Talofa lava, Warm Greetings,
Early on Wednesday morning, I heard the news of the earthquake and tsunami hitting Samoa. As more information came in about the impact of this disaster I knew that I must go to Samoa.
Phil Goff and Annette King, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, encouraged Chris Carter (Foreign Affairs Spokesperson) and I to go to Samoa. We did not want to make any fuss or attract any media interviews, we just went as soon as we could.
I took the first flight I could get to Auckland and at 2.20 pm we were on the plane to Samoa.
During the next two days we visited villages on the south coast: Lalomanu, Aleipata, Poutasi, Lepa, Falealili and many of the areas the tsunami devastated. We spent time at the Moto’otua Hospital.
We met with the Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegaoi and other Samoan Government officials. The Prime Minister asked us to attend a meeting of the Samoan National Disaster Coordination and Distribution Committee. I also spent time with Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who is Minister responsible for village councils. We talked about how best to help.
I went to offer my alofa, support and encouragement. In difficult times we must be with our people.
You have all seen the photographs in the newspapers and on the television. You have heard the voices on the radio. You will all know what things look like in Samoa.
Seeing what had happened on the ground was deeply disturbing. Fale wrecked, villages in ruin, bodies on the beach. People were scared, traumatised, and in shock.
What the news coverage does not show is the spirit and faith of our people. The alofa, fa’aaloalo, and agaga. Love, reciprocity, and spirituality. And our deep belief in God’s love and strength.
I was so proud to see the way that Samoans, who were suffering, were looking after the New Zealanders, Australians and others who had suffered alongside them. And in turn New Zealanders and Australians were supporting Samoans. It was great to see that the Kiwi spirit is strong and everybody was working well together.
I was proud to be a Samoan and a New Zealander. I was encouraged by the way that we become one people in these difficult days.
On Thursday morning we attended the funeral service of Tui Annandale. It was the first of many.
Then my cousin Imo Tuatagaloa took us in his taxi to visit Moto’otua Hospital, and the villages on the South coast.
In the hospital many people were being treated for their injuries and recovering from the physical and emotional trauma. I met a Samoan woman who had lost two of her grandchildren. We met New Zealanders who had lost children and other family members. One Kiwi couple had lost their two and half year old child.
In the villages we met Samoans who had lost ten or more family members. The Taufua family in Lalomanu had lost three generations of their family. The Faifeau in Poutasi had lost his wife.
The loss is great. So many people have lost everything.
The people I talked to asked for support to come direct: family-to-family, village-to-village, church-to-church.
I am sure that families, community organisations, and the Government will raise money and provide the assistance that Samoa needs to survive and recover. But I know that it will be the spirit of the Samoan people that will keep them strong
In time the villages will be rebuilt. The scars on the landscape will soon be smoothed away. The trees and plants will grow again. Schools, churches and businesses will be re-established.
It will take much longer to heal the loss of family and friends. Those who we have lost will be with us forever.
“Inside us our dead, our dead are the proud robes our souls wear.”
“We are the remembered cord
that stretches across the abyss
of all that we have forgotten
We don’t inherit the past
But a creation of our remembering.”
Let us remember those we have lost in this disaster.
Let us stand with our people during this time of suffering and give them support, hope, and encouragement.
Let us work together to rebuild Samoa.
Tatou te momoe ma manu ae lilo mala e ati a’e.
E tagi le fatu ma le ‘ele’ele O le puapuaga, ae to’a i le Atua lona filemu.