She heard, she sacrificed, she shaved, and today, she was here to witness for herself the work that benefited from her beautiful black hair. Yes, our hero is none other than Sandra Falesita from the SVSG (Sydney) sub group, who took a courageous act in 2015 and shaved her hair in a fundraising drive for the babies cared for at the SVSG Nursery Shelter.
Be the Change, Rescue + Restore, Advocate, Voice 4 Voiceless, Enable + Empower
This was what the heroic act by Sandra Falesita represented - B.R.A.V.E – and the proceeds from her B.R.A.V.E shave came at the time when SVSG was struggling financially to keep its doors open to receive our people in need.
So it was a privileged for the SVSG team to meet our hero in person during an emotional gathering of the staff, volunteers, SVSG President and Sandra at the SVSG main office in Apia.
A person of a few words, Sandra’s acknowledgement was brief, but to the point. “I came here to thank all of you for looking after our people, our children. Let us all thank God.”
President Siliniu Lina Chang congratulated Sandra for her bravery, and for keeping her promise to one day visited us here in Samoa.
They say that the strength of a community is in its solidarity. This was the highlight of the livelihood training session for the villages of Papa Puleia, Sili, Maota and Tafua, which was centred at the Congregational Christian Church Hall at Papa Puleia, and well attended by nofotane women and their husbands.
Also in attendance to provide moral support were church ministers and their wives, high chiefs and village mayors.
The participants were given the option of skills to be trained on; there was handicraft, elei printing, commercial cooking and flower arrangement. All the 4 skills training were packed with the nofotane women and their husbands, supporting each other in mastering a skill or two.
Noted also was the gathering of women in support network groups which is important for the sustainability of the women’s empowerment after the life of the project.
So despite the remoteness of the Palauli le Falefa constituency from the SVSG’s main office, SVSG is confident that the empowered nofotane women there have a strong support system through the churches, villages and families. The presence of this support system during the training session attest to a community in solidarity.
Because at the end of the day, it is not just the SVSG’s responsibility, it is not just the UN Women FGE’s responsibility, it is the community’s responsibility to ensure that the gender equality issues faced by nofotane women in Samoa, are adequately addressed.
As the Nofotane Project winds down to its last few months, the supporting role of the Church in maintaining momentum for the empowerment of nofotane women in Samoa has been noticeable.
This was evidence by the church leaders and their wives support at the livelihood training held at Vailoa Palauli, well attended by 130+ nofotane women, including those from Vaitoomuli, Faala and Satupaitea.
Centred at the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa Hall at Vailoa Palauli, Reverend Siaosi Leleimalefaga spoke on the spiritual, social and economic aspect of the Nofotane project. His testimony highlighted the general atmosphere at the training session where the young and the old, the high chiefs and the nofotane, the church ministers and the congregation, came together as one.
According to Rev. Siaosi, “I am one of the ministers who greatly support the Samoa Victim Support’s initiative in trying to develop talents and share the expertise of the women in our village and community in order to earn money, to support families, to support the village and the church. We are very thankful that the women who we sometimes looked down at, and we see them as lower than other people of the village, but now, through such program as initiated by SVSG, I am happy to tell you that I am one of the ministers who support this effort wholeheartedly.
We are not using the word nofotane anymore here in our village community, because there is some connotation of the work nofotane that brings down the value of the Samoan women, to more like a slave in a family and the community. I think the women of this village and community are enjoying the sharing, in reviving their talents and assuring that in the future, they are no more victims in society, but they are other people who the society will depend upon to support families and the community at large. It is my prayers that may this efforts and endeavors of the SVSG be enlarged and be encouraged by the whole of Samoa.”
And God answered Rev. Siaosi’s prayers as the nofotane women who attended the session revived their talents, while other extended their learning to other skills to produce some of the unique products we have seen so far.
With the church and village leaders now on board to support the empowerment of the nofotane women, SVSG’s supporting role in ensuring sustainable resultsis now made easier.
[The birthplace of a new community of women]
The 2-year Nofotane Project in which the Samoa Victim Support Group and the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality have been working on, to empower the lowest class of women in Samoan society – the Nofotane – is completing in July 2018.
The project has so far trained 5,000 nofotane women throughout Samoa in livelihood skills, which in turn, enabled more than 500 women to earn an income for themselves and their families.
The impact of the changes in the lives of the nofotane women have been noted by their participation in family matters, the success of their children’s education, their ability to contribute to village and church community events.
In celebration of the empowered nofotane women in Samoa, SVSG and the UN Women FGE will be hosting a closing event on 19th and 20th July 2018 in front of the government building in Apia. The celebration involves market days on the 19th and 20th July in which the nofotane earners from Upolu, Savaii and Manono tai, will sell their products while looking out for sustainable markets.
The Nofotane Market embodies the birthplace of a new community of women in Samoa – the empowered nofotane women - who are creators of beautiful products, hand-made with love, pride and a sense of restored self-esteem.
As a family, let us come together and support the empowered nofotane women, and appreciate the value of our mothers.
As the 2-years Nofotane Project winds down to its official closing on 20 July 2018, Samoa Victim Support Group, in partnership with UN Women Fund for Gender Equality, will share with you ‘The Voices of the Empowered Nofotane Women’
These are the stories of nofotane women who have completed livelihood trainings with the project, and have started income generating activities to support not only themselves, but also their families and their village communities. These are the stories that impact a nofotane woman, her family, her children, her village and her community.
While each story tells of the different gender equality issues these women used to face, they however highlight strong women who have found their voices from being empowered.
Tasia Naotala-Solofuti, 26 years old
Nofotane woman of Nuu-fou
Don’t Give Up!
When you think of a nofotane woman, the image that usually comes to mind is of a woman in her 30’s. She has a couple of children, she depends on her husband’s income to feed her children, and she is married to a man who is often a couple of years older than her.
Meet Tasia Naotala-Solofuti, a nofotane women of Nuu-Fou. At 26 years old, Tasia recognises that her life was one of dependency. Her husband is a taxi driver who provides for her. In addition, she would ask people for money and depended on others to look after her and her five year old son. However, after completing the nofotane livelihood skills training, she realises that she has a unique talent of turning coffee mix trash to make bags. Her orders have reached the overseas market through family and friends, and the money is good. She said, “I was never taught this type of skill in school. This is rubbish, but now I have turned it into beautiful creations.”
Tasia started off with purses and now extended her small business to handbags, tablemats and Samoan necklaces. With her son being the motivation to push through the hardships of being a young nofotane woman, Tasia now lives a happy life as a self-employed nofotane woman. She is optimistic about what the future have in store for her, as she enjoys being able to support her husband while being valued by her family.
Solia Faresa, 50 years old
Nofotane woman of Salailua
“A Humbling Experience
Nofotane women experienced being empowered differently. While some women shine with confidence, others like Solia Faresa, a 50 year old nofotane woman from Salailua Savaii, was in tears as she shared on how the program humbled her, in her relationship with her family.
Faresa is originally from Gautavai, but now lives with her husband’s family at Salailua.
She remembered being arrogant towards her husband while being bitter towards her sister in laws. It was her way of releasing the stress from being a nofotane woman. According to Faresa, the nofotane program taught her to be humble, and she is now enjoying a loving relationship with her husband and living in harmony with her sister in laws. “There is love, especially when I let go of all that had bothered me.”
Faresa’s experience attests to the socioeconomic benefit of the Nofotane project. While the women are empowered to be able to financially support themselves and their families, they have also learnt to value their importance, and this has led to improved self-esteem.
Faresa now earns $600 a day from delivering her ula accessories made from tifa seeds (black), and pieces of timber coloured red. She acknowledged her husband and children’s support with her business. Her clients now include hotels and flea market vendors.
Fetinai Teleiai, 53 years old
Nofotane woman of Samatau
“Being the Change
She wore her lopa accessory with pride and she beamed with confidence during her visit to the SVSG office.
Meet Fetinai Teleiai, a 53 year old nofotane woman of Samatau who is now the breadwinner in her family since attending the Nofotane livelihood training.
There was a quiver in her voice as she recalled the hardships she faced as a nofotane woman with 5 children, depending on the plantation and the cocoa farm, for a living.
She admitted that she tended to be sluggish most of the time, but the Nofotane program not only taught her livelihood skills, but most importantly for Fetinai, the confidence to become an agent of change.
And Fetinai has been challenged to make a change; to be able to support her family financially; to change for herself and her children. Producing bags, lopa accessories, fans and elei materials, Fetinai is now one of the self-employed nofotane women, an agent of change for her family.
Inosia Taivao – Pata Falelatai
Ula lopa, ula sisi, hand bag
A mother of three (3) from Pata Falelatai, Inosia saw the struggles with not having enough money to help their family.
Inosia was encouraged by her husband to join the Nofotane Project on 19th April 2018.
Inosia learnt to make red seed necklaces (lopa), shell necklaces (ula sisi) hand bags made out of recycled paper.
At 52 years of age, Inosia has seen great improvements in her family. She has since given up smoking to concentrate on her business that has helped to support her children and family.
Teuila Alatina – Safatoá
Keke pua (Pork Puns)
When there is no hope, no means to making money, there is no voice within her husband’s family and village. This was how Teuila from Safaatoá felt for years as there was no way to contribute to her family but more over living within her husband’s family.
Her cousin Ane informed Teuila of the SVSG Nofotane Project on 20th July 2017. Since joining the project, Teuila has seen huge changes within her home environment. Her husband is very happy and they were able to now make decisions together due to her ability to bring income into the home.
Walking from house to house selling 100 keke puaa within her village and earning $100 daily has meant a steady income is guaranteed for Teuila, her four (4) children and husband.
Teuila’s encouragement for other women is to never give up; do not be discouraged about how you will start your business. Start the business and believe in your ability to make the products from your own hands for the betterment of yourself and your family.
Toiata Lemamea – Matautu Lefaga
Elei printing and sewing
Born in the village of Falealii, Toiata moved and lived with her husband and his family in the village of Matautu Lefaga.
With her husband’s passing, Toiata continued to raise their 5 children at Matautu Lefaga. She remained silent during family affairs as she is merely a nofotane woman.
Although two of her children are now working, the burden of not making any money herself, while staying with her late husband’s family, meant Toiata continues to have a low self-esteem. She kept quiet during family discussions.
Since joining the Nofotane program when it reaches Matautu Lefaga on 20th July 2017, there has been a noted change in herself, and in her relationship with her in laws.
The ability to earn from selling elei lavalava brought a steady source of income for Toiata. With her sewing skills, Toiata is now earning as a producer of elei materials and as a seamstress. With confidence, Toiata is starting to participate in family discussions.
The Nofotane Project has given Toiata confidence since her husband’s passing; the confidence not only to provide for her children but also for her late husband’s family. Toiata now sees her role as a nofotane woman as nothing but a blessing.
As part of the Manu Samoa team’s preparation to take on the German rugby team this Saturday, 30th June 2018 at the Apai Park, the boys in blue, the coaching and management team visited the children survivors of violence and sexual abuse under the care of Samoa Victim Support Group at the Campus of Hope.
The visit was part of the Manu Samoa’s ‘giving back’ initiative for the work of SVSG. According to the Manu Samoa Manager Vaaelua Aloi Alesana, “we train across the road from the Campus at the High Permance Unit (HPU), we have played in various parts of the world, seeing millions of people, yet we have never visited the Campus to show our support.”
The children were excited to see their national heroes in person. They were touched by the sincerity of the Manu Samoa’s encouragement that “they are loved and that despite their past, there is always hope.” And to show their appreciation, the children treated the Manu Samoa team to their own rendition of the Siva Tau, much to the excitement of their heroes.
To the children’s delight, the boys in blue performed the Siva Tau just for them, before the game on Saturday. It was the team’s way of challenging the children to rise up and take control of their lives for a better future.
Rugby balls and close to $1,500 cash collected from the Manu Samoa’s Siva Tau and personal donations, were presented to the SVSG Financial Controller, Tafatoa Sam Fruean to assist with the children’s rehabilitation programs. “Thank you for making this once in a lifetime opportunity for our children a reality. Your visit reminded the children that you care.”
So come Saturday, the boys in blue can count on the children survivors of violence and sexual abuse, to cheer them on from the safety of the Campus of Hope. “Go the Manu.”
As the livelihood training for the Nofotane project reaches Toamua, the participants from Toamua, Puipaa and Faleula have heard of its success through the nofotane women who have shared their human interest stories on the impact of the empowerment program on their lives and that of their families.
The success was a form of encouragement to the participants of the 28th session which was centred at the residence of one of SVSG Village Representatives for Toamua, Ale Paepae Komiti.
While the old weaving skills were revived to create new products, arranging flowers took a more innovative approach with the women’s weaving skills complimenting the floral arrangement.
The turning of trash into handbags continued to attract the women’s attention while the two-tone elei technique was more appealing to the young nofotane women and their husbands.
What was obvious from the Toamua session, was the eagerness of the women to learn and be able to earn from it. Who wouldn’t be eager when more and more empowered nofotane women are sharing their stories on the media on the changes in their lives because of the program?
To date, SVSG has trained more close to 4,000 nofotane women on livelihood skills,in which 300+ are now earning a living from the skills being trained on. And as the newly self-employed nofotane women shared on their success, the livelihood training component of the project continues to gather momentum.
Thank you so much Ale Paepae Komiti & faletua for hosting the training.
In 2016, UNICEF Pacific Child Protection Samoa Human Interest Stories featured one of the successfully reintegrated residents from the Campus of Hope:
Ruta, 19, has found her passion in cooking and transforms from a shy and reserved teenager into an extroverted confident trainee chef as soon as she enters the kitchen © UNICEF Pacific/2016/Mepham
Ruta, 19 years old, is dressed in her chef’s uniform and speaks with intense pride about being the only female graduate of her culinary training course, which she participated in via SVSG’s youth employment programme.
Ruta came to the SVSG aged 16 after being sexually abused and violently threatened. These intense experiences shattered Ruta’s confidence, sense of identity and her ability to trust. In finding her passion for cooking however, Ruta has been able to regain these lost abilities and begin to rebuild her self-belief. She says, “I have never returned to my home but I am stronger now and I have found support through my new colleagues who feel like family.”
Fastforward to 2018, Fatima no longer hides behind a mask, nor an alias as Ruta.
Fatima has been rescured and has her life restored to that of a strong individual. She continues to work as a chef assistant at the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel. In her days off, she volunteers at the Campus of Hope, feeding the babies, cooking for the older children, while encouraging them through her story. It is her way of giving back to the place which rebuilt her self-belief.
And in acknowledgement of the fatherly support from Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, the Advisor for SVSG’s work with the children, Fatima visited Justice Vui at his office, and sought his advise with her plans to further her studies in culinary training, after successfully completing Certificate III in Commercial Cookery at the APTC in 2017. With Justice Vui’s blessings, Fatima is now out to empower herself further through studies. The sky is the limit as our proud survivor took to her chances of being great.
Fatima thanked all the supporters, friends and SVSG family for feeding, clothing, sheltering and protecting her with love while at the Campus that offered her so much hope.
What started out as a personal form of rehabilitation by one of the sexually abused survivors had turned into a popular initiative amongst the young girls at the Campus of Hope.
The creator of the Peace Garden at the Campus came to SVSG as an angry child, sullen and bad tempered. She isolated herself due to her inability to trust any anyone. Who could have blamed her when at 9 years old, she became another statistic as a victim of incest rape.
But through one child’s peaceful healing, others have found working the land and seeing how each plant grows, as a way of finding peace within themselves.
Today, the children are taught how to nurture a plant so that it will grow. From planting to maintaining to watering, it has become a competition amongst the young survivors of violence and sexual abuse. It not only gives the children a sense of responsibility, but most importantly, it becomes a part of their healing process.
The 27th livelihood training for the Nofotane Project centered at the Methodist Church Hall of Saloga Salelologa highlighted once again, the theory of change behind the economic empowerment of nofotane women in Samoa. It is based on how change initiatives lead to desired goals being achieved.
For the nofotane project, the change initiative relates to the nofotane woman, and how the empowerment program ensures that she will have improved access to sustainable employment and increased participation in domestic and community matters.
However, at Saloga, the expansion of the project reach to include faiava (married men living with their wive’s families), and youth, both as trainees and as trainers, highlight an expansion of the theory of change to the whole of community.
While the project focus is on the improved access to sustainable employment and the economic empowerment of nofotane women, the continuous expansion of the project reach beyond the most vulnerable group of women to include unemployed married men and youth is the uncalculated effect of the economic empowerment component of the project and the theory of change. To SVSG, this uncalculated effect of the project is part of the holistic approach the organization is taking to address family violence through encompassing the whole family in its program.
The majority of the participants were unemployed nofotane women at 71%, and similar to the previous training sessions, the participants were not only empowered economically through livelihood skills such as elei printing, commercial cooking, flower arrangement and handicraft, but also socially, through the self-esteem module SHINE, which is now proven popular with the nofotane women.
According to Rev. Samuelu of the Methodist Church of Saloga “this program will definitely bear positive results for the family, church and the village as a whole, as it includes a spiritual aspect to it through the SHINE self esteem module.”
With the continuous expansion of the project reach at this stage to include unemployed faiava and youth, the SVSG President Siliniu Lina Chang is grateful that the theory of change has embraced male as much as female. However she still maintains that “A nofotane woman will always be a nofotane; the project is not attempting to change this cultural aspect of the FaaSamoa. The project merely aims to improve the economic empowerment of women and to increase their participation in domestic and community matters, as these are some of the most important contributing factors to achieving gender equality.”
President of SVSG Samoa