan, the School Committee and Lalomanu’s gifted artisans. But it is not only mortar holding this project together. In every course of brick is sewn Jason and Cas’s love for you – and for Clea.

The official bit is that I must thank DHL for overloading diplomatic bags for the past 10 months with the gift of knowledge. The vast majority of books in this library were sent here, airfreight, and free of charge. The High Commission’s fire escapes and exit isles are now free of mountains of books, and I have a slim chance of passing the next occupational health and safety audit!

Today we celebrate more than a library. We celebrate a monument to a family’s love for their daughter, sister, niece, student and friend. And we celebrate a living tribute to a beautiful young girl whose spirit will, forever, reside in those who use this library to fire their imaginations and to follow their dreams.

Jorge and Trudie Salavert-Wykes at the opening of Clea's Library.
Photo from Samoa Observer.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Our stories - a fire of pleading hope.

(Excerpt from the American Samoa launch of Galu Afi.)

Why is it so important to record and share our stories? In answer, I’d like to share with you an account from the galu afi book.

On the first night after the tsunami struck, a mother who had lost her daughter asked of her family a difficult thing – to make a fire in the midst of drowning wet. It was a fire of pleading hope that called to a little girl taken by the wave and still not found. The mother explained, “All the houses were ruined so everyone had gone to stay with their families in other villages. But we were the only ones that stayed here because I wanted my daughter to come home. I told my husband and my kids to make a really big fire so that she can see her way home, so that she wouldn’t be scared in the dark.” Hope burned as a family waited for a daughter that did not return. Her body was found the next morning in the mangroves by Robert Toelupe and tenderly carried to her mother’s waiting arms. I have interviewed more than 150 tsunami survivors but it is the image of this mother which has never left me. A mother sitting beside a fire in the midst of the wasteland that was once her village, not wanting her child to be lost and alone in the dark. This mother’s story has had a profound impact on me and my family. I have five children. When I am tempted to be short-tempered with them, I remember what this mother told me, “Don’t take your children for granted, be with them as much as you can. Appreciate all the time you have with them. Everybody is saying to me, that I’m blessed because now I have a guardian angel in heaven – but I would much rather have my daughter here with me.” I remember her counsel and so I try a little harder to be patient and positive with my children.

This mother asked of me, one thing in return for her story. She said, “I want everyone out there to know how grateful we are for their love and support. There were so many people – even strangers – sending us messages of comfort on the internet and praying for us. I miss my daughter so much, we have fixed up our house but it still doesn’t feel right because she’s not here to share it with us. It helps me to know that so many people out there are caring and hurting for us. There is no way I can thank all these people. They’ve been so supportive to me and my family. Please tell them in your book – thank you.” I promised her I would. There have been many challenges involved with writing this book and whenever I became discouraged while working on this project, tempted to say forget it, I would remember my promise to this mother, And so, remembering that, I would forge on, more resolved to ensure this book was completed. This mother’s story and the story of her love and mourning for her child – is now contained in this book and countless people and their families from many different nations will now be able to share in her sorrow and be profoundly impacted by her experience . I pay tribute to Taitasi Fitiao’s strength and courage in sharing her story. Taitasi – I never met Vaijoresa, but I will always remember your love for her.

Our stories are like a fire of pleading hope lit in the wastelands of half-forgotten things. They can burn brightly in the darkest nights of hopelessness and sorrow. When we remember, and preserve the stories of our loved ones, we honor their memory and the legacies of love they gave us. When we share our stories– not only do we nurture the flames of remembrance - but we also make it possible for others to learn from our experiences. When we share our stories, we can find solace and comfort in others. The accounts in this book are heavy with sadness, loss and suffering. But they are also filled with many examples of great courage, faith and hope in the midst of much adversity. Yes, some of the stories will make us cry – but when we share and listen together, it can make it better

A "recklessly bold" venture - The Book of the Aiga of the Galu Afi.

Oute fa’atulou atu I le Mamalu ma le Paia ua fa’atasi mai i lenei Po:
I Atua Mamana o lenei Maota
I Rangatira ma Ariki o Tagata Whenua o Tamaki –Makaurau ma Iwi Eseese o Aotearoa
I Tupu ma Tamaali’i o Atu Motu Eseese o le Pasefika, ae maise Samoa, Amerika Samoa ma Toga lea na mafatia I le Galu Afi
I Ta’ita’i ma tagata o le laumua nei o Aukilani
I e o lo’o Pulea lenei Univesite, fa’apea faiaoga ma tama’ita’i ma ali’i aoga
I le autusitala ma le aufaitau tusi ua fa’atasi mai
I paolo ma gafa eseese o le Susuga ia Joe Keil ma le Susuga ia Lani Wendt Young
Le Vasa Loloa or the Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest geographical feature.
It influences our planet’s climate and therefore our whole environment. We who live in le Vasa Loloa are of that ocean, and that ocean is us.
The Samoan name for it is: Va = Space Between/Connecting, sa = forbidden or sacred, Loloa = long and vast and ancient. So it becomes The-connecting- forbidden-and-sacred-Space-that-is-long-and-vast-and-ancient. That very name tries to convey the Ocean’s vast and profoundly ancient physical, emotional, and spiritual mana.

One of Samoa’s creation/tupuaga chants about Tagaloaalagi, our Supreme Atua and Creator, creating the world and our islands starts with a description of the most important element in our lives, the Vasa Loloa and the various types of galu and peau, waves, of that sea.

Even though Tagaloaalagi created the sea, the vasa loloa, he had huge respect for its awesome power and, when the galu or peau of the vasa loloa became galu lolo or galu afi, he was even mortally afraid of them.

To traverse the vasa loloa safely, Tagaloaalagi threw down stones from the heavens, and used them as his stepping stones across it. Those stepping stones became the islands we now live on. Like Tagaloaalagi, our ancestors, over the hundreds of years they took to explore the vasa loloa and inhabit our islands, came to have a huge respect for that ocean and its power and learned to live with it and enjoy its magnificent bounty, and be afraid of its ferocious might.
On 29 September 2009, we in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga were again reminded of that terrible might. What a frightening unforgiving reminder!

The beautiful Galu Afi, the Tsunami of Fire, swept in and swept out, killing almost 200 of our loved ones, wrecking our homes, settlements, businesses and plantations, leaving us with our sorrow and pain, and the unrelenting reminder that we must never again forget that Le Vasa Loloa can kill us and destroy every thing that we have built and love.

Telling the story of a major event especially a catastrophic event is a very difficult task. Telling the story of it in ways that will capture the hearts and imaginations and attention of readers is even more difficult. We all tell stories, our lives are made up of stories, but that doesn’t mean we all have the ability and experience to tell stories that will hold a reader or listener spellbound for the duration of our tale.

Our lives are burdened with people who believe they are great storytellers but who bore us with their tales! Libraries are full of memoirs, autobiographies, accounts of events, histories etc which, because they are badly told, are not able to live up to and encapsulate the full grandeur and dimensions of the person or event or history being storied. A story is really the teller and the teller’s telling.
The Tsunami of 29 September, which hit parts of Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, was a devastating natural disaster.

It affected the lives and environments of the people in the affected areas, it affected the lives of their countries, and the world at large. Its effects have continued to this day. Needless to say, Honorable Joe Keil’s decision that the story of that tsunami should be recorded fully was a recklessly bold one. And perhaps even more reckless when he decided to ask Lani Young, a writer who’d never written a book before, to write that story and do so within the period of a year! I’ve been writing for almost fifty years, but I would never have accepted such an assignment! Like I was in my youthful and foolishly brave 30s, Lani accepted the challenge and I bow to her for doing so and for succeeding so magnificently.

This large book is testimony to Lani’s drive, focus, perseverance, skills as an exceptional and sensitive researcher and interviewer, and ultimately to her ability to select from, write up, and weave together into a beautifully woven ie toga all the hundreds of stories and information from the survivors, witnesses, rescuers, helpers, aid and government organizations, and so forth.

This book, this ie toga, is now the story of the Galu Afi of Sept 29,2009. Lani lets the survivors speak for themselves in their own individual voices, and together their voices, their stories become an orchestrated choir that comes to vibrant life every time we read this gripping, splendid and moving book.
This book is a tribute to those who died, to their lives and courage, and to their loved ones – their relatives and friends – who now have to live with their profound absences and sorrow.

It is also a tribute to all the fortunate survivors and the people who helped: the rescuers, the health workers, the donors from all round the world, and so forth, a tribute to their courage and selfless dedication and hard work. It is a tribute to the unbreakable bonds/ties of aiga/family/village which took hundreds of years to cultivate and weave and which came into wonderful action during and after this crisis.

It is also a tribute to that drive in each of us to help others in times of trouble, need, and helplessness. In such times strangers come to our rescue, and we help strangers. They risk their lives for us and we do the same for them. This book is testament to that: story after story testify to that. And has resulted in new ties/new bonds, to strangers becoming members of our aiga and we of theirs.

This book therefore is about a new and larger aiga/family which the unforgiving ferocity of the Galu Afi brought into being, an aiga which, according to Lani’s book, is already recovering with newfound courage, strength, determination and hope. And when that aiga reads this book, their book, they will be inspired even further to rebuild and ensure that their children will live proudly beyond the Galu Afi’s destructive power, knowing that mana or power can be both destructive and absolutely creative.

It is a great honour for me to have been asked to launch this memorable book which I have subtitled, for myself, The Book of the Aiga of the Galu Afi. I congratulate Joe Keil and Lani Young on producing and writing it, and wish it every success in its journey into and across the Vasa Loloa and the world.
All of your should buy enough copies for your families and friends.
Ia alolofa Atua o le Pasefika ma fa’amanuia mai I lenei fa’atasiga!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Life is for living. Treasure it.

(An extract from words spoken at the Auckland launch hosted by the Center for Pacific Studies, Auckland University. Oct 7th, 2010)
There were many visitors and tourists from overseas that had been caught in the tsunami. It is a privilege to see some of you here with us tonight. I was at the hospital in Samoa the days after the tsunami – and saw firsthand something of your experience – as you were caught in a strange land by a fierce ocean and left with nothing – for many of you – not even the clothes on your backs. Thank you for sharing your stories of strength and survival with us in this book. I had assumed that visitors caught in the tsunami would never want to return there. Not after their horrifying experience. I was wrong. Survivor stories from visitors are filled with gratitude for the care and compassion they were shown during that difficult time. UK visitor Becky Glew escaped from the wave at Lalomanu and took refuge at the Taufua house on top of the hill. She wrote, “Many Samoans were there bringing us food, climbing palm trees to get us coconuts, looking after the wounded and even building us a toilet outside. And every single one of them was either still waiting for news of family members or already knew they had lost someone. For instance, the young man who led us to safety had found his dead mother moments before – and he spent the whole day lifting the sick, running back and forth to the hospital, cooking for us and helping anyone who needed it. Everyone was amazing.” Last week, flights back to Samoa were fully booked as many tsunami survivors and their families returned for the memorial anniversary. Before sunrise on the morning of the 29th processions of people bearing coconut candles and lanterns, walked along beaches through shattered villages. Survivors from Samoa, NZ, Australia and the UK were there to grieve as one. People who had worked to help with the recovery and rebuilding were there. Ministers led everyone in prayer and hymns filled the morning air, enfolding the empty spaces with love. Crowds gathered outside a hilltop church stood in remembrance of that day when the earth rumbled and the waters raged. Together they watched as the sun burned the sky and a new day dawned.

As families from different nations have mourned as one, new bonds have been forged. Some examples, There is now an escape path cut into the mountainside of Lalomanu – funded by a trust set up in honor of the memory of Mary Ann White – of Raglan, NZ. New gardens are being planted by women in the village thanks to the Hodgins family of Australia as they work with Women in Business to buy tools to sow the seeds of hope. Two families at Saleapaga have new homes – gifted by the Martin family of Matamata who lost their daughters, Petria and Rebecca. At Lalomanu Primary school, there is a new library stocked with more than 4000 books built by family and friends of the 6 yr old from Australia who was killed by the wave. Imaginations will soar and dreams will take flight because of the Clea salavert-Wykes library. I continue to be humbled by these examples of how grief can inspire service and compassion.

There were many people who dedicated huge amounts of time and effort to see Samoa through this disaster and some of their stories are also included in the book. I am in awe of those who worked under very difficult conditions to help others. The Samoan DMO and Disaster Response teams who headed down the hill and towards the sea while most of us were evacuating, running away from the ocean. The nurse on duty at Lalomanu hospital who worked tirelessly to care for the wounded – even after receiving the news that her own 3 yr old son had been killed in the wave at Satitoa. She said – “I kept working. What else could I do? There were so many injured people who needed help.” The international response in the tsunami aftermath was swift as many hearts and hands were moved to help us in our time of need. It is an honor to have some of you here with us tonight. The leader of the first local medical response team, Dr Ben Matalavea said, “There were so many people who came to Samoa to volunteer. We found that the help was quite overwhelming and that really for me it lifted the spirit. How could we be tired when all these people had come so far to try and help us? It was really something. For me, that’s the thing that most touched me.” One doctor explained his reasons for coming to Samoa to assist. I went to school at Avondale College and played in the rugby first fifteen team. I was the only palagi in the forward pack, all the rest were Samoans. They were all my friends and when this tsunami happened, all I could think of were my old mates and their families. So I came.” Tsunami survivors Jared and Netta Schwalger – lost both their children and Jared’s parents in the wave. Netta’s injuries were so bad that there was doubt that doctors would be able to save her leg. She wept as she expressed her gratitude for the plastic surgeons from NZ who skillfully operated four times and ensured she wouldn’t need amputation. “They were so kind, so careful, so nice to me.”

If there is one message I bring to you all from the people of the galu afi it is this – faafetai, faafetai tele lava. The samoan word for gift is meaalofa. Things of love/things from love. Ask survivors about the help they received after their ordeal and they will tell you – there has been so much love that they have been overwhelmed. Rita Romeo of Lalomanu recalls the night after the tsunami hit. “We slept in the forest, we had no blankets. Our clothes were wet. It was very cold and I felt so bad for my children. I sat there with tears looking at my kids asleep on the ground and I thought maybe it would have been better if we had died in the tsunami. I can handle it – but my children…I cried for them. The very next day we got help from the government and from many generous people…clothing and blankets and food. And then in the month after, we continued receiving many gifts from containers overseas. So many things, oka! ” I have visited with survivors in tents from the NZ army. In houses newly built in the inland bush by volunteers from churches, local companies and organizations like Habitat for Humanity. I have driven on roads cut through wild forest, lined with power poles – paid for by tsunami relief funds. I have seen elderly wrapped in quilts – made by schoolchildren in faraway lands. Little children playing with a rugby ball given to them by visiting rugby legends from Australia. Survivor families have shared with me their food – a can of peaches and a container of chocolate pudding – gifts from a partnership of the Islamic Relief and LDS church, flown in on a massive D.C plane from the USA carrying enough food to feed 2,000 people for a month. They have given me water from tanks gifted them by the Red Cross. I have listened to survivors speak of their gratitude for – counselors who came to help heal broken hearts and spirits. For tourists who continue to visit our shores, supporting people as they rebuild businesses and livelihoods. The book speaks of those who fundraised, donated of their time and means, gave of their thoughts and prayers - in other words - the book speaks of you all here tonight.

The stories here are filled with sadness, and immense suffering. Yet they also bear witness of great courage, sacrifice, faith and hope. There is much insight to be gained from the experiences of those who have endured many trials, who have survived the wave of fire. As we honor the anniversary of 29/09, we look to the future with the lessons we have gained from the past. In the words of 16 yr old Aucklander Matt Ansell “The tsunami showed me that if there’s something you want to do in life – something bad like a disaster could happen at any time and take it away, so you might as well live. If you want to do something, you make sure you do it; do it well and do it when you can, as soon as you can. Don’t wait. Don’t put it off.” Wise counsel echoed by another survivor, Becky Glew, who became pregnant shortly after 29/09. She wrote – “this baby is a direct result of the tsunami. Having a baby is something we had talked about but I would put it off as ‘the time wasn’t right’. However, the tsunami made me realize that life is for living, treasure it, there is not a minute to spare…The baby has also made me look to the future instead of dwelling on the horrors of that day and it has truly helped me to move on. I still have fears and nightmares but my recovery from the trauma has been much swifter – it will truly be a magical baby when it’s born.” On the 4th of August, baby Martha Nell Smith was born. That magical baby is here with us tonight, another reminder of the tender mercies and miracles that can be found even in the midst of adversity.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


In Samoa:
*Samoa Money Exchange ( beside McDonalds Restaurant)
*Samoa Stationery Bookstore ( in the Lotemau Center)
*Plantation House, Alafua.

In American Samoa:
*Island Image Store
*Tereza Steffeny Store at the Tafuna Airport
*Christian Bookstore ( Opposite Cost U Less and owned by Pastor Tavai.)

In New Zealand: To be advised.