As a child protection agency, Samoa Victim Support Group is calling on all parents and guardians to take extra precaution on the children heavily accessing social media during these times of lockdown.
The warning came as various incidences affecting children this week, were due to their excessive usage of the social media platforms such as youtube and facebook. In most of these cases, the children were unsupervised.
Some of affected children brought to SVSG for help were severely affected mentally. It raises the alarm on the mental health impact on our young ones as they are exposed to online exploitation and abuse such as cyberbullying, sexting, child sexual abuse material, as well as digitally produced. We have had suicidal teenagers, others have ran away from home while some tolerated the depression and anxiety on their own.
Working in partnership with the UNICEF Pacific, SVSG’s Pschycosocial Officers have been on stand by and are available via the toll free Help Line number 8007874, to support the children going through these difficulties.
In this day and age of social distancing, most of the schools are relying on digital connection to complement the limited schooling hours. This is the positive side of the social media.
And this is where the parents and guardians should play their part in limiting the children’s social media access to school work only, guarding the children from visiting inappropriate sites or creating outdoor activities for the children to break them from being hooked on the social media.
SVSG President Siliniu Lina Chang is calling on the the parents and guardians, “please look out for our children as we head into a long weekend to celebrate our country’s 58th independence. We might be free from COVID-19, but our children are at risk of mental health problems due to their heavily accessing the social media unsupervised.”
A lot has changed in our corner of paradise over the last two months, as humanity faces a health challenge with adverse social, economical and political effects.
Despite Samoa being one of the small islands where COVID-19 has not yet touched, this does not make her immune to the effects of the pandemic.
SVSG recorded a 20% increase in domestic violence during the national State of Emergency due to unemployment and loss of business. Crimes of hunger, of desperation, and of struggle have kept the SVSG Help Line ringing like never before. A stressful environment of uncertainty and fear became the new norm.
But in the midst of all this catastrophe, we have seen the rise of women. Not just any women, but most notably, the empowered nofotane women.
Their hard work and perseverance have paid off. Because during this time of economic strife for most of our families, the earnings from the empowered nofotane women are now providing for families wellbeing, paying for the utilities while supporting the children’s education.
Those who have been working the land are harvesting in abundance. Paula Alatise, who is a nofotane woman of Samusu, had earned more than $1,000 this week from selling cucumbers. A 10-acre land is fully grown with vegetable and a plantation which now sustains this family’s source of income.
Another nofotane woman, Mareta Vaeagi of Siumu, have been selling baked taro, palusami and other food items 2 – 3 days a week, outside of SVSG’s office. Mareta is earning $150 - $200 a day from her food stall. She also sells vegetables in front of her house at Siumu.
And with tourism on a standstill, the locals are supporting the weavers and the crafters by continuing to buy from nofotane women such as Uaine Aumuavaa Taumaloto of Pata Falelatai, and her colorful fala masi, (woven mat) at $80 - $100 per mat depending on size and design.
Earlier this month, one of Uaine’s daughters Siatuolo was honored as the top student for the Diploma in Tourism Program at the National University of Samoa. According to Siatuolo, “it is through my mother’s weaving and encouragement that contribute to my achievement. She is a hard working mother; inspiring me to work harder.”
With the financial support of the European Union through the Civil Society Support Program, SVSG is once again working with nofotane women on a Program titled, Sustainable Income Generation & Self Employment of Nofotane Women. Over the next 2 years, the Program will help nofotane women like Paula Alatise, Mareta Vaegi, Uaine Taumaloto and many others who have been under SVSG’s Economic Empowerment Program, to improve on the quality and market opportunities of their products.
“There is no better time for the empowered nofotane woman to rise up and provide for her family’s wellbeing than here and now. It has been a joy to watch the women grow in confidence as breadwinners for their families, and we look forward to supporting them further in this new Project.” Siliniu Lina Chang, SVSG President
With more than 3,000 people reached by Samoa Victim Support Group in the delivery of gender based violence responsive services for women, children and vulnerable groups in the context of COVID-19, we hereby acknowledged the coming together of a stronger community
Because SVSG’s ability to provide frontline services through the operation of a toll free Help Line at the national level while also connecting on the social media at the international level, is credited to the work in partnership with our supporting partners, families and friends.
We started off this virtual connection for our people in need on 21 March 2020, with only the Help Line telephones, a couple of staff to man the telephones 24/7, and a network of committed SVSG village representatives, who we contacted to attend a case that comes through the Help Line from the rural areas of Upolu, Savaii or Manono-tai.
And here we are at the end of 6 weeks, reaching more than 3,000 people, while our supporters have multiplied overnight.
The EU UN Spotlight Initiative UNDP were the first ones to contact us if we needed any help. UNICEF Pacific later channeled some of its funding support towards the wellbeing of children survivors at the Campus of Hope as well as the women survivors of GBV evacuated during this time.
And from then onwards, we had families dropping off donations of food, clothing and toiletries to assist with relief packages for our families in the community requesting welfare assistance. SSAB joined in the second week with bulk supplies of rice and tinned fish which were rationed to cover a wider range of our community. The Helping Hands were next, contributing miscellaneous supplies and shopping vouchers which enabled the families with young children to buy necessities such as diapers, milk and other needs for the babies. The Alofa Charitable Trust of New Zealand remitted more funds towards the 4th week which enabled SVSG to replenish the supplies for the relief packages. The Mother’s Day weekend was the last time SVSG had been out in the community, as we distributed food items paid in full by a Samoan family in Melbourne Australia
We have been blessed! This is our collective effort Samoa, to be there for one another during these challenging times. Because without your support, we would not be able to provide relief packages for our families severly impacted by the financial strains of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is our prayer that the Lord Almighty will bless you and your families in abundance for your generosity. Together, we have been stronger.” Siliniu Lina Chang, SVSG President
She reaches out for help, only when she couldn’t struggle alone. She becomes the voice for her child, when the child is robbed of her dignity as a young woman. She empowers herself to be able to provide for her family and in the process, her voice is recognized in family and village matters. She endures, simply because she is a mother.
These are some of the virtues that define the mothers who have sought assistance with SVSG over the years.
From January to April 2020, 90% of those who came to us for help are mothers. During the last six weeks of the government declared State of Emergency for the COVID-19 preparedness, 85% of the callers to the Help Line were mothers; reporting their mental and physical abuse; seeking welfare assistance for their families; advocating for employment for their husbands or counseling assistance.
Most of us reckoned that mothers are the weaker gender. But we here at Samoa Victim Support Group believe otherwise.
Because it takes courage to come forward and seek help. Her humility is always behind her forgiving heart and the reconciliation between families. It takes perseverance to put up with child rearing and the protection of our children thereafter. Only a hero could turn her situation in the grassroot community as a nofotane woman and become a breadwinner in the family through the work of her hands.
“From the growing SVSG Family in partnership with our donor agencies during this time such as UNICEF Pacific and Spotlight Initiative (UNDP) , we wish all the mothers of Samoa joy in the Lord always. We honor you for who you are in our lives; a Mother. Remember, you are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ so go forth and don’t give up. We are here for you.” Siliniu Lina Chang, SVSG President.
Having survived the 6th week of the government declared COVID-19 State of Emergency since 20th April 2020, is an understatement. This is because Samoa Victim Support Group have seen inequality and poverty staring us at the face while distributing relief packages for families in need of help during this health crisis.
During this 6-weeks period, SVSG had received 415 requests for assistance; 345 callers to the SVSG Help Line, 39 through the social media, 23 via email, and 8 from walk in clients; the abused women and girls, the abandoned children and the suicidal mothers. Majority of the requests were from underprivileged families at 175, requesting food, access to clean water, assistance with the payment of water bill and cash power.
From week 1 until this 6th week, the tension has been building up, forcing our people to resort to extreme measures just to survive.
Gender based violence have been challenged to the extreme during these last 6 weeks, accounting for 46 of the cases being handled and referred to Police.
Families have lodged complaints against families for stepping across those land boundaries to gather food from others plantation; mothers have kicked out their daughters from home for not bringing home enough to cater for the family needs; fathers have lodged complaints against their sons for drinking and causing trouble instead of supporting the family, and the long standing fued between husbands against wives escalates as both are forced to stay in close proximity to each other due to unemployment and being layed off from work.
There were households of up to 20 people squarting in a small hutt that could barely stand the pouring rain. Then we have mothers and their children, awaiting us in the dark, just to get some food for the night. Others walked towards our cars to get their relief supplies, because we couldn’t get past the poor road conditions.
As much as we wanted to bring all of them under our care, SVSG is not one to resolve to bandage solutions. We have to work on changing our people’s mentality towards subsistence living to address inequality and poverty amongst the underprivileged.
Because if we can do it for the empowered nofotane women who is now the breadwinner in her family through the works of her hand, then we can definitely do it for the rest of our vulnerable families.
In the meantime, SVSG and its family of supporters have been able to provide the basic necessities to those in need; while awaiting their husbands being called back to work, or remittance from their relatives working under the Seasonal Workers Scheme etc.
SVSG President Siliniu Lina Chang therefore acknowledged the financial donation of ST3,000 received this week from Levaoatuamaaana Aati-Schuster and the Team from The Alofa Charitable Trust (T.A.C.T) of New Zealand, which enabled us to replenish the supply of rice, noodles, flour, sugar and other necessities for our families relief packages.
Thank you also Louisa Apelu and the Team at Spotlight Initiative (UNDP) for supporting the administration of the Help Line so that the spotlight will be on those most often left behind; UNICEF Pacific for financing food supplies for our children at the Campus and those in the community during this time; and ANZ Bank for supporting SVSG’s work on domestic violence. “Together, we have bridged the inequality gap while saving lives during this health crisis.”