The conversation Samoa Victim Support Group have had with the nofotane women survivors of violence back in 2015, lead to an understanding of the challenges, the fears, and the doubts that these women were facing.
Getting to the bottom of the problem wasn’t easy, as it required SVSG working a few levels below the obvious insecurities to understand what scared these women. And the answer lies in the women’s inability to support themselves and their families, financially.
Fast forward this situation to the here and now, we have observed from the 13thgathering of the self-employed women under SVSG’s Nofotane Program, the creativity and successes of confident women.
At Savaia, close to 30 women from Faleaseela, Savaia, Tafagamanu and Matautu Lefaga shared on ways which have helped them build their self-confidence, following the SHINE Self-Esteem Program with SVSG in 2016.
From a small act of respect from their husbands, to a recognition of their voices in family discussions, the acknowledgement of their hard work with a compliment from their in-laws, or the requests to teach other women the livelihood skills they have mastered. All of these small changes contributed towards building these women’s confidence in themselves, and influences their new behaviors, which ultimately, breeds creativity and more success as self-employed nofotane women.
For the nofotane women of Tafagamanu, they relied mostly on land for their subsistence living. Coconut trees are in abundance. And this was where the nofotane women of Tafagamanu’s creativity was most obvious. From earrings to hair accessories to church decorations and many other products, there was no stoping what these women can create out of coconut shells.
Those from Faleaseela, Savaia and Matautu Lefaga have the best of both the land and the sea, and as such, their products are not only creative, but so diversified that attracted high demand from both the local and overseas markets.
For these diligent women, the impact of the Nofotane Project in their lives goes beyond the economic and social stability, but more personal in the confidence and the belief they have in their abilities.
“Thank you to the funding support from the European Union, which had enabled SVSG to reassure the nofotane women of the Lefega & Faleaseela constitutuency and all women under its self-sustainabilty program, that they are change makers, simply because they have learnt to believe in themselves.” Siliniu Lina Chang, SVSG President
As the country steps up its protection measures for the COVID-19 following the recent updates on the national front, the preparation work by the nofotane seamstress who have been sewing cloth face masks have come in handy.
Back in July this year fifteen nofotane seamstress under SVSG’s empowerment program were the recipients of sustainable income from sewing masks for COVID-19 protection, courtesy of the continued partnership between Samoa Victim Support Group and the EU UN Spotlight Initiative of the UNDP Program.
While the specific focus of the initiative was the sewing of cotton face masks utilizing the skills of nofotane seamstress, it had further alleviated domestic violence and economic constraints for these nofotnae seamstresses amidst the COVID-19 crisis, as families are feeling the heat of unemployment.
So if you are looking for face masks for your families, your workers or your congregation, we have colourful cloth face masks available at the SVSG main office in Apia, at affordable prices.
The face masks are sewn from 100% cotton materials available in local stores. To date, hundreds have bought the colourful masks for protection against the COVID-19 pandemic while at the same time, supporting the sustainable income for the nofotane women behind this production.
“Thank you Ms. Louisa Apelu, the UNDP Spotlight Initiative Programme Coordiantor and the team, for the collaborative approach in addressing the social and economic impact of COVID-19, through the continuous partnership with SVSG.” Siliniu Lina Chang, SVSG President
The contribution from community leaders and the husbands of the nofotane women, to the improved access of women from the Safata constituency to sustainable employment, highlighted progress being made in advancing gender equality in Samoa through the work of Samoa Victim Support Group.
This was evidence by the participation from village leaders of Vaiee, Fusi and Sataoa at the 12th Workshop Session for the self-employed nofotane women.
While the economic empowerment of nofotane women challenged the social norms surrounding gender role stereotype and men being breadwinners in a family, the presence of chiefs and high chiefs to this women’s gathering has been a welcoming sight.
It speaks of mentality change, of behavioral change, and/or attitudinal changes towards nofotane women, with cascading benefits for all women in Samoa
They are referred to as the protectors of families, the peace makers or ‘pae ma le auli’, or simply put, the ‘go to person’ for anything you need in your home. They are seldom recognized for being the first to rise in the morning, and the last one to go to sleep, to ensure that her family is well taken care of, given this is what is expectedof them from society.
Which was why the presence of the village leaders at the Nofotane Program held at Vaiee, speaks of recognition; of acceptance; and of acknowledgement by the men, of the important role of women in our lives. It is a silent declaration of the saying that, ‘behind any good man, is a better woman.’
It even makes the stories of change all so inspiring, as shared by Tiomai Semi Ah Lam of Vaiee, now a nofotane woman of Falelauniu; and Mauli Teo Pelema from Fagafau Savaii, now a nofotane woman of Vaiee.
SVSG’s work in the village communities have been made much easier by the acceptance of the Group by the villages as family. The sustainability of its program has therefore been taken up by the villages themselves, as we have witnessed at Vaiee.
“Thank you so much Lealaimunā & Polima Mapusaga, as well as Pauga Tiitii Tuiletufuga who are the SVSG Village Representatives at Vaiee, for coordinating such a beautiful gathering. We greatly value the patriotic spirit the men had brought to the forum and their support for the women.” Siliniu Lina Chang, SVSG President
Thank you also to the partnership with the European Union for funding this important project for the nofotane women of Samoa, through the Civil Society Support Program.
There has been a noted connection between improved self-esteem in women and their abilities to form support networks with other women, as the Nofotane Program continues in village communities.
This connection was highlighted by the sharing amongst the 37 nofotane women from Nofoalii, Fasitoo-tua, Tufulele and Satapuala, who gathered at Faleasiu for the the 11thsession of Self-Esteem workshops for self-employed nofotane women.
Included in the training was one of the Star Earners from the 2016-2018 Nofotane Program, the 61 year old Beauty Luteru of Faleasiu.
Before the Nofotane livelihood training reached Faleasiu in October 201717, Beauty had already earned an income through selling Samoan cocoa. What Beauty learnt from the program was to ‘think bigger and outside of her comfort zone.’
As the Inspirational Speaker for the 11th workshop session, the beauty of being empowered, of working in a support network of women with a common goal of helping each other, and of securing overseas markets for her Samoan cocoa products, was obvious. Beauty has expanded her small business to include vegetable gardening and sewing. She helps her husband with decisions on matters concerning their immediate family; and her views are also sought when the extended family gathers. While her participation and her recognition in her family are all new to Beauty, these are not changing how she sees herself, as a nofotane woman, who knows her place in the family. Such a woman of courage, so much humility.
The secret to Beauty’s success was her ‘thinking big’, which includes the extension of her support to other women in her village of Faleasiu, which has become her support network. Beauty now has a Bank Account with goes to show how far she has come as a nofotane woman with a sustainable income.
To think that 2 years ago, these women were merely carrying out domestic duties for their families without any plans of becoming breadwinners, is inspirational. In additional, they have proven to themselves that they can be both a mother and a supporter of their families development through sustainable income, and are doing a good job at it.
With funding support from the European Union through the Civil Society Support Program, Samoa Victim Support Group continues to support the income generating activities of nofotane women, which has proven to have cascading benefits on these women’s families and village communities alike.
Being successful comes after a series of failures, disappointments, rejections and criticism but still persist. This is why success for the self-employed nofotane women under the SVSG Nofotane Program, is said to be bitter sweet. To actually believe in your own self is more than simply believing in your own ultimate success. It is a total mindset change, as the positive overrides the negativity.
This was the feeling amongst the participants to the 10th session of Self-Esteem Workshops conducted by Samoa Victim Support Group for the self-employed nofotane women, with funding support from the European Union.
Held at Fasitoo-tai for the registered nofotane women to the Program from Satapuala, Faleatiu, Vailuutai and Leulumoega Tuai, the 10th session received a record number of 73 participants. While 75% of the participants attended previous economic empowerment programs carried out by SVSG, the rest were nofotane women who were empowered by the other women themselves, which highlighted a significant buy in for the project at the village level.
The ripple effect of not only being empowered, but to change mentalities along the way, is the sustainability aspect that the project seeks to acheve; and the nofotane women have exceled in it tremendously.
Take for instance, Aso Faafetai of Leulumoega-tuai, who in 2016, joined the Nofotane Program as an unemployed nofotane woman. She learnt fabric priting, commercial cooking and the basics in financial literacy while being encouraged to believe in herself through the self-esteem workshops. For a year, Aso became a street vendor, selling her bakings from village to village. According to Aso, “Despite being tired from walking on a daily basis to sell my bakings, this did not discourage me, as much as the ridicule and the snide remarks from others.” Aso opened a Savings Account during the second year of her business and today, her savings enabled her to open a small shop in front of their house. She no longer walks for miles to sell her bakings, but is now sharing her baking skills with other nofotane women to support themselves and their families.
On the other hand, Kolopa Fale, a 70 year old mother from Satapuala shared on being an unemployed nofotane woman survivor of violence. Kolopa was physically abused by her husband while enduring the verbal put down from her in laws. It was a life, according to Kolopa, “which was marked by fear and depression” as she forced herself to sleep in the outside kitchen as her refuge from the abuse. Helpless and unemployed, Kolopa returned to her family at Satapuala with her children, where they started anew. The Nofotane Program taught Kolopa that “she is more precious than jewels ….” and it triggered a will within her to work harder. Kolopa now owns a small shop; her husband followed her and the children to Satapuala, and she took him in. With a forgiving heart and a positive mentality towards life, Kolopa is a flourishing 70 year old, who had conquered the challenges that came with being an unemployed nofotane women.
“Thanks to the funding support from the European Union through the Civil Society Support Program, SVSG continues to help women of courage such as Aso Faafetai, Kolopa Fale, and many others, whose lives are the living proofs of how a positive mentality sustains women empowerment.” Siliniu Lina Chang, SVSG President