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Young Women and Gender-based violence: Ms. Carmenita Solaese Lepou and Ms. Finaui Faavae

Gender based Violence has become an alarming issue in our country and nation, it has been noted that 46% of women have been through violence and abuse. This emerges through studies and data by researchers that women’s rights are violated and as a result, the number of abuse related cases involving women have increased time after time. It is often because the men take control of families and they seem to have a superior power within our Samoan communities. This makes the issue more complicated because men are considered more superior than women in our Samoan culture. It is a sad picture to see how much our nation has normalized such a vulnerable and critical situation. Accordingly, women are often afraid to speak on their cases of abuse and violence. It is a tough issue to tackle because women are instilled with fear not to speak on the situation. However, today we will be looking into the experiences of a daughter and a sister who is no longer afraid to share her Voice with the world and has chosen to shed light on their situation.

FINAUI FA’AVAE

Ms. Faavae is a 16-year old female and has been under the supervision and care of the SVSG since she was 14 to date. Ms. Faavae is a victim and a warrior of GENDER BASED VIOLENCE and this is her story.

In the age of 14, Ms. Faavae went through a traumatic period of life where she underwent some very serious and soul damaging experiences. Such experiences that no one should ever go through especially within their own safe zone, your community, your villages and especially your family. She suffered from violence when she was only 14 and was brought in the campus of hope to seek further help on her case.

In an interview with Ms. Faavae, she mentioned how much her situation had drained her mentally. It was an unfortunate experience for the 14 year old Ms. Faavae  where she found herself void from the people around her. Further, despite the support she had, she  felt as if she was alone in her battles. 

Ms. Faavae was brought in to the campus and she mentioned that it was not an easy move for her. The transition was difficult as she felt left out given the fact that she has moved out of the comfort of her home into a whole different environment. Ms. Faavae felt alone being away from her parents. 

When Ms. Faavae took a step in the campus, she started to face more challenges, and she  had to fight her many demons. She went through a period of mental distress and it was hard for her to fight her own thoughts. 

Ms. Faavae had to find herself the comfort that she needed, she had to adjust herself to this new habitat she was given. She was afraid of many things especially her separation from her parents, she was only 14 years old and not having her parents around her was a huge challenge. ‘It was a big step to take as a 14 year old’ Ms. Faavae mentioned. It was not easy being away from her family and it was a tough mountain for her to climb. However, it did not stop Ms. Faave, she was determined to fight her way through so she could get the justice she truly deserves.

Despite the dramatic changes in the life of Ms. Faavae, she felt warm and at peace as she has already set herself a few coping mechanisms to help her overcome her challenges and win her battles. 

Despite being new to campus, Ms. Faavae found trust in many, she mentioned that she would often share her story with many of her sisters in the campus who have been through the same situation. They would share their experiences and advise each other who went through the same situations. They found comfort understanding each other’s stories. Notwithstanding the challenges of adjusting to her new habitat and her battler to win her case, Ms. Faavae slowly learnt and discovered comfort as she found the workers and the good Samaritans in the campus were more than just helpers but were also becoming her family.

Ms. Faavae also mentioned that one of her most effective coping mechanisms, was placing her situation at the feet of the Lord through prayer. She felt calm and comforted when she prayed. Even in the midst of her situation Ms. Faavae would always take another step back and pray through it all. 

Fast foward to two years, today, Ms. Faavae is now one of the most reliable people in the campus. After a hard,tough and long battle, Ms. Faavae has won her case and overcame her challenges. She is now one of the most dependable people on campus and has taken the lead in many areas in campus. Learning from her experience, Ms. Faavae has used her life lessons and her story to help those who are new in the campus. She has been where they are, she uses her story to encourage the mothers and sisters who have been cruelly victimized by Violence to never give up. Ms. Faavae was just as afraid and weak as them in the beginning but that did not bring her to give up instead, she was made stronger through her battles and challenges.

Ms. Faavae mentioned that she is thankful and amazed at how her situation has turned into a pool of never ending opportunities and blessings. She is thankful to her mentor Carmenita and her team, especially to her Mama Lina who has been a mother to her since she has stepped into campus. Mama Lina nurtured her from a broken girl who was victimised by such a shameful situation to a girl who is now ready to conquer the world fearlessly and achieve her dreams. 

Ms. Faavae mentioned that before joining the campus, she was provided with limited opportunities to express her talents. However, she mentions that today, she can play the piano, guitar, ukulele and is able to make earrings and has also learnt how to bake. Ms. Faavae has mastered all her hard earned talents, therefore, she is trusted to take the lead in the campus kitchen at most times.  Ms. Faavae has become one of the most trustworthy people in the campus. More often she is selected to go with a group of mentors to evacuate new victims from their homes to bring them in to shelter for safety purposes. This shows how strong and courageous Ms. Faavae is, that despite her young age, it does not stop her from performing heroic works to assist others. 

Ms. Faavae has also performed mentoring works for the new victims when they join in the campus of hope through words of encouragement, as Ms. Faavae understands and knows exactly how it feels to be in such a dark situation.

It has now been two years since Ms. Faavae has joined the Campus of hope and she is now 16 years of age. Ms. Faavae has fought and won all her battles with humility. She now has dreams to achieve, she mentions that her fight was not an easy fight but out of her battles it has birthed dreams of her own. Ms. Faavae dreams that one day she will become a successful doctor. She dreams of giving back to the people in need through her career as a doctor just as those who helped and nurtured her from her situation. Ms. Faavae also dreams to save and nurture lives.

Ms. Faavae was asked to state a quote that she has kept in mind through her journey, she stated the 5th commandment stating that it is one of many quotes that they are reminded of daily. Ms. Faavae states that despite walking a tough path in life, she was taught never to disrespect her elders, her parents or anyone around them. They are being taught in campus that respect is a must and they should practice it anytime and anywhere they go.

Throughout her journey Ms. Faavae mentioned that she has learnt to never give up easily. Regardless of her situation, she has been taught to walk and fight our battles with humility. She reminds us to always take one step at a time and to always speak your truth.

Ms. Faavae, is a strong young lady that is ready to take any challenge in life. She was asked about what would she like to tell the young women and anyone reading her story, “I want to tell the daughters, sisters, mothers and all the young ladies ‘TO NOT BE AFRAID, SAY SOMETHING AND THAT THEY HAVE A VOICE THAT DESERVES TO BE HEARD” Ms. Faavae. She also urges all the young women, mothers and sisters out there who are suffering from gender based violence to not stay silent and reminding you all that you have a voice. She is a living testimony that despite her age, the hard fight you went through,that you can do anything through patience, determination and especially sitting at the feet of our Father through prayer.

CARMENITA SOLAESE LEPOU

Carmenita Solaese Lepou, is a 28 year old young woman who has devoted her time to serving and helping those who have been victimised by gender based violence and many other serious issues. Carmenita is one of the many good Samaritans who have been working hand in hand with the Samoa Victim Support Group to help elevate those who have been through abuse and many other traumatizing issues and events. Carmenita started volunteering for the Samoa Victim Support Group since the year 2016 and despite having a family of her own and a full time job at the Central Bank of Samoa, that did not stop Nita from sowing a seed in the lives of those who are in need. Carmenita is still to this day serving and continuing the work of volunteering for SVSG and especially the youth sub-group called ‘SVSG Juniors’. This sub-group consists of volunteers that comes together in initiating community based project for youths.  She was also the President for SVSG Juniors

Carmenita’s journey to volunteering happened in a blink of an eye. Nita mentioned that not long before she came back from China where she attended university on scholarship, she saw three different cases of abuse on the newspaper at the same week. Those three articles became an eye opener for Carmenita, she started questioning what she was doing with her life. She also mentioned in an interview that she has never experienced being in youth groups and has never done such activities such as volunteering. Carmenita felt like she needed to make a change, reading such articles on the Newspaper inspired her to lend a helping hand. Carmenita questioned her works in life, she then knew that it was time to make a change and take a new step in life and actually do something purely out of her heart to help and not work for anything in return. This is a testimony of Carmenitas journey on changing lives.

Carmenita expresses her experience in the campus as overwhelming, she notes that her experience with the ladies in the campus is a life changing experience. When Carmenita first joined the campus, she mentioned she would spend most of her weekends in the campus with the young ladies she was mentoring. As she stayed in campus during the weekends, she noticed how much the young ladies in campus envied the life that many take for granted. She mentions that these young ladies would go through her phone gallery and would watch her photos taken in China with her friends and her graduation photos. They would often ask her “aunty, what’s it like being overseas?” and they would ask her all kinds of questions of what it’s like to have the life she had. When Carmenita spent Sundays over in campus, she would get ready to go to the Sunday service and put on lipstick and these girls would come to her wanting to get a chance to put on lipstick and so Nita would allow them. This showed that these young ladies longed to have the life she has. Carmenita mentions that she would often sleep with these girls in a building in campus called the HOUSE OF DREAMS and so often she reminded them to keep dreaming, keep holding on to that dream and to have the faith that one day they will live their dreams and Carmenita wanted to remind them that dreams do come true.

When Carmenita was asked about what would she do to raise awareness on issues such as Gender Based Violence and others, she mentioned that through her journey was not the easiest even to this day. People would mock her for her good work and ask her “is your family abusing you?” or “is your husband abusing you?” and that is a challenge for her. She mentions that our people here in Samoa have normalized these issues as it seems as if it is not a problem and because it is common, they think that it gives them the right to speak on such issues with such manner not knowing the value of the words they speak. 

Regardless of her challenges, Carmenita said that in order to raise awareness, she would like to encourage women that if you see a problem, you have to speak up and that whatever they are facing, that they should speak up and show the world that they have a VOICE that is meant for everyone to know as they are important.

Carmenita, wishes to shed light on the issues involving abuse and violence. However when questioned in an interview if our culture counters anything that they are trying to advocate against and Nita has mentioned that our culture plays a big and an influential role in what they are trying to diminish. 

Carmenita has mentioned that one of the many avocational works of the SVSG is to have seminars and presentations in different communities, especially back in the rural areas. Upon careful observation, Carmenita mentioned her experience that people in the rural areas are very stubborn people, both men and women. People are so affiliated with the culture and because men are the head of the family the women’s voice is neglected and that if they do, there is a big chance it leads to violence and abuse. 

Carmenita also deeply believes that the lack of respect between men and women is largely the reason why Gender Based Violence is a problem. They see that there is no more respect, the brother does not respect his sister, the father does not respect the mother, the father does not respect the daughters and so forth, and so because of this lack of respect, it births the idea that they hold a higher power allowing them to abuse women. However to counter such mindsets, Carmenita and her SVSG workers have initiated a project called SAMOA WITH HER under the Spotlight Initiative.

Samoa With Her according to Carmenita is a project which promote and advocate on behalf of women as there is no more respect between men and women in other words “UA LEAI SE VATAPUIA”. So their target is the youth, to awaken the aspect that if they learn to be respectful, there is a high chance that they could halt and eliminate the issue of violence. Their aim is to break the norm and that norm is the abusing of women within their own safe zones, within their villages and within their families, they aim to educate and renew the mindset of the people, specifically in reviving respect by empowering men on how to treat women with respect and of course to encourage women to speak up on their situations.

When Carmenita was questioned about violence during the lockdown for Covid-19, if it ever affected women and if it really caused the cases of violence and abuse to increase, with a concurring answer she mentioned that there was an increase in cases and it was evident due to the fact that many people kept calling the SVSG helpline. The lockdown and loss of jobs took a toll and played a big role in contributing to the violence that occurred and may still be occurring. Carmenita and her team had to take action to mitigate such a problem. The biggest problem in families that caused distress which then led to violence was the lack of income for the families, therefore there was a big financial struggle in families which caused a lot of turmoil between the working women and the unemployed men. An initiative was born with the help from the Commonwealth Youth Grant Mini Grant and Canada Fund, Carmenita and her team of good Samaritans have decided to distribute food back to the families which struggled financially through a food drive program, distributing bags of food. This was done by seeking youths within the SVSG Juniors who have been laid off from work due to the lockdown.

Carmenita mentioned that during the early stages of lockdown, they saw how many people panicked and struggled due to unemployment. However her and her good friend Petronilla worked together to come up with a strategy to mitigate the distress in communities. Therefore we worked alongside with our friends from the Alliance for future of generations (Fiji)in coordinating a webinar which we invited people from other countries such as Australia and Fiji to speak light on the situation, with their hopes of influencing the minds of the people in emphasizing the importance of  ‘mental health’ while on lockdown. 

As Carmenita’s journey of being a volunteer continues till this day, she is constantly reminded of her challenges. She mentions that volunteering to help those in very vulnerable situations is not an easy responsibility, it is a job that should be handled with patience and with a lot of courage. It is a mental driven job and is something that has taught her to be mentally stable. She strongly urges the people to volunteer in any way, whether it be through donating or mentoring. Carmenita has struggled to get people through. However she has met many people from other countries who have donated clothes, and have also donated monetary gifts and clothes, this being said by Carmenita, goes to show how the vulnerable issues such as Gender based violence and abuse are not taken heavily by our own people.

When she was asked about any life lesson that her experience has taught her, Carmenita mentioned that if there is anything that she has learnt throughout her journey, is that to appreciate what you have. She saw how these young women and ladies dreamt of having the life she has. She mentions that it seems like many times we take for granted the little blessings that we have, that we live under secured roofs, we have food on our tables and we are safe in the comfort of our homes. She came to realize that what she took for granted almost her whole life, is everything that these young strong warriors of SVSG and vulnerable people in the community has ever dreamt of.

Carmenita mentioned that one of her favourite line to quote is “BE GRATEFUL”. From her experience, Carmenita has found the true meaning of how to be grateful and she says that being grateful is something that many take lightly but for her, walking alongside her sisters in SVSG and helping people in the community has taught her to discipline herself and has taught her to be appreciative of what you have despite how small or big your blessings are.

Carmenita has been a witness to many life transformations and she has also played a major part in making lives better especially those who have been victimised by abuse and gender based violence. Carmenita mentioned that many of the young women she bonded with at the campus of hope tend to always approach her in public. She noted that sometimes she tends to forget who they are and where she met these girls until she later on realises, that these are some of the young women that she helped in the campus of hope. This just goes to show, how important Carmenita’s role is as a mentor and as a mother figure to these girls, and because of her good works she gets to witness the amazing fruits of her work, as she has planted a living seed in each and every single one of these young women that she has ever helped.

Acknowledgements

Samoa Victim Support Group

Eveni Pacific : Girls Dresses

Natalia Media : Photography

Mashy Glamorous : Hair & Makeup

Porita Fruean : Writer/Blogger

Luaipou Ann Matalasi : Editor

Lofi Utuimanua, Lita Bernice Iosefa Amouzoun : Chaperones


Young Women in Music and Creative Arts : Foaina Asovale and Samita SauituamaAli’i Samuelu

The Phase three (3) of Her Voice kicks off with the goal of bringing to life stories of not only one (1) but two (2) young women in one issue. Every issue scheduled to be released through Her Voice will be guided by specific themes, which entails the various contributions and involvement of young Samoan women.

This issue is based around the theme, ‘Young Women in Music & Creative Arts’, a field with very limited space for not just young women but young people in Samoa. There are many challenges and obstacles that young women face in pursuit of their dreams within the Music and Creative Arts industry. Her Voice team had an amazing time getting to know our girls with a passionate and intense sharing in regards to the theme. The interview with our selected interviewees is as follows:

  1. Tell us about yourself

My name is Foaina Asovale, 23 years of age, from the village of Falelauniu-Tai. I graduated from the National University of Samoa with a Foundation Certificate, and am currently studying my Bachelor’s Degree in Arts, majoring in English, with a double minor in Music and Performing Arts. I do volunteering work at Brown Girl Woke (BGW), and with the Special Olympics Committee. I also have a Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG) certificate from my volunteering work. I have six siblings and I am second from the youngest in my family. My favorite colors are maroon, white and black. My favorite food is anything edible. My favorite genre of music is jazz, a couple of my favorites being, “Fever” by Beyoncé, and “Feeling Good” by Michael Bublé. Fun fact about me, I am the 2019 Samoa Star Search Winner.

My name is Samita SauituamaAli’i Samuelu, 24 years of age. From my dad’s side my villages are: Vaisala, Sasina, Fatuvalu, Safune and Saleaula. From my mom’s side: Ulutogia, Vaie’e, Faleasi’u, Moata’a and Falealupo. I am doing my undergraduate studies in business marketing and advertising at the University of the South Pacific in Alafua. I work as a proud member of Brown Girl Woke. 

  • What are you most grateful for?

Foaina

My parents.

Samita

My mother’s prayers, and the life-lessons and skills imparted by my father. 

  • Most passionate about

Foaina

Music of course. I didn’t know I have the talent. When I was 16 years old, one Sunday service I was caught talking by my pastor. As a punishment, I had to sing one song in front of the whole congregation. Following this ‘punishment’, my pastor put me in the church choir despite the age requirement (19-20 years old) for eligibility into the choir. In 2015, my dad pushed me to join the Samoa Star Search competition where I only made it to the top 11. In 2017, my friends/classmates from university and I joined and won the first TV3 Acapella Singing Competition. I thought at the time that music was not my thing but my dad, once again, pushed me to audition for the Samoa Star Search in 2019. That year I was named the Samoa Star Search winner. As a result, I am currently working on developing my music career. Maluseu Doris Tulifau (Founder and President of BGW) has been a huge support in enhancing my talent by helping me discover more about my talent as well as introducing me to well-known musicians in Samoa for networking and knowledge sharing. Every now and then I am invited to sing at occasions and events which gives me good publicity in addition to earning a little income. 

Samita

My family, Youth Empowerment & Women’s rights. 

  • As a young woman, can you please outline some of the major challenges that you have faced or are facing in your professional life? And how have you overcome or are you overcoming these challenges?

Foaina 

My biggest challenge is fear. More specifically, fear of singing in front of people or stage fright, and fear of what people say.

Stage fright. I overcome stage fright when I sing by, (i) practicing in front of the mirror; (ii) pretend that I am looking at someone; or (iii) look at people’s foreheads to avoid their eyes. Also, while I prepare to sing at an event or occasion, I usually ask my dad if he can listen to my songs so I can get some feedback and further improve my performance. 

Afraid of what people say. One of the main reasons why I pushed myself to lose weight is because of what people say or will say about me. Most think that my body-shape does not fit the normal or required size for musicians. I have been labelled as “fatso”, “fatty” and “big”.  And because of my love for music, I pressure myself in to losing weight, even to the point where I question God’s creation of me, of why I am big and fat. In spite of this ‘pressure’, my parents and friends have shown me unwavering support in my music career. A very special friend of mine always tells me to pay no mind to what people say, and that “if no one loves you, remember I love you”.  In short, it’s the people who have your back and support you through it all that matters in this life. 

Samita

For music, I haven’t truly faced any problems other than sexism. Because I’m a singer and rapper, it’s usually a big shock to people that I can have the same flow and power as my male partners in the industry. I think there’s a lack of female rappers here in Samoa because most rappers are male. My quick infatuation with and ill-fated experiences in love, and trying to be a grown-up has great influence on the music I create. 

I gained strength from my family, especially my father and grandmother. Despite the many challenges my father faced growing up, he studied and worked hard which paid off. My grandmother, with her nonchalant mind-set, did not care of what other people said or thought because she “wouldn’t get money from it”. My father’s strong-willed drive to provide for his siblings and secure a stable future for himself, and my grandmother’s  outspoken and blunt spirit have inspired me to (i) work and study hard consistently for my dreams, and (ii) tune out the ‘irrelevant chitchat’.

  • Inspiration in Life

Foaina

My 54-year-old father is my role model. Despite not working, he will always agree to what I want and need. 

Samita

My father’s life story of being orphaned at 17, involuntarily looking after eight kids who were eventually separated into different sides of the family, being a faifeau and working side jobs until he completed his Doctorate in Religious Studies and a grandfather to 6 boys. 

My grandmother’s story of how she changed her name from Sauitua to Itagia, shortened for “E ita tagata ia gaia”. This was because she was the only one from her district to be accepted in to Samoa College, which at the time was only for half-caste kids and the top students. I also found out she beat up people, men and women alike, and did not care about what people thought. Apparently the women on my father’s side in Sasina/Fatuvalu were raised that way and I guess that’s where I get my forthright mentality from. 

  • What is your personal view on the empowerment of young women in the music and creative arts industry today?

Foaina

There is little improvement in music in Samoa, especially in musical instruments. Those who play musical instruments rarely make their talents/skills known, or use their talents as a profession. This is because in Samoa, music and creative arts are not considered stable income to provide and support family needs. Thus, young women and men are afraid to pursue a musical or creative arts profession because they know they won’t receive any support. In addition, the Government of Samoa do not provide the proper institutions to cater those who wish to pursue a music and creative arts career. 

Apart from singing, I dance as well in school and youth because I believe that music and performing arts have a connection. I do my own choreography, I just turn on the music and dance to it. Sometimes, instead of playing a music I sing and choreograph a routine to what I’m singing.

My advice for young girls wanting to pursue their career in music, creative and performing arts, 

“Go for it. If you have the talent, pursue and believe. You never know what might happen if you don’t do it. If you know you have the voice, whether it won’t work, you just need to push through in what you believe in.” 

Samita

Samoan local artists don’t have a voice in the community. So imagine as a female rapper, from the get-go my “voice” is lower than a whisper. BGW really helped expose me and my music to bigger opportunities, creating and empowering my “voice” in the community.

Samoan women, along with Pacific women, are often viewed as second to men. It’s embedded in the mannerisms of our culture with titles like Faletua and Itu Vaivai as examples. It’s in the sexism in the common phrase “Pau a ole po’a (male) e ka’a solo” thus pressuring girls to preserve their “honor” and never do anything to bring shame to the family, like getting pregnant out of wedlock, yet men are free to do as they please. It’s in the mentality that hitting a woman or a girl is okay for “good” reasons such as, ‘she was complaining too much’, or ‘his patience could only take so much’; or it’s something that shouldn’t be delved into because he said sorry. My value in some men’s eyes is only what’s shown on the outside because of so many experiences where I intimidated men into saying “I’m not LIKE a girl”, as in I don’t fit the standards and qualities of a girl that they have picked. 

I love anything and everything on Women Empowerment. We’re majestic beings! In fact, we’re so powerful that men were intimidated enough to use religion and Samoan superstitions to oppress us. We birth generations, experience pain that is unmatched every month and yet in this society we’re viewed as weak or second. Isn’t that ironic?

  • How has COVID19 impacted you as a young woman?

Foaina

Travel restrictions. I have so many dreams of pursuing my musical talent but I can’t expand on it here in Samoa. Currently, if I sing at a restaurant or bar, I would get a minimum $50 to a maximum $300 and depending on the number of songs I get to sing. There is not much opportunities in Samoa for me to thrive in my musical career, even to the point where sometimes it becomes discouraging. 

Virtual and online classes due to lockdown. Using moodle platform for my undergraduate classes is much easier. Because classes are held online and done virtually, I have more time to practice and experience with my music. I have to come up with excuses to my dad that I am meeting friends but I was actually practicing because he stopped me when COVID-19 lockdown happened. I love dancing and singing which pushed me to take risks and even my youth kept having rehearsals during the week of lockdown. 

Samita

COVID has been good because I’m antisocial. My social battery drains very fast and I like my alone time. It has impacted me in a good way because of the free time I have to create content, focus on my mental and physical health, and school. 

  • What is your advice to young women who are currently and planning a career in Music & Creative Arts?

Foaina

If you want a career in music and creative arts, with or without support, pursue it no matter what. 

Samita

Go for it! If your gut feeling is telling you to do it, then go for it! You can’t say you’re good at something unless you first try it. 

  • Can you highlight some of your favourite motivational quotes?

Foaina

“FIGHTING!!!” I always say this whenever I prepare for any of my performances. 

“I can do this!”

“Don’t be scared. Go for it, I’m here.” – My dad

“Perfect practice makes perfect”. – Susau (my music lecturer) 

Samita

“This storm shall pass”. If you know me, you’d know my life has had its fair share of tribulations. I’ve realized that with all the pain I’ve gone through I’m still here – which is saying something because I’ve been at an all-time-low. 

Acknowledgements

Eveni Pacific (Dresses)

Mashy Glamorous (Hair & Makeup)

Bella Simeti (Writer/blogger)

Auguste Sulugaiu’amea Lameta (Editor)

Doris Tulifau & Brown Girl Woke (Collaboration)

Young Women in Health: Ms. Shona Simanu & Ms Rosalei Tenari

The Phase three (3) of Her Voice kicks off with the goal of bringing to life stories not only one (1) but two (2) young women in one issue. Every issue that scheduled to be release through Her Voice is guided by specific themes which entails the various contribution and involvement of young Samoan women.

This issue is based around the theme of ‘Young Women in Health’. Looking at  glimpses of what is it like to be a young Samoan woman working in the Health Sector under this period of not global, regional but local uncertainties.  The interview with our selected interview is as follows:

Tell us about yourself.

Hi my name is Rosalei Maureen Tenari. I am 27 years young. My mom is from Lalomanu and Salailua (Savaii), and my dad is from Papa Sataua (Savaii) and Salamumu – making me a full blooded Samoan. I graduated from Fiji National University under the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences with a Bachelors in Public Health. I currently work at the Ministry of Health under the National Health Surveillance and International Health Regulations Division as a Principal Disease Surveillance Officer and I volunteer as a writer/blogger for Her Voice.
Hi I’m Shona Simanu. I am 28 years old and I am from the villages of Safaatoa and Vailoa Faleata. I am a volunteer for the SFHA Youth as well as a Secretary for the SFHA Board. I am currently working as a Registered Nurse at the Ministry of Health.

What are you most grateful for?

RosaleiI am most grateful for my family. They are my number one support system. I am the eldest of four (4) siblings. Growing up, my parents often reminded me that being the eldest, I must set a path for my siblings to follow, moreover lead by example. That really kept me in line. They were always there to support, most of the times through fasting and praying.

Shona -I am most grateful for the life I have. I am also grateful for the parents and family I have. They are my biggest fans and most honest critics. My family’s past experiences taught me how to live my life the best way possible. Additionally, I am forever grateful having to grow up in a place I called home, Safa’atoa Lefaga. In 1989, my parents were called as Church minister of the CCCS in Safa’atoa uta, they were in their youth and my eldest sister was the only child they had being 3 years old at the time. My parents later had my older brother that same year, followed by myself in 1993, and then our youngest in 1996. We were so fortunate to be raised up and nurtured in such a church community.  We have been blessed with the best, e ausage lava si o matou aulotu ma lima vaivai, but what we have witnessed was, they were and still are brave people. O le upu moni, e ese le tautua lotu o tagata. They have always honored our parents and they have served them well. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, we were loved and were treated with great respect. If it wasn’t for them, I would not have thrived in this life. 

Most passionate about?

Rosalei – I am most passionate about my work and I want to excel in my field of interest grabbing every opportunity to learn. It is one of the reasons why I still stick around after going through so many storms professionally. I know my work takes up a lot of my time. Also, given the state of emergency we are currently in, the Ministry is working at its best to protect our country. This means, a lot of time away from home, and working long hours; but because I love what I do, I endure it all. Working long hours during the Measles Epidemic we faced last year, and learning from the Emergency Medical Teams from overseas really broadened my scope of knowledge.

I am grateful for the little things that come by from time to time. I believe that God’s timing is always perfect! I had plans to work another level up but with the travel restrictions disrupting the process, I know the Lord has greater plans.

Shona -I am most passionate about self-development and self-improvement not only in my personal life but also in my career as a nurse. Moreover I am keen in helping young girls that are going through the effects of teenage pregnancy. Carrying a baby and becoming a mother at a very young age not only creates physical changes but most importantly mental changes. These young women can be overwhelmed by sleepless nights, arranging child care, making doctor’s appointments, attempting to finish school and having insufficient finance to care for the baby, and not to forget depression. For such reason, I volunteered in programs and outreach campaigns administered by the Samoa Family Health Association (SFHA) to address these issues. I started off as a volunteer conducting these outreach programs for teenage pregnancy and sexual reproductive health before I became the President of the SFHA Youth. Most recently I am the current Secretary for the SFHA Board and a Counsellor.

Inspiration In Life?

Rosalei – My inspiration in life are my parents. They are the reason I endure life challenges. They inspire and motivate me to do my best in school and all other areas in my life.

Shona- My biggest inspiration in life are my parents. They have always supported me no matter what and gave me a life that I have today. Additionally, my inspirations are my nieces and nephews whom I love dearly and they bring joy to my heart. 

As a young woman, can you please outline some of the major challenges that you have faced in your life professionally? And how to overcome the challenges.

Rosalei – I was always a quiet girl growing up. I avoided going to large gatherings. I dread doing presentations in front of a crowd (big or small). I even dreaded going to school and Sunday school at one point in my life. It got worse when I went to Fiji for my degree and having to leave my family. It took me about a year to adapt. When I landed my first job, it was like university all over again; new people, new environment, new rules, and I had no friends. At times, I thought of quitting but my family motivated me. I must help my parents. Life is not always rainbows and cupcakes. Later, I realized that we never know our limits if we are not challenged and it made me acknowledge these storms.

Being a woman is a challenge itself, let alone being young. Being in a principal position as a young woman is a major challenge that I face professionally. I acknowledge every time that I have faced difficulty in my working life; it challenged me to do better. Through these difficult times, some of my favourite Bible verses comforted me, “Romans 12:12, NIV: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”, and Isaiah 41:10 “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” There were times I felt like giving up, quitting my job, but then I imagine what my future would be like if I do, and that snaps me out of my pessimism. I always tell myself, STORMS DON’T LAST!!! 

Furthermore another challenge I have faced is being scared of failure. Fearing failure held me back from being heard. However I overcome this by simply accepting the fact that when I fail, I will not regret it because I tried. If I had not tried, it will leave me with so many what-ifs. And NO sometimes means that there is something better.

Shona- It is very hard to get a life of my own with my profession as a nurse. Sometimes I work 12 hour shifts or more, and I also get called in most of the times. Who gets a call at 12am or 2am in the morning like we do? I spend more time at work than I do at home with my parents and family. Being a nurse plays one of the most important roles in the health sector. Even though it can be an amazingly gratifying career, the challenges faced by nurses are many, which makes it one of the most demanding professions therein. Caring for people at their most vulnerable times and supporting them are some of the most significant works of a nurse.

However, I have seen that nurses also need support to be able to continue doing what we do. The long hours and little sleep always affect us very much. We nurses often experience stress and fatigue caused by long hours of work and occassional back-to-back shifts. In light of this, it can also result in making mistakes whilst on duty. I do believe that this is one of the top nursing challenges we certainly need to avoid as it can mean being unable to work again or even it can lead to depression.Personally, I do often feel that our pay rates are low considering what is being asked of us. If I find myself working longer than expected or single-handedly doing the work of two nurses, it can affect the quality of care I am providing. This challenge also puts my own health at risk as exhaustion can hinder my ability to carry out my duties.

I believe that communication is key in overcoming challenges. In the sense that it is crucial to always communicate with supervisor, manager, co-workers and whoever you need to in order to relay the message across. Engage with and speak to senior staff without fear if there is an issue that must be dealt with urgently. Always remember that our employers are there to support us in every possible.

A positive working environment is another way to support us. Lunch breaks are essential to rest and refuel. Having time to breathe is another way to contribute to overcoming these challenges. Making sure I am well rested, getting at least 6-8 hours of sleep per day, eating regular meals and taking some quality time to myself is very important. Getting some fresh air and meditating to clear the mind can be very helpful. A balance diet and getting some days off from work to spend with families and friends is a ‘must do’. 

What is your personal view on the empowerment of young women in the health sector today?

Rosalei – There are so many young intelligent women in the Health Sector waiting for their turn to come out of their shells. I feel that age is a barrier, hence so many young women are unheard. However, I think women empowerment is strong in the health sector. Many of our leaders are women. We sometimes hear behind the walls that our time will come. We first listen and obey and learn from our leaders. I feel that creates a hesitancy to openly express one’s view and opinions. They are afraid of what their actions might come off as rather than what they think about ones view and opinions.

Shona – Empowering young women can be done through education. I do believe that education is the key to empowering women with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence necessary to participate and to carry out our duties and responsibilities in full within the health sector or in any sector. Remember that the world is in the technology era, we also need updating mentally to enhance our performance.

How has Covid19 impacted you as a young woman? 

Rosalei- Covid19 helped me grow wiser; escalated my knowledge and understanding on my area/line of work, boosted my self-confidence as well as endurance, and it also made me age faster (LOL). I have built connections with the management level people which also makes my work a lot better.

Because it demands so much of my time, I have come to value and appreciate quality time with family, time for myself and the need to spend more time with the Lord. In addition, not only it made me value my family but also my work colleagues. Sometimes as leaders, we take them for granted. Yes they and we are obligated to do what we do but creating that optimistic and healthy workplace and making everyone value their work big or small, it really makes a difference.

Shona- In this time of the pandemic, I am away from home. Sacrifice is not easy, while I was in isolation, I received a phone call that my mother got sick but I could not go home. My older sister is currently overseas pursuing her studies while her three children and husband are with my parents.

Prior to coming in to this Covid-19 team, we had a deep conversation with my parents as to whether I join or not given the situation of my family, sa’o ai le upu fa’asamoa; “e ausage lava le aiga nei”. It was an emotional conversation with mother crying as my life will be at risk and father with his words of encouragement. “Ia o lea le mea e alai ona e tagi? Afai a o le galuega lea sa e tauto iai ia o lea lava. E pei lava o le a e alu i le army, ete uua le faga ma faapea ane, o le ola pe oti, ae ua e ofoina lou ola atoa mo lou atunuu. Sau e alu e fai ou tiute ua valaauina iai oe ete galue ai, aua ete fefe, fa’amoemoe i le Alii e leai lava se mea e faigata i le Alii”. 

What is your advice to young women who are currently and planning a career in health?

Rosalei- Do it because you love it, not because you are forced or told to do it! Like what Confucius said, “Choose a job you love and you don’t have to work a day in your life.”

Don’t try and be a superwoman and do everything yourself. Value teamwork!

If you are tired, take a break. We are not irreplaceable. There will always be someone to take our place. Do it for yourself. 

I believe that the Lord has called us to be where we are. He will always be there to guide. All you gotta do is ask Him.

Shona- Be willing to sacrifice some things to build the career you want.You may have to sacrifice time and energy. It will not always be easy to choose work over fun, but it is worth the effort to obtain the career of your choice. Being a nurse is not an easy job. You have to be active mentally and physically. You have to be passionate about your work, love what you do and always take care of yourself.

Train your mind to have patience at all times. You will be criticized by people in doing your job but I tell you, embrace criticisms and failures. They are indeed opportunities for improvement. Stay healthy, be strong and be happy. 

  • Can you highlight some of your favourite motivational quotes?
  • Isaiah 41:10 ‘Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness’.
  • Joshua 1:9 ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go’.
  • “How very little can be done under the Spirit of fear” By Florence Nightingale (The lady with the lamp)
  • “ Live your life while you have it. Life is a splendid gift, there is nothing small about it.” By Florence Nightingale
  • Mistakes are painful when they happen, but years later a collection of mistakes called experience which leads us to success.
  • Don’t carry your mistakes around with you. Instead, place them under your feet and use them as stepping stones to rise above them.
  • Life is like a camera, you focus on what’s important capture the good times, develop from the negative and if things don’t work out take another shot.
  • “ Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

Credits : Photography by Roland Setu | The girls dressed by Eveni Pacific | Makeup by Savanah Artistry Samoa | Story edited by Bobby Robina Carney


 

Her Voice: Ms. Neziah Teaurima

“YOU ARE ALWAYS ONE DECISION AWAY FROM A TOTALLY DIFFERENT LIFE…”

Twenty-one-year-old Kamrynn Teaurima, commonly known as “Nez” is a New Zealand born who grew up in Australia in a predominantly white area with a mixture of Tahitian, French and Samoan blood running through her veins. She has travelled all her life to many different places. However, that is not the most interesting fact about Nez; she was home schooled. Another interesting thing about Nez is that at the age of 13, she decided to change her name as she did not like the meaning of the name she was given and so that she could emulate something better. Nez short for Neziah meaning strong and conqueror, she is a strong young woman. A conqueror! Overcoming her struggles and challenges at such a young age in which she had suffered from depression and anxiety growing up, so home schooling was the best option her mother saw fit. Being a very shy young girl, interestingly Neziah is now one of the host for TV3 Trending. You would not have thought she suffered from extreme shyness.

Neziah explained how it is incredibly sad how women are regarded in general. “We do not just wear dresses and look pretty” she said. One of the obstacles she encountered in the workplace was the age gap difference. Being young and a woman are two of the things that you see when you meet someone and judged by even before getting to know them. Nez is determined and a fighter; she lets her work speak for itself and ensures that she sticks to her lane. She is one of those hard-working ladies that refuses to sit at home doing nothing. She uses her Music Vid show on TV3 as a platform to reach out to our young women. 

Moving back to Samoa at about 14 years ago, she went through a lot of challenges. She struggled with her physical surrounding and family problems. However, when she was exposed to her culture and her people, she embraced it! She was taught how to weave baskets, fine mats, handicrafts etc. How many of you ladies who grew up in the islands know how to weave? Nez is a natural. She currently resides in Siusega and still deciding on which area to pursue to ensure it is something she is passionate about.

In 2012, this was the first year of Neziah being homeschooled. She noted how it took her a while to get used to her new environment, as she had missed her friends and was afraid of missing out on the “highschool experience”. However looking back at it now, Neziah is thankful that her parents had made that decision. 

Homeschooling is different for everyone, alluded Neziah. It is completely up to the parents on how they choose to educate and what methods they use. Neziah noted that the government (Australia where she resided) based on what state you live in, provides the curriculum and websites. From here a monthly check up/assessment is carried out by New South Wales Education Standard Authority (NESA). Additionally checks are made to assess and determine if you pass, if so you are a homeschooled student. 

The world became Nez’s classroom and life was her teacher. She added how each day involves a lesson to be learned, no matter what it was or how insignificant it seemed she was constantly learning. 

Neziah voiced that a simple trip to the supermarket was where she would learn how to budget money, practice social skills, know the difference between a need and a want and learn about food and where it came from. For Neziah, cooking taught her a thing or two about different cuisines, how to diversify her plate, additionally it taught her basic math skills as well as providing her family with fresh wholesome meals. Neziah added that when learning is fun it is easier to attain information as you are not bogged down with stress and pressure to basically swallow an entire encyclopedia. Not to say she didn’t feel pressured now and then but learning was not boring. 

Neziah iterated that homeschooling is not just being cooped up in the four walls of your home which is a misconception about homeschooling. She excitedly noted how she was still learning everything that is being taught in mainstream education, but rather in a more relaxed environment which she believes caters to the learning style of the student.

Like anything in this world there are always pros and cons, but from Neziah’s experience it presented more pros then cons. To an extent not too many people agreed with her being homeschooled as it isn’t the educational “norm”. 

Neziah strongly advised how no one in this entire world has your best interest at heart more than your parents, they are your first teachers. Her parents would push her even more so to do well in her studies as they for the most part were her high school teachers. 

Neziah struggled with confidence growing up, as well as cultural identity, anxiety and speech impediment. Homeschooling helped nurture her strengths and overcome her weaknesses. She learned to accept what made her different and unique to a point where she was not ashamed of it anymore. Some viewed her experience as being sheltered, but to Nez personally it did not see the point in doing mischievous so called “teenage things” it just was not and still isn’t in her character. 
From time to time Neziah highlighted how her upbringing really shaped who she is today, both good and bad. With all the ups and downs Nez had encountered, she would always remember the good learnings from her parents and with the Most High God by her side Phillipines 4:13 always comes to mind. 
Moreover Neziah reflected how homeschooling for her was an adventure full of challenges because not only she was learning but her parents were learning new things as well. It was both fun and challenging at times but she wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

Growing up as a young woman was hard and because she has brown skin, she was expected to know the language which took her some time to understand and speak. Not knowing did not make her any less of a Samoan. Around the same time, her parents divorced which added to her load. She had to be strong for her mom and sister. Fighting to master her social anxieties, she uses doodling as a way out. She is one that keeps it all together inside and she then writes it in her journal where she later analyses her thoughts and feelings. Plus, listening to a whole lot of jazz (her favourite music genre); everything calms down with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Furthermore, her parents gave her the family business when she was 15 years old thinking it is also a way to help her defeat her anxieties.

Nez’s advice to young women, “There are people who care. Just keep going. Things sometimes seems dark; but know that there are people who care and love you. Do not make any harsh decisions”.

After going through rough storms life has to offer, she comes out stronger each time. And she is most grateful for her family, especially her sister, mother, and grandmother for always being there for her. They are also her inspiration in life pushing her to keep striving. Also, one of her favourite celebrities that she looks up to is Jameela Jamil who is also a presenter and a feminist.

Always remember that there is someone who loves and cares for you. Just keep swimming like Dori likes to sing.

Credits: Neziah dressed by Eveni Pacific |Photography by Dannicah Chan |Makeup by Glam Booth Samoa | Story written by Rosalei Tenari

Her Voice: Ms. Neziah Teaurima

Her Voice – Annie Sofa’imalo Laki

“A woman’s place is wherever God calls her.”

Her Voice Issue for this month features a strong, reserved, God-fearing island girl, Annie Sofa’imalo Laki. The 26 year old who was born and bred in Savaii and spent her whole life in Lefagaoalii is a strong believer that “A woman’s place is wherever God calls her.”
Annie is the daughter of Kilisi Laki and Makerita Malaitai. She is the youngest of her mother’s four girls and the second to the eldest of her father’s children.

She graduated from the National University of Samoa in Apia with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and Sociology. Said Annie, it was her passion and love for reading that led to her choice of subjects while studying at University. Currently, Annie is teaching at a district college in Savaii which happens to be the same college she attended, Alofi-o-Taoa College. There, Annie is known as Ms. Laki to her many students. Agreeing to share her story on Her Voice wasn’t easy for our very shy and reticent Annie. However, her aspiration to inspire one or two girls out there with her story was the main drive behind her decision to share how she got through some of the most challenging experiences she faced so far in life. Annie has had her own fair share of challenges; socially, culturally, academically and professionally. However, she remain stern in her belief that everything happens for a reason and that wherever we go in life and whatever happen is all part of God’s plan for us.

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Growing up in Savaii, Annie struggled to live life as she pleased. Her simple flaws were judged by people around her and there were a lot of high expectations for her to meet. Failing to live up to these expectations have caused disappointments and have people pointing fingers at her. She admits that there was not enough social support from the community she grew up in; a typical Samoan community where everyone seems to be perfectionists. In her own words : “You know growing up in a very traditional Samoan environment, there are always people that would judge you for the simplest mistake you make; they don’t see the good you do and how hard you work to do something good. They will only see the bad things you do and hold it against you. And that really got to me.” Being judged by people around her had a huge impact on her mentally. She found herself questioning her worth and value, her self-esteem was low and she started to see herself from the eyes of those who judged her. It was so hard for her to stay strong and be true to herself.

However, Annie found true peace in her maker who has been there for her since day one. It was her faith in God that kept her going. Her will to carry on was born out of her passion to pursue God and trust in His plans. She admits that people judging her every move is an issue she continues to face everywhere she goes, however, armed with her strong faith in God, nothing is ever going to tear her apart, drag her self-esteem down or make her doubt her worth and value.
She is a lot smarter than she was before and she knows better than to mind what people have to say about her. She will not be shaken by the world’s judgment as her eyes are now fixed onto God. She rather pleases God than to please people.

Important lesson: “We can never control people’s perception of you; if they see me as a bad person, no matter what good deed I do, they will say that I am a bad person, and that is fine. What you can do is, never see yourself from the eyes of other people. You know yourself better than anyone else, believe in yourself. Don’t try hard to please people but work hard to please God.”

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Being born and raised in Savaii, Annie found herself struggling when she was forced to move to Apia for higher education. After she completed her Year 12 at Alofi-o-Taoa Secondary school (the school became a College in 2013), her family decided for her to move to Apia and enroll in a college in Apia to complete her Year 13. Therefore, in 2011, Annie made the biggest move from Savaii to Apia. Being away from Savaii and the community she grew up in and spent most of her life was not an easy transition for her. She had a hard time finding new friends at the new school she enrolled in which was Leififi College. However, that wasn’t the only difficulty she faced. She had a hard time adjusting to the environment and lifestyle of the people in Apia. On top of that, she was missing her family and friends in Savaii. But Annie used her homesickness as a motivation and a factor that pushed her to study harder while in Apia.

Knowing that her mother and family were rooting for her from Savaii, Annie did her best to finish off her studies and make her family proud. When she completed college and started her University journey, Annie was then introduced to various other challenges which included partying, boys, studies and finding the right crowd and group of friends to be with. She recalls one incident during her final year towards her degree where she decided to work part-time to gain work experience. Annie was given the opportunity to work as a pay-roll officer in one of the businesses in Apia. After two months of working there, she was forced to quit her job following an incident where she had been sexually assaulted by a man who worked at the same business. Terrified and worried about what people would think of her, she was tight-lipped about what happened. She called her boss who was a female and told her that she was resigning because she was struggling with studies and work. Annie said the incident had a huge impact on her life especially while studying. From previous experiences, Annie couldn’t talk to anyone about what happened to her, even though it had a huge impact on her life. However, reflecting back on what happened to her, Annie hopes to shine light on the issue of our young girls not speaking up about what they face.

She believes that we can never find the right solution to ending violence and abuse against women if our women are not stepping up and be vocal about the issue. Moreover, Annie also wants to share with the rest of young girls in Samoa that “WE” have the power to say NO to anything and anyone. She said: “I know there are a lot of young female out there who had the same experience or are facing such situation, and I am telling you that you don’t have to put up with it. You have the power to say NO and prevent anything from happening.”
Despite the challenges she faced, Annie completed her studies and became the first child in the family with a Bachelor’s Degree. She believes it was God who carried her through her lowest and toughest times.

Important lesson: “Never let anything deter you from reaching for your goals. Set goals, aim high and work harder.”

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After graduating from N.U.S, Annie was now ready for the next step of her life which is finding employment. Armed with a B.A, Annie was ready to put her research skills into good use aiming to become a research officer in a Government Ministry. However, things didn’t turn out the way she had envisioned. Her mother suddenly became very ill and asked that they take her back to Savaii to be with her family. Annie had to make a tough choice whether to stay in Apia and pursue her dreams or move back to Savaii to be with her mother. It was a tough choice to make, admits Annie. However, she sacrificed her life and dreams and chose to move back and be with her mother. This was because she was the only suitable candidate out of her mother’s children that can move back and look after their mother in Savaii.

Moving back to Savaii in 2017 was no easy task; Annie said it was like taking a step back as she got used to the life in Apia. While re-adjusting to the relaxed lifestyle in the big-island, Annie encountered another problem which was finding a good job. Her options were limited as there are not that many employment opportunities available around the place where she and her mom reside. Most of the jobs are based in Savaii’s business central, which is Salelologa. Therefore, the only option that was there for her was teaching. Teaching, according to Annie never crossed her mind as something she would pursue. As a very shy and timid person, she never saw herself standing in front of kids or a crowd and teaches. However, it was the best option for her so she applied to be a teacher, and she got approved two weeks after she applied.

In 2017, Annie entered the gates of the school she was once a student at. However, she was entering as a teacher. As a newbie, Annie said it was difficult and she had a hard time during her first few weeks as a teacher. Having said that, she almost threw in the towel half way through her first year of teacher. Teaching is no joke, said Annie. Prior to teaching, she has worked at various work environments in Apia and she admits that her previous work experiences were nothing compare to teaching. “It feels like I am still in school,” she said. She does extra reading and prepares her lessons for the next day every night before going to sleep. Moreover, Annie had difficulty having to deal with a lot of different students all from different backgrounds and environments. “They all have different perspectives and different ways of learning; which was hard for me to cope with during my first year as a teacher.” However, dealing with students wasn’t the only problem, being a young and new teacher; Annie had to cope with her new working environment and the norm difficulties that come with it. All these challenges she faced in her first year was the reason why she had second thoughts and wanted to go back to Apia. However, she decided to let go of whatever doubts she had in her and all the discouragements she was dealing with and trust God. She is a true believer that if God placed her there, He will carry her through any trial. She said: “I never wanted to become a teacher; it was never part of my plan. But sometimes, things don’t go as plan because God has better plans for us. He knows where we are needed most, and He will place you right where you are destined to do.”

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Annie shifted her mind from hating her job to trusting God and accepting her calling from God. Since then, Annie’s love and passion for teaching grew from strength to strength. Asked if she has any regrets about her decision, Annie said no! “I wouldn’t change any of what has happened in my life. Aside from looking after my mom, I grew to love the job. The job is really rewarding; knowing that you have the power to shape and nurture the future leaders of our communities and countries is amazing. As a teacher, I have the power to impact the lives of the students in a positive way by not only teaching them about what they’re supposed to learn but also instill in them some very important values on how to deal with life challenges.” One of the things she loves about teaching is the opportunity for her to serve her community. The community that raised her and helped her become the person she is today. Giving back and impacting the lives of the young ones is what motivates her to continue teaching, in her belief that education is the most powerful weapon that will open doors of opportunities for our children.

Important message: “Trust God and accept whatever comes your way. We will never be content with what we have if we focus on the negative side of things; it’s all up to us to change the way we see things. Be optimistic, be grateful and never lose faith in God; He will surely carry you through whatever obstacle you come across in life.”

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Asked about her views on the empowerment of women in Samoa, Annie said there are not enough awareness programs out there to promote the issue. She believes there’s still more that needs to be done in order to address the issue. She made reference to the Her Voice project as an example of ways to empower young girls and women. This platform, according to Annie offers the opportunity for young women to speak up about their challenges and tell their stories on how they overcome the challenges. “Everyone has a story to tell,” she said. “When Jun approached me to be featured in “Her Voice” I was hesitant because I am a shy person. But then I got to think about it over, think and the thought of me not sharing my story and missing out on the opportunity to empower or inspire someone out there with my story changed my mind. So I decided to take up the offer and tell my story to maybe inspire one or two people out there. Through these platforms, we are able to tell stories which can inspire others and also it enables young women to speak up about some the very important yet neglected issues us, women continue to face in our society.”

Annie believes that there is always this problem with our young women of being afraid of speaking up about their struggles. This is one of the barriers, in Annie’s belief that is slowing down the process to fully empower women in Samoa. She believes that some women fear being judged by society if they speak up; hence they stay quiet about their struggles. Speaking up confidently about their strives and struggles can open doors for them and allow others to help them where they lack. Moreover, being a role model to young girls is another way to empower women, said Annie.

She is a true believer that action speaks louder than words. As a teacher, Annie tries her very best to be a great example to her students by being bold and confident and the way she carry herself.
She admits that every time she enters the school gates, she leaves behind any problems she has outside of the gate just so it won’t affect the way she act in front of her children every day.
“There is no use in talking and telling them to behave in a certain way when we do the opposite,” she said. “So to me, personally, I believe that we should all be role models for the young girls in our families, and the community we are a part of.” Being a teacher, Annie uses this to her advantage to reach out to the young girls and connect with her. Twice every month, Annie gathers the girls of her class and host motivational talks with the girls. She shares with them the stories of the many challenges she faced growing up and how she got through the challenges.
With that being said, Annie feels that God placed her there for that purpose. Reflecting back on how things unfolded for her, Annie is certain that she is exactly where God wants her to be. She understands more about why she was forced to come back to Savaii and serve her community.
She also ask the girls to share any issue they face at home or at school so the girls know that there is help available and that it is okay to speak to someone about their struggles. Above everything else, Annie shares her love and passion to pursue God with the girls. This is because she truly believes that she wouldn’t have gotten this far it if weren’t for God’s grace and mercy. She believes that we can never succeed in whatever effort we make to empower our young women if we don’t put God at the forefront and trust Him to lead the way. On the topic of gender equality, Annie said it starts from our families and schools. If the parents treat their children equally and fairly, they will carry that value everywhere they go in life.
When she is not teaching, you will find Annie at youth practice and at church singing with her worship team. Annie dedicates most of her time out of the school compound by engaging in church related activities. Still, she feels there is more to be done to portray her passion and love for God whom she owes her life to. Serving God is on top of her list of things she is most passionate about.

“I am not saying that I am perfect. In fact, I am really not close to being perfect, but I owe God everything I have and everything I am. You have no idea how many times God has saved my life.”

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Nevertheless, Annie is a very artistic person who loves art and fashion. As a matter of fact, she is looking at pursuing her dream of becoming a make-up artist and a hairstylist. When Annie is not teaching, singing or at youth practice, you will find her in her home, trying out different hairstyles and play around with her make-up kit. She also does a bit of photography and she is still practicing her skills. She aspires to be a make-up artist and a hair designer and hope to open her own studio in the near future. Asked about where she sees herself in 5 years, Annie said she planning to someday move to NZ where her grandmother and other siblings are residing but for the mean time I cannot go anywhere until i become Savaii’s first hair/ makeup artist’ she laughs.

Lastly Annie also shared with us her go to mantras as a mean of motivation for anyone out there:
 – Psalms 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
 – Let all that you do be done in love. Even if they don’t love you back, you just love them instead.
 – Sometimes, you may not where you’re supposed to be, but God knows exactly where you are needed and will place you where you belong.
 – Whether your platform is big or small you still have the power to speak life to your audience

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Dress by Eveni Pacific | Hair & Makeup by Mashy Glam | Photography by Her Voice | Story written by Sarafina Sanerivi

Her Voice – Ms. Leutefuiono Angela Zerlina Scanlan

‘Everything that happened along the way had always been part of the plan, and I just needed to trust in it’

Angela Zerlina Scanlan is a Samoan born and raised 23 years old young woman of Aleisa. She is a beautiful mother of two pure and gentle souls, whom she was entrusted to raise with sincere love. She is currently working as a flight attendant for Samoa Airways, the only state-owned flag carrier airline of Samoa. She is also a salesperson for her family’s commercial farm in Aleisa. She is a dancer at the Le Manumea Hotel, performing different island dances for their Island Night shows, bringing entertainment and laughs for the people of Samoa and its tourists. She is also one of the most famous and experienced artists for the Makeup Industry of Samoa whom will be sharing her story with us.

Angela starts by sharing with us her experience as victim of depression while growing up in a Samoan family; she opened how it was a challenge for her.  Stating that it was hard to seek help when you don’t actually know what’s wrong and it’s even harder when majority of Samoan parents and families don’t even believe that depression is a real issue. Even after all the efforts that have been made over the years to raise awareness about depression and suicide, so many Pacific Islander families are still in denial of it being a real problem in our community. A lot of people think that depression just means “aww they get sad” or “they’re emo or anti”. Surprisingly some of the happiest or most outgoing people we know are some of the most depressed. And you’ll see it when we lose someone to suicide so suddenly, and everyone’s like “but he was always such a happy person. I don’t understand how this happened?”.

When she was in her first year of high school, her family made the big move over to New Zealand so that her mother could pursue her Master’s degree. Over those next few years, so much happened to Angela’s family that she was sure none of them were prepared for. By the time she was in her final year of high school her family had moved houses & neighborhoods 4 times. She had changed schools 9 times, and her siblings including herself would took turns living either with their parents in NZ or with their grandparents in Samoa. Things were especially hard because they had to leave behind most of what they had in Samoa and start a whole new life from scratch. Trying to settle in and feel at home was one thing. Having to do that over and over again every few months, and start the whole process of finding your place & making friends only to pack up and leave again was the starting point of Angela feeling depressed.

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Over the years and for different reasons this depression worsened and it started to take a toll on her schoolwork together with Angela’s relationships with others. Angela asserted that her parents were your typical super strict Samoan parents, so she never felt like she could talk to them about it (feeling depressed that is), and even if she did she felt like they wouldn’t have taken it seriously. Angela shared that her father is one of those army dads’  whose reaction to any trial is always just “toughen up” or “get over it”. And that’s how she was brought up. When things got hard, you just had to suck it up and find a way to deal with it and get things done. But this was the one problem that our story teller just couldn’t beat. No matter what she tried to do to keep herself distracted, there was always that lingering emptiness she’d always feel inside, and a heaviness always weighing her down.

She voiced that she has always been very hard on herself, in anything she do. But in those bouts of depression she shared that her thoughts slowly started to turn very self-destructive. Stating that it’s normal to beat yourself up a little bit after making a mistake or not getting the result you wanted. However, things got to a point where she was becoming so critical of herself & she belittles herself down as a never ending cycle. Her family didn’t know what she was struggling with inside, so sometimes they’d make little comments when they were frustrated with her or mad about something. In the end she’d take those comments to heart, and she would replay them over and over again in her head and beat herself up some more until she’d be at the point where she was just sitting on the floor of her room crying and thinking to self “man, you’re such a useless daughter”.

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Angela shared that growing up, her family was very involved in the church and she would always be involved in their church activities. When her depression really kicked in she found herself skipping out on youth programs. She shared that she had always loved going to youth and meeting friends at church growing up. But throughout that period she found herself shutting everyone out and just wanting to be left alone. Simple things just like getting out of bed and going to class started take so much effort.  Day after day, week after week things just kept getting worse.

Since primary she had always tried her best to maintain high grades, and if she didn’t get a straight A the lowest would be a B & even that was rare. With this her performance at school started to drop badly and she recalled the one day where she got her first ever “Not achieved” on an assignment sharing how she got into a really bad argument with her father and that day was the moment she just broke down. Uttering that she was already so disappointed in herself, and was barely holding herself and all the other emotions she was feeling together, but the weight of disappointing her father and then getting a hiding on top of it was just the final straw for her to collapse under the pressure.

That day recalled Angela, her thoughts turned dark and she remember sitting outside self-harming and the same thought revolving over and over in her head “it’s just better if you go”. In that moment of time she kept thinking of all the different ways she had been letting her parents and family down, and she felt like such a failure. Growing up she had always basically been the “black sheep” of the family, and she was pretty used to always getting singled out in the family talks and all that good stuff. Additionally, on that day she shared that her spirit was so weak and there was a strong voice in her head that kept telling her that she was such a disappointment to her family, and that they would be happier without her around.

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There have been so many different trials in which she had to face throughout her life, but depression and the dark suicidal thoughts can trap you sometimes and isn’t something I’d wish on anyone stated Angela. You can be surrounded by so many people that love you, and yet feel so alone and unloved. Angela voiced that she hate the idea that some people have frowned upon people who are depressed or suicidal or are weak minded. Yet when depression hit her she has never felt so helpless and defeated in her life. For the longest time she refused to say a prayer and during that terrible period of her life she went for so long without saying a single prayer. And at the time her family thought that she was deliberately rebelling, and didn’t want to pray because she was hardening her heart against God. Yet the real reason why she never wanted to pray was because of the shame she felt inside. She felt so ashamed to be turning to Him for help after all the different ways she had sinned and let Him down. She shared how unworthy she felt to even try to talk to Him. She wondered ‘how could I even ask for help?’ After all the things she had done. As time passes Angela proclaimed that now she knows better, and she have come to realize that shame is Satan’s way of keeping you in the dark. Satan knows how you feel inside, and he uses that feeling of shame against you to keep you from turning to God. She encourages that when you feel like praying, and you hear that voice telling you that you’re too unclean and that God doesn’t want to hear from sinners like you, that’s Satan trying to keep you from finding the love and healing you really need.

Hanging onto that mentality, she drifted farther and farther away from God and from church until she was so far gone. Remembering a quote her dad would always say “Humble yourself before the Lord. Don’t wait for the Lord to compel you to be humble.” Angela shared that those words never had much weight on her, until she experienced it firsthand. Stating that the last few years of her life really felt like she was just at war with life; whereby every time she would achieve something or reach a high point in her life, something would happen, and she will come crashing back down again. It felt like it was one trial after another. One loss after another stated Angela.

After falling pregnant right out of high school, Angela went through so much as a young mother. She tried so hard to pick herself back up & work on making a new life for herself and daughter.  At this point, just when she started feeling like their lives were finally stable, and things were going well, out of nowhere her grandfather fell ill and passed away. When she lost her grandfather she felt her world had fallen apart. She passionately shared that she can never put into words how much her grandfather meant to her, and in the months that followed his passing, she found herself slipping back into that dark place, and this time round she didn’t feel any hope. Angela voiced that the first time she was able to come out of depression, her grandfather had played such a big role in her being able to stop harming herself and wanting to turn life around for the better. At that time, she had no motivation to whatsoever, and she really just let herself go. From that point she saw her life take a bad turn, and it just felt like one struggle after another until she thought there was no coming back from it.

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The truth is it’s an ongoing process. It comes and goes, and it’s a continuous journey trying to fight off depression. Sometimes things happen in life, and things don’t go your way and you find yourself slipping back into that dark place again. She emphasized on wanting to be real about this issue of depression, and the reality for those that have experienced this is that you don’t just wake up one day and you’re over it. Sometimes you’re battling it in your head every day and just trying to make it through one day at a time. And some days you win, and some days you lose and end up on that low again. But it’s important that you try not to let yourself become stuck there for too long.

Throughout those low points of her life she shared how she really thought that God was trying to punish her, and over and over again she kept thinking “Why do these things keep happening to me?”, and “How much more do I have to lose?”.  However, looking back to everything that she has been through she has learnt and grown in ways that she never could have if she hadn’t experienced all those trials. Angela reflected on a story shared by one of their church leaders at a conference as a means of better clarifying her stance on this issue of depression. ‘He shared a story from his days living in a farm in Canada. One morning he went out and saw a currant bush that had grown over 6 feet high. It had no blossoms and no fruit. This man had grown up on a fruit farm & so he knew what he would have to do with the bush. He came back with some pruning shears & then proceeded to cut it down, & prune it  & clip it until there was nothing left of it a but a little stump. Looking at the stump he explains how it was almost as if he could hear it saying “How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as big as the shade tree & the fruit tree that are inside the fence, & now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me because I didn’t become what I should have. How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.” That’s what the gardener thought he heard the bush say & thought it so much that he answered & said. “Look little currant bush. I am the gardener here, & I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a shade tree or a fruit tree. I want you to be a currant bush, & someday little currant bush when you are laden with fruit you are going to say’ “Thank you Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down, for caring about me enough to hurt me. Thank you Mr. Gardener.” asserts Angela.

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With this Angela shared and by connecting it to the story by their church leader that one thing that has always helped her to come out of depression, is when she turns her focus back to God by counting all the good things He has done for her. Stating that it is hard to be sad when you turn your attention to all the ways your life has been blessed, and you try to think of all the things you ought to be grateful for. Sharing that every time she hears stories she always ends up in tears, because this reflects back on her life and sees her in it. Stating that to this day it still hurts when she looks back at all the things she had to lose along the way: Friends, loved ones, relationships & opportunities, but now she understand. Testifying that not too long ago she was a depressed single mum without a job or any university qualifications who didn’t know what she was going to do with her life, and was on the verge of giving up. Now looking at how far she have come and seeing God’s hand work  in her life and how He has been so good to her. Reflecting how she used to think she had been deserted and was being punished. Now she realized that she wouldn’t be able to be the person she is today without the struggles that have refined and strengthened her as the young women she has become. Asserting that in her darkest hours she really thought she was on her own, when all along God has been by her side. ‘Everything that happened along the way had always been part of the plan, and I just needed to trust in it’ shared Angela.

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Angela concludes her story with us by sharing that when we are feeling low, sometimes even though we want to, we don’t open up to anyone, because we fear we might be judged & they won’t understand, or that they might even share your situation with others, or use it against you one day. You can’t always trust people. Sometimes people don’t always have pure intentions, and they pretend to care but have hidden agendas. God doesn’t have any hidden motives. He genuinely wants to see us grow and be happy. If you let him, he’ll bring you out of situations you got yourself into, and He won’t hold it over you.’ I’ve seen it in and I’ve felt it: and if there’s anything that I have learnt from my journey that I’d like to share its that: no matter where you’ve been, or what you’ve done, and how far you think you’ve strayed, even when everyone else has lost hope in you, and you’ve lost hope in yourself: it’s never over for you until God says it’s over’.

Credits; Top by Eveni Pacific, Photography by Natalia Creates, Makeup by Savanah Artistry, Story written by Loframa Fraser and Jun Ho Gregory Kim

Her Voice – Ms. Shivani Sharma

“OVERCOMER: THE COMEBACK IS ALWAYS GREATER THAN THE SETBACK.”

Her Voice presents Ms Shivani Sharma, a strong, valiant and independent young woman who unraveled her story on how she conquered the tribulations life threw at her. Born in Santa Ana, California- the 24 year old is a product of a Samoan mother and an Indian father and spent most of her early years in the Middle East (Bahrain and Saudi Arabia).
Shivani now resides at Afega with her mother and her sisters since moving to Samoa in 2008. She completed high school at Robert Louis Stevenson Secondary and then went on to NUS, however ‘dropped out’ half-way through Foundation year due to financial restraints. She is the former Senior journalist at the online news website, Samoa Planet, prior to moving to Ulia Construction and Certified Concrete Ltd in August 2018, where she was employed at the time of the Her Voice interview. Shivani currently works at Supernatural Fellowship as Office Administrator & Events Manager.

At the age of 15 she fell pregnant and gave birth just after her 16th birthday. According to Shivani, her childhood was full of violent memories which then later manifested in her marriage which lasted a period of five years. She endured physical abuse daily, suffered and felt trapped, but never lost hope that one day it would end. During this time, she had three other children all before she turned 21.

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Shivani says that this season of her life didn’t come to an end until she realized that this treatment was not what God wanted, nor was it ever His plan for her. Part of why she allowed herself to endure the abuse for so long was due to the deep shame she associated with family violence.
She said, “I was so ashamed. I didn’t want anyone to know, not even my mum. Many women, including myself, feel so much shame- that we never want to talk openly about what is really going on in our homes or how we are being treated. Especially in Samoa, there is so much stigma associated with domestic violence – that most women don’t bother speaking out.”
“In a way, its almost like society blames us- the wives and mothers- for being subjected to that kind of treatment. I’ve heard a lot of people say- ‘Oh it’s the wife’s fault, she was probably cheating.’”
“From my experience, a lot of women don’t have the opportunity to leave their abusive marriages or relationships due to a lack of financial independence on the woman’s part. Others can’t leave due to the way a ‘traditional’ Samoan family is structured in the villages, or because of the pressures they face from other family members to stay. So for many, many women in Samoa- they live and endure the suffering for most of their lives, which is a saddening fact.”

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Ms. Sharma also iterated that her heart goes out to women who are in a similar situation that she was in with her marriage, “If I could say anything to the women out there, I would want them to know that they are loved and whether they know it or not, they are cared about. Domestic violence and abuse is a sensitive topic but one of the keys to finding my freedom was releasing my forgiveness over those who had hurt me.”
“I don’t think you can ever truly move on with your life-free from all the bitterness unless you have truly forgiven the people who have hurt you. Forgiveness is funny in a way because it sets you free. That other person may not need or care whether you forgive them- but the truth is that you need to forgive because it releases yourself from that pent up anger, pain, betrayal and of course the bondage and weight of carrying your past wherever you go. Forgiveness allows you to truly heal on the inside.”
“It’s also important to remember that in hard times, its always best to surround yourself with a supportive community of people who genuinely care and love you. Only then will you find the strength to make the tough decisions that need to be made.”

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“I consider myself one of the blessed ones to have come out with a safe place to live, and the opportunity to be financially stable and provide for my children on my own.”
Speaking about relationships, “Most young women don’t understand their value, which is why a lot of women settle for less. They are willing to throw themselves at anyone, even someone who won’t treat them like the queen they were created to be. I definitely encourage women to understand their worth, gifts and God given talents which will allow us to build ourselves up before we can effectively build up our communities.”
“Before investing into someone or into a relationship, you need to invest in yourself first. Build a strong foundation so that whatever storms come your way, the groundwork will be stable and endure. Relationships based on ‘feelings’ alone- usually don’t last. Therefore, assess the whole situation before you start building together! Remember, a relationship it’s a two-way street- both parties have to invest!”
Having gone through all those rough patches as a young woman, Shivani expounded on her experiences and the challenge she faced academically after starting a family.

“In Samoa, there are not as many opportunities for young mothers who want to go back to school which is why I decided not to go back and study. Overseas, young mothers have access to financial assistance which enables the to go back to school and upskill themselves, as well as supporting their day-to-day living. But here, that is not possible, so its very common for young girls to drop out of school once they have a child. I think there is also a bit of a stigma associated with girls in Samoa who do want to go back and finish high school. And that is barrier to many.”

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Speaking about her time at the construction company -a typically male-dominated work place, she explained how it was rare to see many women employed in construction- outside the role of office assistants and secretaries.
“I didn’t realize how uncommon it was for women to work in construction in Samoa, until I went to Dunedin earlier this year and saw the huge amount of women in construction- working on tasks that Samoans here would consider ‘man jobs’.
Shivani says she believes that women can do the same tasks as men even though they may not have the same physical strength. However, their value, worth and work ethic is just as good as their counterparts. She also feels that both women and men in Samoa don’t fully grasp this fact.
She added. “I think it’s really important that we instill this knowledge in our children- the fact that both men and women have important roles to play in the function of our society- and that specifically women should be encouraged to take hold of the same opportunities as men- academically and professionally.”
Moreover, Shivani shared that what she is most grateful and most passionate about other than Jesus- are the amazing people she has met on her life-journey.
“I feel like there is always a story to be told from whoever you meet, no matter their background or who they are- there is always something you can pick up and learn from those you meet. There is always gold to find in everyone you meet.”
“I’m really grateful for everyone who believed in me and supported me, when I couldn’t even believe in myself. For me it was my Kingdom family at Supernatural Fellowship who were my crutch during those hard time. Because of this, it’s made me more aware of the people around me. You never know what some one is going through, so its important to be to always be kind and genuinely care how they are doing.”

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Shivani says its amazing to look back and see how far she’s come- but also look ahead and see where she wants to be in future. However, the most important thing she values is taking each day as it comes and enjoying this rollercoaster called Life.

She finished saying, “One of my favorite scriptures that pushes me in all seasons is Isaiah 40:30-31, ‘Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint’. It’s a reminder that we are never alone in the ups and downs of life.”

Credit ;

Shivani dressed by Eveni Pacific 

Makeup by Shivani Sharma

Photography by Her Voice

Story written by Rosalei Maureen Tenari

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Her Voice – Marissa Salote Meredith-Westerlund

‘Your vision will expand to improving the welfare of others and not just yourself. Your life will become a beacon of light to making a difference in this world’

As Samoan people, we struggle to pursue what we feel is our ‘calling’ out of fear, responsibility and expectations of culture and family. Such struggle is even more so prominent among young Samoan women or what we usually refer to as ‘tama’ita’i Samoa. An Australian born of 24 years of age who is an Ordained Pastor Marissa Salote Meredith-Westerlund of Vaivase-uta, Lotopa, Vailu’utai and Papa Puleia Savai’i, gives testament to the courage and strength to follow the plan that is from God.

The path was not pathed in gold and silk, it was forged through the mud of disapproval and thorns of sacrifice. Ones duty to their parents is a fundamental principal drilled into Samoa’s youth and fear of disappointment is a constant plague on one’s subconscious. “They’ve already laid out this plan for me, like every good parent would. After school, get a good job and help pay off the loans.” said Marissa. Like most youths, our aspirations differ from those of our parents. She remembered how she sat down with her parents and poured out her heart by sharing with them her dreams and what she felt like was her passion for life. However, like many of us, traditional parents are very hard to convince, “pule a oe I lou mea e fai ae fa’auma muamua le aoga” (You can do whatever you want, but Education is the priority) is what her parents told her during their family talanoa session as stated by Marissa.

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In our Samoan society after graduating from school, the most logical thing to do is to find a job. The typical mindset is that school comes first, but to Marissa this did not sit well with her. After successfully completing her Foundation year at the National University of Samoa, she believed that it was her season to attend Bible School. Though her parents did not see eye to eye with her request. Marissa recalled that it was not easy facing hardship as she progressed, and especially when it came to relationships with loved ones stating that it had hurt her mom the most. Marissa was known as the good girl and the white sheep of the family. She was her mom’s right hand and her whole life was centered on every decision that her mother gave her. Her biggest life-challenge was to fight for her freedom which meant pursuing her passion to follow God’s plan, even though it meant opposing her household authority figures.

Despite adversity one must forge ahead on the path they have set out, otherwise all the sacrifices would be in vain. The road gets lonely as people leave and get disappointed. However, unlike most who choose to cut ties with those who don’t agree with our plans Marissa went deep into prayer stating, “I was clinging on to the Lord during the whole time when I was in bad terms with my parents” Marissa and her fiancé at the time would utter prayers of faith such as: “Lord we don’t know where else to go, we don’t know where else to run but you are our only hope.” Prior to her wedding, on a Saturday night, she decided to ask for forgiveness from her mother. With great surprise, her mum spoke to her with tears of how The Lord had spoken to her heart in a recent church service to ‘Let Marissa Go!’. That night where Marissa supposedly thought that she would get a beating turned into a night of reconciliation for both mother and daughter. As she walked down the aisle a week later, her mother gave her away. Now, she has tremendous support from both her parents in her life and ministry, and their bond has never been stronger.

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In 2014, Marissa and her husband founded an organization called Supernatural Fellowship. Through this initiative they were able to reach many people from several walks of life. “A lot of the people that we work with are youth, and majority of them are women who have been hurt by marital and relationship problems” said Marissa. These are only a few examples of what their mandate tackles. It’s not a question if she would empower a group of young women; she already has been for years through their weekly programs. Marissa continued, “We counsel young women that are going through marital and relationship problems and teach them how to apply biblical principles to everyday living. We empower them, we encourage them to pursue their dreams, and we teach them to be confident in whom God wants them to be. Because of their brokenness from their relationships it affects their self-esteem and the way they see themselves. Hence, we show them from the Word of God; this is what God thinks about you, this is what He says about you and from there you have your life based on this. His Word is a solid foundation.” According to Marissa, “Your value and your identity is not based on what other people perceive about you but instead, your value is built upon what God says about you in His Living Word.”

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Marissa’s advice to all the young women is “Give your life to the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be the best decision you could ever make.” After accepting Jesus, her life changed for the better. Today, she accredits all her success and influence on that simple choice that impacted her life. She testified about God’s goodness and faithfulness over her life and marriage. A reference close to her heart is found in Jeremiah 29:11; For I know the plans I have for you declares The Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. A comforting verse to remind one that you have not been forgotten or forsaken, you need only to trust in Him. This been said, Supernatural Fellowship (SNF) is a Non-Government Organization (NGO) that creates a platform for young people to meet, and to develop their gifting and character through God’s Word. It began in 2014 through a prayer meeting that birthed the objective of helping troubled youth. Now, it is not only limited to the aid of young people but even older folks attend their weekly programs as well. Within this organization Marissa oversees the worship department in ministry and directs teaching sessions from various biblical topics while her husband preaches. The end game is to empower young men and women from different backgrounds to achieve their dreams and passion through biblical guidance.

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We all know that there is still much to improve on regarding gender equality in Samoa. However, in the pursuit of progress we often forget how far we have come. Our 24 year old young Pastor reminds us of how blessed we are, by sharing that our country is a very peaceful nation compared to that of other countries. Elsewhere, there are restrictions and hierarchy figures that predominate women. Women in our nation have high access to equal rights than others. We can recognize this as we have women in parliament, women in business, and women present in the village council. This is not to say we don’t have a long way to go, but to appreciate how far we have come, and to pay tribute to those who have paved the way for us. Nevertheless, she believes that gender equity is still an issue within the family structure. It showcases the predominant role of men over women to the extreme measures of verbal and physical abuse. Thus the need to focus on as a nation is those of domestic violence.

Violence against women in families still hold a high prevalence with reference to statistics and it is something that needs to be dealt with. In perspective, Marissa stated that this is one of the reasons behind her passion of why she loves what she does. Asserting that ‘Root Problem’ standpoint is how we should go on about in terms of approaching this issue. In this she continues to elaborate how the burden is much deeper than just violent behaviors but an affliction that is deeply rooted, possibly from childhood or other social upbringing factors. As a nation we must correct this process from the start in order to remedy the cancer that has spread across our country regarding gender based/domestic violence. However, we must all understand that the Lord distinctively assigns us with roles for our benefit. In Marissa’s perspective, it is good to empower one another under the pretenses of sisterhood but we ultimately end up with a male. With that being said; Mrs. Westerlund explains that the relationship between a husband and wife is not one of dominancy of a man over his woman but submissiveness in the form of Christ and the Church.

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Moreover, there are many things Marissa is grateful for, but when it comes down to it there are three defining moments that have led her to where she is today. The first was when she gave her life to the Lord Jesus, and that meant her total allegiance to the counsel of His Word. Secondly, she is grateful that it was in this calling she discovered her passion to helping people; seeing the hurt be healed, lost counselled and the confused redirected. PEOPLE are her passion; she loves the work she does because it helps PEOPLE. Lastly It was seeing her marriage and her little family of three flourish physically, mentally and spiritually.

Marissa also shared with us her mantra which continues to motivate her that is in Proverbs 23:7 “whatever a man thinketh, so he is…” a verse that inspires mental fortitude and encouraging one to think better of oneself. How you think of yourself can really affect the way you look at life and your surroundings. The scriptures were written to guide us in our thought life because whatever we put our minds to that is what we apprehend. We simply become what we think– In saying that, let His Word direct our thought process so that we mature into better versions of ourselves.

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In conclusion, follow your dreams and don’t be afraid of standing up for what you believe is right. Recognize the potential that you can tap into with Christ. Be obedient to his calling regardless of persecution. Don’t fear failure but press toward the goal of your God given destiny. Surround yourself with Godly counsel then your perspective on life shifts to greater purpose other than self-gratification. Your vision will expand to improving the welfare of others and not just yourself. Your life will become a beacon of light to making a difference in this world. A final quote inspired from The Bible, The Lord Jesus said… “A city on a hill cannot be hidden so therefore shine your light for men to see so that they may glorify your Heavenly Father.”

Credits

Dress by Eveni Pacific

Makeup by Vanity Ink Artistry

Photgraphy by Natalia Creates

Story written by Lofi Utuimanua Akapo

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Her Voice – Ms. Tiffany Fepuleai

“You are valuable, you are loved, and you are not alone”

Her Voice Issue for May features Miss Tiffany A. F. Fepuleai. Due to being in a missionary family, Tiffany was born and raised in Taiwan (R.O.C.) for the first 18 years of her life before she left overseas for further studies with the University of the Nations. Her family moved back to Samoa in 2009 but Tiffany officially moved back to Samoa in 2012 after completing her Bachelor of Science in Maternal Health Care where she was able to perform +100 assisted deliveries and 50 un-assisted deliveries in the nations: Tanzania, Bangladesh, Samoa, and the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Despite her area of study, she currently works alongside her father, Mr. Usufono Fepuleai from the village of Saleaula, running the BioEnergy Solutions Technology Company (B.E.S.T. Co. Ltd.) while also volunteering at Youth With A Mission (YWAM) which is a non-profit and non-government organization that mobilizing young Christians to Know God and Make Him Known.
The 31 years old Tiffany Fepuleai shares her story of her journey in finding her identity and worth as well as the obstacles that she encountered and overcame by God’s amazing grace alone.

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Being born and raised in a Christian household Tiffany knew the most basic Bible stories by heart, all which depicted a powerful God who not only created all things, but even said that everything He created was “good”. The stories and the way her parents lived their life showed her a God who also loved each and everyone that He created and even wants to get to know each child personally like a Friend and Father. Tiffany remembered when she was 6-7 years old she attended a Christian summer camp, called King’s Kids, where she answered the alter call because she wanted a Friend who would never leave her. This desire for a Friend that would never leave her came from the constant moving from place to place due to her family’s missionary work, and the forlorn feeling she’d get every time she had to leave behind the home, friends and neighbors she’d come to love in the indefinite amount of time her family was able to stay in each location. “Never take lightly the things a child learns and takes to heart, for many a times what they store up in their little hearts at a tender age will play a significant, if not great, part in how they see themselves and the person they choose to become in their later lives.” Tiffany shared, for that one decision to accept Jesus into her heart as her Lord and Savior, but most importantly, as her Friend that would never leave her, is what would be her saving grace in all the definition one can come up with throughout the one life she was given by God to live and still living.
As a young child, Tiffany had the simple logic that being born and raised in Taiwan R.O.C. meant that she was just like the other Taiwanese kids around her. The only thing that stood out were the Taiwanese adults’ constant comments about 1) her hair being so curly that it was either a wig or was artificially curled and 2) that her skin was not as fair as it should be, but those comments didn’t bother her then because it seemed to be a grown-up thing to exclaim over any child’s features. One memory that took the cake for Tiffany, in regards to the Chinese adults commenting on her darker skin, was during her kindergarten years when her class teacher was applying makeup to her and her classmates for the annual kindergarten production where all the kids would be dressed in various costumes and dramatic make up to showcase various traditional Chinese dances, songs, and stories told through skits. Tiffany had noticed that the other girls only needed a couple minutes to have their face powdered and primped to be stage ready, but when it got to her it felt like forever (sounds familiar to those with little kids? Hahaha) because the teacher would apply one layer of white foundation powder to Tiffany’s face, assess her work, shake her head and apply another layer while muttering, “Too dark, not white enough. Need mooooore white!” this cycle repeated about 4 to 5 times with the interjections of “Mooooore white!” in between before her class teacher was finally pleased with her work before calling up the next child and letting a relieved Tiffany to move on to get her costume on.

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In Tiffany’s recollection of her childhood, it was in her elementary school years where she learned that her simple child-like logic that she was like any other Taiwanese kid was very wrong, snide comments from her school peers suggesting that her physical differences were actually physical defects/mistakes that made her wear the adjectives ‘weird’, ‘funny looking’, ‘ugly’ or simply ‘wrong’. Each insults hurled at her created unsettling ripples through her core caused her self-confidence and self-image to be shook for the first time in her young life. The questions like “why am I not the same as the others?” “Why do they keep picking on me?” “Why can’t I be like them with straight hair and fairer skin?” “Why can’t I fit in?” would persistently pop up and slowly chip away at her own self-acceptance and confidence turning it into ingratitude of what she had. Being the only Samoan family in Taiwan at that time Tiffany did not understand that she was different because she was a Samoan girl, and not a Taiwanese girl. Tiffany, as prescribed by her Samoan DNA, stood out like the huge dinosaur bones from the museum amongst the local girls whose petit frames, straight silky hair and fair complexions made her feel as if she was too tall, too broad, too dark, and topped off with hair that seemed to echo her resentment with it’s curly chaos.
On one particular night, after her family had just moved to the city in another county in Taiwan where she just entered 4th grade, an incident happened that changed everything for Tiffany. No one foresaw such a thing would happen, certainly not her parents, and especially not ten years old Tiffany. But it happened. In their own home, when her parents were out, in her own room, and by Tiffany’s baby-sitter, the son of close family friends who was in his late teens that little Tiffany had looked up to as her big friend. Tiffany recalled the moment her sleepy mind registered that a pair of hands that were not hers on her body and the spike of fear and shock that ran up her spine. She remembered trying all she could to feign sleep throughout the whole ordeal for fear of what may happen if he realized she was not in fact asleep. She recalled how her mind seemed to have lost all functions in the haze of panic and simply shut down, trying to block out what was happening, only leaving the single thought that what was happening was wrong and that she was not clean anymore. She was dirty.
For almost a decade Tiffany had kept silent for fear it would cause a rift between her parents and their family friends believing that it would sadden her parents greatly. Another reason for her silence was that not long after the incident where she was able to gather what courage she could to reach out to an adult for help, the very same babysitter happened to have been near by and had cornered her saying, “They will never believe you, you’re just a kid and I’m older. They’ll believe what I tell them.” And ten years old Tiffany believed him for a very long time. Later, as the years went by, her silence was continued by the self-hatred that had grown and developed from the one lingering thought she had since that incident: She was not clean anymore, she was dirty.

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Tiffany shared that from her own ten years old point of view, she had thought that the incident did not leave any lingering after affects on her except for the single thought that she was not clean. She was dirty. She was tainted. Unfortunately, when she categorized herself as ‘not clean’, her mind unconsciously started to collect all that she knew then, and for the following six years, what ‘not clean’ meant and applied the definitions to be her identity. It had resulted in a definition that ended up with Tiffany standing at the edge of a four-story high building’s roof on the night of her 16th birthday with one foot ready to step into nothingness. What else was there to do with something that was unclean, dirty, and tainted? You get rid of it. But, instead of falling off the roof to her end, Tiffany said that the moment her body was about to tilt forward following her foot that stepped into nothingness, all she felt was a sudden pressure on her chest that shoved her up and back away from the edge and onto roof’s ground. While feeling disorientated and dumbfounded at what just happened, the image of her parents appeared in her mind, and to her distress, they were crying.

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With all that had happened, with all that Tiffany was determined to believe that she was unwanted, a shame, repulsive in looks, the wrong gender, trash, a burden to her parents, that her family would be so much better off and happy without her… a little quiet part of her that was buried deep down under all the lies, the condemnations, the masks and pain still believed that her mom and dad, though not understanding Tiffany’s rebellion and closed off change, still loved her. Tiffany shared that she knew immediately that it was God who showed her that image, for only He would know what would have stopped her from killing herself because no one else would ever have guessed it for she had pushed every single person away and built the thickest and tallest walls she could around her heart to keep them out. It was God who had grabbed her away from the edge of the roof for no other living being was on that roof with her except for a couple potted plants. God was telling her right then and there to not kill herself, He was there, He knows she’s hurting but also knows that grieving her parents like the image that was shown her was not something she would ever want. It could have been a couple minutes or an hour that she lay pinned there on the roof top but at the end, when she was finally able to get up and sneak back to bed acting as if she did not just attempt suicide just moments ago, Tiffany came to the realization that after all the things that had happened to her and all the things she had done since that night when she was 10 years old, God, her Friend, had never left her, just as He promised when she accepted Him into her heart all those years ago at that summer camp. She was not alone. Someone cared.

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Ever since that night’s encounter with God, Tiffany’s relationship with God grew in strength and in depth through constant conversations and time spent with Him. As she learned more and more about Who her Friend was, God, with all the patience, kindness, gentle firmness only He could ever possess, started to show Tiffany who she truly was and what her true worth was. The first clear identity He showed Tiffany was when He said, “Tiffany, my daughter”. To many this phrase would be quite anticlimactic if not insignificant, but to Tiffany it held much significance for it confirmed to her that she was wanted by God as His own child and that she was always meant to be a FEMALE child of His. Ever since that awful night when she was 10 years old, Tiffany had come to believe that the atrocity had happened to her because she was a girl. This brought about what many would describe as Tiffany’s “tomboy phase” where she would put most of her energy into making sure she dressed, talked, walked, ate, and acted like a boy while the remaining energy was used to either hate herself for not being a boy and for being “dirty” or to hate herself for not being able to fit in the way society expected her to be as one who was born with a female body. This self-hatred unfortunately had translated to an undercurrent of bitter jealousy she had towards her younger brothers who she believed (in her jaded logic) were more loved by her dad because they were boys. Tiffany shared that, prior to her attempt at suicide, many a times she’d consider saving up money to have plastic surgery done so she could actually look like a guy; one time she’d even try to force herself to believe she could like other girls the way a real guy would like a girl, but the very thought would only make Tiffany feel queasy and not right so she instead resigned herself to be a Tomboy and that the only person she’d marry would be her coffin. She recalled how happy she felt for the few instances when she was genuinely mistaken for a guy by complete strangers and one time even by her own youth pastor for those instances were the closest she’s ever felt to being accepted for the new identity she forced herself to wear. So, the significance of when God specifically said, “Tiffany, my daughter” was His confirmation to the little girl who accepted Him into her heart all those years ago that she was never created as a girl by mistake, that she herself was not a mistake, and that she is His daughter and friend that He specifically created, wanted, and loves very much. For the first time in 19 years, Tiffany was able to accept that she was not a son but a beloved daughter. His daughter.
The next significant revelation about her identity that God showed her took Him hauling her whole family from Asia all the way back to the Pearl of the Pacific. Samoa. Tiffany could not recall exactly how long after their move to Samoa that she realized it, but she does remember that it was when she was sitting in the Falelauniu bus to Apia when she was hit with the “Aha!” moment and the sudden mix of all positive emotions that exploded within her as a consequence of it came with such intensity that it took all her willpower to not leap up from her seat in the bus and cheer and dance like an idiot. To an onlooker, the only outward sign of her barely contained joy was the huge goofy grin that threatened to split her face in half.

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What was the revelation that brought out such a reaction? Well, it was when she realized that for the first time since being born that no one looked at her like she was weird, no one commented on her physical features being out of the ordinary, no one gave a reaction that suggested anything out of the norm…the lack of negative attention or any attention at all meant that she was – NORMAL! She realized that in Samoa she was neither too tall, too dark, too fat, hair too curly, or too much of anything! She realized that she was never meant to fit in as a Taiwanese woman because God created her to be a Samoan Woman who carried physical traits that could be found in her beautiful Samoan sisters. Throughout her time in Samoa she had also learned how in our culture woman are valued, treasured, and protected. For the first time she was starting to understand what it meant to be God’s Beloved Samoan Daughter. Tiffany shared that it was 2013 where she realized for the first time that she was not ugly and unattractive when a young man approached her dad to ask for his permission to pursue Tiffany. Though her dad rejected that young man, Tiffany was and still quite grateful to him for his courage to actually approach her dad (he had warned Tiffany and her sister that he would hang any guy that wants more than friendship with his daughter from the roof and if they survive after 5 minutes he’d then consider whether or not they would date his daughters) and with that courage had shown Tiffany that she was not a hopeless case in looks and attraction where she’d marry her coffin in the future but that there was hope that one day she’d get to share her life with someone. Tiffany, with bright smile, further shares that last year 2018 her dad had finally said “yes” (thankfully without the hanging) to a gentleman that she had gotten to know through CrossFit Fatutoa in Vaitele-Fou since 2016 and is happily learning what it means to be pursued as a woman as well as learning to love him the way God loved her, “for it’s the best kind of love you could ever give someone,” shares Tiffany. “There is so much more to learn,” say Tiffany, “but, for now, I know that I am a valuable and beautiful Samoan daughter of God, and He made me worth pursuing.”

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Ms. Fepuleai shone a light on some of the issues we are facing today such as Domestic Violence and expressed how it was not meant to be in our culture and values. She remembered when she moved back to Samoa, the guys staying on the YWAM campus where they lived would always try to help her with chores outside the house. At first, she saw this as an insult thinking that they thought her weak and frail because she was a girl, but her uncle explained to her that it was actually their way of showing that they value and treasure her. That Samoa even has a proverb saying that “the sister is the pupil of the brother’s eye” or in Samoan “O le tuafafine o le ioimata o lona tuagane”. This proverb shows that, like ones own pupil, you would protect it and take care of it with great care for it is an important part of you. It was considered a cowardly act to hit a woman. Tiffany remember feeling so surprised when she read about domestic abuse in Samoa Observer, especially towards the women, after learning about the proverb from her uncle.
When asked about her take on Empowerment, Tiffany shared, “I actually relate more to the word ‘encourage’ instead of ‘empower’ when it comes to finding ones identity and value because empower means to give authority or power to someone to do something, but encourage means to give support, confidence, and hope. I am partial to the word encourage because it includes the word – courage, for it is does not mean to have no fear, rather, it’s being able to do what’s good and right even when faced with the very thing that you fear.”

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Tiffany gives all credit to God, her Father and Friend, for always being by her side and loving her through everything and bringing her to where she is as a person and as His daughter. She also gives credit to her parents who were the ones that introduced God to her from the beginning and being the greatest examples of what it means to be a Christian not just through their walk and their talk, but also through the way they loved each other and their kids. Tiffany wanted to give a special thanks to Bobby Carney and the people of Her Voice who have given her the honor to share with all the readers her story.
When asked for any last words, “It was with the readers in mind that I felt that this particular story was to be shared in hopes that others who have gone through similar struggles would find hope, support, and encouragement from it and know that there is a God who has the full capacity to empower YOU to come out of the darkest and roughest times of your life. You are valuable, you are loved, and you are not alone.”

IMG_7315Dress by Eveni Pacific

Makeup by Bossbabez Make Me Up Studio

Photography by Dannicah Chan

Story written by Marsietenor Schmidt 

Ms. Petronilla Molioo

“Trapped inside out, she had to break through the boundaries that society was beginning to accept as the norms, while realizing that the answer to most insane questions asked was right in front of her and the only way she knew how to push through was to action what she had already knew”

Ms Petronilla Molioo is a 27 year old young woman from the villages of Faleapuna, Tafitoala, Amaile and Ululoloa. A mother to three young handsome boys, a wife who was subjected to domestic violence, an inventor whose eyes see beauty in waste material, the first graduate of her degree in the whole of her homeland, a successful young entrepreneur who still has time to volunteer, the recipient of the Queens Award 2018.

DSC_0211 family photo20180.jpgAs a successful young entrepreneur, Ms Petronilla confidently spoke and disclosed most of the challenges she had faced (and is still is facing) in achieving success which she had been very fortunate and blessed with. According to her, she believes in an inch away from attaining a blessing, “challenges are always there to either test, push, or to relinquish you”, says Petronilla. Hence why it has become a norm for her to expect the unexpected challenges along the unpredictable voyage she paddles through with sweats of tears and restless nights. A reflection on her journey are the simple but rigid achievements she successfully obtained, thus have truly amazed and inspired us with the hope it will do the same to you.

After graduating as a qualified therapy and beautician, she was blessed with beautiful baby boys, having married and started a business which helped her pull through the challenges of the early motherhood just at the age of nineteen (19). This defied her to work to the best of her ability as she was no longer working for herself, but for the future of her kids.

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Whilst the world, was astonished with amazement with her sublimity for the Queens Young Leader Award, behind the scene was that vulnerable girl who was shouting for shelter to shelf up the broken pieces of her heart which have been scattered within her. The world did not see the big picture of what really was happening. She was that girl who came back home being the only recipient of the Queens Award who was not vocal on social media, she came home to being to being silenced, to losing her identity, to looking for answers, to crawling back to her rabbit hole feeling all insecure and unimportant to just what she has not yet accomplished within the walls of her own home.

However, because she embraced her challenges, because she was mentally fit to be in that position, and because she is a mother, she conquered the temporary emotional disturbance she knew was going to extinguish her.

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But aside from being mentally fit to push aside the setbacks, Ms Petronilla had confidently spoken about the true power of prayer, as one of the means she used to overcome all the challenges, especially when her options were all so limited.

Aside from her family, she also had a very supportive team from the Samoa Victim Support Group who had taken her through the process of appreciating her situation in comparison with people who had gone through situations if not similar, or worse. Both in physical and emotional abuse from domestic violence.

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Her beautiful mother Anarosa Molioo had always taught her the challenges she faces everyday should always be embraced. “This is the only time we get to grow, and the only time we evaluate our actions and find the best alternative to a better approach. This is the time we get to ponder and grow out of the setbacks having realized, God will never give us any challenges which are insurmountable than that we can handle” says Anarosa. Words of encouragement passed down from mother to daughter, cherished and shared by Petronilla has helped her through countless rough tides and it works!

With Petronilla having to realize, that she is a role model for future young ladies who face similar situations, she strongly believes that the solution to this is to empower women at their earliest stages of development. Therefore, when asked about her view on women empowerment, Petronilla emphasized the importance of “being inclusive.” Having said so, she emphasized that Samoa is a very small nation, and in order to revive such small group and sustaining it, it seems to be compulsory that we get to mostly have elite people in it. A selection of people with status, the richest, the best-educated, the most powerful group. At the end, the whole concept and the reason why we started that initiative is forgotten. The whole purpose was to empower the less fortunate women such as and particularly the nofotanes

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In her view, there is a great gap between the women who are included in the women empowerment programs and the actual women who were supposed to be targeted. Such is very unrealistic and irrelevant. The questions always are, how can a nofotane who did not get the same level of education with the ACEO be aspired by the thought that woman should be seen as an inspiration because her status is superior to the nofotane. How can a nofotane be inspired when all she does is to stay home, grow the cabbages and do all the domestic duties which she doubts the ACEO woman is also doing on an everyday basis. Where is the relation between the two different women with very distinct statuses? To empower women, we must be relatable and inclusive.

She also stated that in nowadays, everyone always says they are a victim. But how can we cease to be victims if we choose to blankly shut the world out. Having said so, she encourages our young women to overcome their insecurities and start speaking and just commence being inclusive themselves. According to Petronilla everyone’s voice should be valued.

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She also reminded that some women who are involved in these programs are more focused on empowering women in other societies whilst forgetting the women who are within their own circle of friendship and family, who are desperately shouting from within that they need to be empowered. She believes we need to know that women empowerment begins within our own families. This should be done by simply sitting down and start conversing as women.

Also, she reiterated the importance of being inclusive when approaching gender equality issues. This is one of the biggest issues we are still addressing. In addressing this she stated that we need to see this as a way to reevaluate ourselves. For our dear fa’afafines and fafatama, they are struggling every day, because if these people are uncertain of their identities such could lead them to suicide because of waking up to thinking “I’m not in a body I think I should be in”. But we should be grateful that we are in a certain way. Although we have to be inclusive but again, one must be able to break the silence and speak up.

In her opinion, gender equality is either spoken by a politician, NGO or from an overseas person. Where are the rest of the voices? She was reminded by the saying of a former teacher at Saint Joseph’s College, Brother Steven, she paraphrased saying “I am preparing you for overseas”. Initially, she was confused by this statement and assumed he meant that he was preparing them to be prepared when emigrated to an overseas country. However, today she is able to comprehend his statement. She said what he always meant was we have to be able to expand the box we are constrained in, having very similar thoughts among ourselves, and having superstitious run our lives. We should choose how to run our lives, we should choose to speak our minds, we should commit to being empowered, and we should break down the box we are in bondage within.

To all the young people who are going through the difficulties of not being empowered, being underestimated and being held back by any reason, Ms Petronilla advises that you should embrace yourself, embrace your challenges, and speak up. That is empowerment, you have to realize at some point when you should be having enough and see beauty in your challenges.

Ms Petronilla expresses her sincere gratitude for having such a family who has always been besides her supporting. She is thankful for everyone she met, according to her these people were handpicked by God.

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Dress by Eveni Pacific

Makeup by Cakeface Samoa

Photography by Lagi Reupena

Story written by Loframa Nyvon Fraser