Archive for the 'Samoa Projects' Category

Our Samoa village gets hired to build canoes!

Jon Ross on Jun 10th 2014



As you recall, we did a project in Samoa (2012) where we built 16 canoes—one for each family in the village of Matafa’a—to replace those lost in the tsunami of 2009.  Since the entire village helped with the project—the elders teaching everyone the art of carving an outrigger canoe—it was like canoe college.  After that, one of the young craftsmen even got hired to build two canoes in a neighboring village.  All that, alone, would have been a fabulous MicroAid success story.





Well, recently, I was contacted by a guy in Apia (the capital of Samoa) who puts on a yearly festival-event featuring canoe races, traditional Samoan dancing, arts, and culture.  He wanted information about the canoe project—he read about it on our MicroAid Facebook page—and was asking me a lot of questions about “where,” “how,” and “who” built them.
The upshot is that he is hiring our village to build 20 canoes for the festival.  Twenty!!!
Again, this will be a village-wide project, where they will be paid more money than they have seen in many many years.  All 300 members of the village will benefit.
This is one of those surprising effects of the MicroAid work—the multiplier effect.
I hope this make you as happy as it does me.
Thank you for your part in making this happen.
Wishing you all the best,

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Samoa – January 19, 2013

Jon Ross on Feb 14th 2013



Destruction, Death, and Exile in the Village

Coming over the mountains to the south side of the island is like entering a different world.  Whereas the rest of Samoa is waterlogged and covered by five inches of mud, this side looks like an atom bomb has gone off.  All the trees have been shredded, and many of them lay uprooted and broken and tangled on the hillsides… but there is an orientation to the mess—you can tell they were all blow down from the same direction… the same relentless wind.  They look like palm-tree dominoes.

Matafa’a itself was hit hard with many roofs blown off and some houses completely destroyed.  The villagers have done a good job of rebuilding some, already, and have taken in those without a home.

It seems that that everyone is happy that I have come back to help; the biggest assistance, so far, are the solar chargers.  Since the people have been without power for a month, we can now charge their cell phones and they can contact friends and family around the island… if they have credit.  We have yet to distribute the donated clothing, but I’m sure that will be a huge hit, as well.

Many people I have talked with have mentioned the passing of one of the other high chiefs, Unaasa Asa.  I remember him as the quiet, gentle elder who patiently taught the boys the finer details of canoe-making.  He would sit for hours showing them how to mend a crack with jungle resins and how to deftly and securely attach the outriggers.

The big news, though, is that my dear friend Tuilagi has been banished from the village.  In fact, he cannot even come into the district; so severe was his crime that the surrounding villages are honoring the sentence.  As you may recall, Tuilagi was my erstwhile interpreter, an aspiring pastor, and his family took care of me.  I got very close with his kids, his wife, mother, and extended family.  And now he is gone—living on the other side of the island until the chiefs see fit to bring him back.  In fact, there is a chiefs’ meeting next week—which I will attend—to decide his fate.  His crime: adultery!

Hard to believe, but I guess it’s true: he strayed with one of the young parishioners.  After confessing his sins to the Rev. Fepai, Tuilagi was officially forgiven by the church (although he‘s been stripped of his church title), but the chief council of the village imposed the exile.

Such is life and justice in traditional Samoan culture.

I met with Tuilagi in Apia, where he told me most of the story in his broken English, but I got the details from Rev. Fepai once I got to Matafa’a.

Continuing  my work in the South Pacific.

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Samoa, Matafa’a, April 17, 2012, canoes

Jon Ross on Apr 18th 2012




Matafa’a, Samoa, April 17, 2012

The canoes are done!

Sixteen beautiful hand-carved works of art.

Now all the kids of the village can get to school in Falese’ela across Lefaga Bay, and the parents can paddle across to the bus stop if they need to go to Apia for work or for supplies.

Once the canoes were carved and finished it was pretty quick work to attach the outriggers and paint them.

Check out Tuilagi’s shirt and then guess who chose the colors for the boats.

The MicroAid stencil was made using old X-rays.  Tuilagi’s brother-in-law, Filaniko, knows a doctor at the hospital in Apia, so he was able to get them for free.

The MicroAid fleet in dry dock.  Some of the numbers might not be quite right.  (I kinda like it better that way.)

The dedication celebration was a big day for the village.

High chiefs, honored guests, and all the village came out for the ribbon cutting by Aga, Rev. Fepai’s wife.

The christening with a coconut by the retired Rev. Amiga.

Tuilagui made a beautiful speech thanking us—the MicroAid donors—and everyone who worked so tirelessly on the project… so did I, but, alas, I didn’t hand my camera to anyone to photograph it..

After the formalities, all the kids piled into the canoes for a patriotic test drive across the bay and a race back to the village.

As the party wound down, families paddled home in their new vehicles. You could tell the pride of ownership and see them reveling in that new-canoe smell.

One downside: there will now be rush-hour traffic as everyone tries to get to school and work on time.  The good news is that all the families will qualify for the canoe-pool lane.

To see a photo recap of the canoe-building process, please go to “Completed Projects.”

Thanks for all the support.


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Samoa, Matafa’a, April 10, 2012, canoes

Jon Ross on Apr 11th 2012




An unexpected benefit of the project is that the older craftsmen are able to teach all the skills necessary to the next entire generation: selecting the trees, chopping them down, carving, shaping, finishing—it’s like canoe lab 101, 102, 103.

Normally, when only one canoe gets made every couple of years, by one family, the experience is limited.  Making 16 in a matter of weeks has created a crash course for the younger people.  You can already see the guys who are getting it—they have the eye for the line of the hull and the talent for shaving the wood.

With so many canoes, every aspect of construction gets experienced—even calamity.  On a particularly bad day, four canoes developed cracks during transport form the jungle.  The older matai know what to do and are teaching the kids.  Using a putty made from a local nut (of course), they seal the crack, and using modern hardware (scrap metal and brads), they secure the patch.

Preparations are being made for a dedication ceremony, which will include an ava (kava) ceremony and a canoe race, food and dancing, honored guests, and TV (if they can get here).  This is a big moment for the village to get some attention on a national level and Rev. Fepai knows how to take advantage of the opportunity—ultimately to the benefit of the community.

That day will also mark a huge success for MicroAid as we finish yet another project that helps victims of a disaster return to self-sufficiency, and beyond.

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Samoa, 2012, Commercial Interruption

Jon Ross on Apr 11th 2012




Cash donations make the MicroAid work possible—helping victims of disasters return to self-sufficiency.  But there are some things that keep ME going—keeping me self-sufficient in the field.

Every morning and throughout the day, I use an electrolyte infused product called Emergen-C.  A powder in a packet poured into a bottle of water that keeps me hydrated and my salts in balance in these hot, humid, sweat-all-day climates.  Alacer Corp. has been donating product to my causes since the Achilles Track Club days, and now supports MicroAid.

Another fantastic comestible is called Primal Strips—meatless “jerky” for us vegans, and non-vegans, alike.  These tasty treats have 7 to 10 grams of protein and supplement my mainly starchy diet (taro, breadfruit, bananas—no beans, grains, legumes, or nuts) in this part of the world.  Primal Spirit Foods discounted the cost of some product for this trip.

Air New Zealand gave us a discount on a ticket to get me here.  Having flown on most of the world’s major airlines, and a lot of it’s minor ones, I can say that Air New Zealand is one of the best.  (Another wonderful airline, Air Pacific, offered a similar discount, but connections and layovers favored the ANZ route, even though the distances were greater.)

Pasefika Inn and Juliana’s Rental Car in Apia, Samoa, both extended substantial discounts for my long-term stay for humanitarian work.

In addition to our financial backers, corporate contributions like these are essential to our work—it keeps our overhead low, and enables me to spend more time in the field helping those in need.  Fafetai to them.

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Samoa, Matafa’a, April 2, 2012, canoes

Jon Ross on Apr 3rd 2012



Matafa’a canoe project update 4-2-12:

All trees chopped down and moved to the finishing area in the village.  (Canoe total: 16)

Six canoes finished, awaiting outriggers and paint.

Rev. Fepai and son in finishing room

Canoe dedication ceremony scheduled for Saturday, April 14th.  Big event.  Honored guests and the press invited.  Guys working to meet the deadline.

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Samoa, Salea’a’umua, March 2012, fishing kits

Jon Ross on Apr 3rd 2012




Salea’a’umau village.

When we think of fishing we usually imagine someone casting a line into the water and reeling in their catch.  Here, fishing means swimming under the surface at night and using a spear (in other parts of the world called a “Hawaiian Sling”) to snag your prey, and/or stringing a net across part of the lagoon.

In Samoa, a “fishing kit” is comprised of a mask, snorkel, fins, an underwater light, a spear, 180 meters of fishing net, and a cooler.

The 2009 tsunami washed away the people’s possessions, including their fishing kits—and most have not been replaced.  Now, if a villager wants dinner, they probably have to buy a fish at the market.  And since the villagers don’t really have any cash of their own, they usually end up borrowing money to pay for things—which starts a vicious cycle.

Salea'a'umua women's committee receiving donation

Things in Samoa are very expensive—about two-and-a-half times what they cost in the U.S.—so the likelihood that anyone could put together their own kit is remote.

To help people return to self-sufficiency, MicroAid has donated five fishing kits to the village of Salea’a’umua on the southeast coast of Upolu—the hardest hit area of the 2009 tsunami.

The women’s committee of the village will be in charge of loaning out the kits on a nightly basis, maintaining them, and monitoring their use.  Villagers can even sell extra fish if they catch enough.

This is what MicroAid does: helps people reclaim their independence.

if enough large men in skirts keep giving you one, word to the wise: wear it

There is an old saying: “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll sit in a boat and drink beer all day.”

Here, give a man a fishing kit and he’ll catch dinner for his family.

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Samoa, Matafa’a, March 30, 2012, canoes

Jon Ross on Apr 3rd 2012


Matafa’a canoe project update:

All but one tree chopped down and moved to the finishing area in the village.  (Canoe total: 16)

One tree left in the jungle to be dug out and dragged out.

Three canoes finished, awaiting outriggers and paint.

Canoe dedication ceremony scheduled for Saturday, April 14th.  Big event.  Honored guests and the press invited.

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Samoa, Matafaa, March 23, 2012, canoes

Jon Ross on Mar 26th 2012




Matafaa, Samoa, 3-24-12

what you can't see in this picture is that it is pounding rain!

Finding a big tree to turn into a canoe is like stalking big game in Africa:  You never know where you’ll encounter your prey.   Here we are with one we bagged high up on the hillside in the jungle.

Here’s another we took down in the mangrove swamp.

the muck around the tree is so thick, it sucked the booties off my feet

Luckily, unlike South Asia where there are lovely creepy crawlies like poisonous giant centipedes, monitor lizards, and blood sucking leeches, here, there is nothing dangerous… in the swamp and jungle, at least—out in the ocean there are deadly cone shells and stonefish.  Ah, the yin and yang of nature.

The guys have been furiously working making canoes.  I help mostly by staying out of their way.  I have a hard enough time not losing my balance on the steep muddy hillside of the jungle, let alone trying to handle sharp tools at the same time.

pile o' rough canoes

We’ve turned the village into one big canoe-making machine.  It’s like Detroit in the South Seas.  There are canoes everywhere you look.  You can’t take a picture without a canoe in the foreground or background.

Normally, the village might make a canoe a year; we are making 14 in a few weeks.  The process is pretty straightforward: find a suitably big tree, chop it down, do the basic carving in situ (they’re too heavy to move without carving it out first)

each canoe log weighs around 800 lbs.

rough carving

digging out the dugout

bring it to the central location (sometimes that means dragging it out of the jungle, or in the case of the ones from the mangrove swamp, floating them out)

wrapping up the worksite - heading down the mountain

and then do the finish work in a central location.

Pati, master carver

We’re on schedule and on budget—even after paying a bit of a premium to the owner of one tree when it took out his entire banana garden when it came down.  This is a village-wide community project and everyone is pitching in—Rev. Fepai sees to that.

And wherever we’re working, the closest family provides lunch for the crew—but no one should have to sacrifice his bananas to the cause!

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Samoa, March 16, 2012

Jon Ross on Mar 19th 2012


Salea’a’umua, Samoa, 3-16-12

Meeting up with Nanai from the Community Centered Sustainable Development Project (CCSDP) to visit the village that is the candidate for the fishing kits, we drive along the southern coastal road where towns like Siumu, Aufaga, and Saleapaga whiz by, alternating with jungle and sea views.

We make a few stops so that Nanai can deliver a nautical compass to one village the CCSDP had bought a fishing boat for, and a cook stove and wok for another that is starting a food-service business to provide local schools with hot lunches.  The CCSDP is a regional organization that provides livelihood products and solutions to islanders in this area of the Pacific. Their direct programs reminded me of the way MicroAid works.  When I mentioned this to Nanai, he said wryly, “Yes, but with bigger budgets.”  (The CCSDP was vetted and is funded in part by the U.N Development Programme, which is how we got connected to them.) Every bit helps, and Nanai is happy to guide MicroAid to the beneficiary village of Salea’a’umua on the southeastern coast—the region most devastated by the tsunami in 2009.

representative of the women's council Salea'a'umua

A meeting with representatives from the Women’s Council of the village—they will administer the kits—is pleasant, but reserved, at first.  Nanai explains that when they were told I represented a charity they thought “I was going to give them a car, or something.”  After he translates my description of MicroAid as “our ‘family’ raising money to help their ‘family,’ ” everyone becomes warm and, well, familial.  Young coconuts are hacked open and we discuss the real needs of the village.  I must say, that I am getting used to having an interpreter in places like this, and one as smart as Nanai, can certainly make things easier—nuance being all-important.  Nanai, of course, runs a big organization, and is generously helping us, but he understands and trusts the MicroAid mission.  We’re lucky to have connected with him.

around the corner at Lalomanu

As for the village, we will put together four fishing kits (buying the supplies in Apia) and deliver them to Salea’a’umua so that the 600 villagers will have more opportunities to get out in the water and catch their dinner, or even sell a few extra fish for some much-needed cash.

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