The Impact the US Peace Corps on Samoan society lives on
A United States Peace Corps volunteer with children of his Samoan family
Editors Note: This is the third in a series of feature stories on the impact of the work of the United States Peace Corps volunteers on the celebration of 50 years of their service in Samoa.
APIA, SAMOA – FRIDAY 19 MAY 2017: Since 1967, more than 2000 United States Peace Corps Volunteers have served across Samoa in many of its villages. The Peace Corps mission is to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals: to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. The first two goals have had a lasting impact on the communities and people of Samoa.
Many Peace Corps Volunteers went to Samoa to teach English, Mathematics, Science, and/or Technical Skills.
Leaso, an EFKS pastor in Ga’utavai recalls having multiple Peace Corps teachers, the most influential being Mrs. Casta who taught his forum 6 English class.
“We used to have an English Theater group where we acted out English plays that she directed. I learned a lot from her on how to act. I still carry that knowledge from her [in] my ministry by having the kids perform skits in church. I also learned from her how to use available materials to make props and costumes.”
Further, Leaso was grateful for the English lessons he received from his Peace Corps teachers: “Being from Savai’i, we usually don’t get help developing [English] skills.”
In an essay for Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary, Samoan Journalist, interpreter Cherelle Jackson talks about how grateful she is for the impact her Peace Corps teachers had on her.
She remembers, “I thought Manitoba was an American centipede until John Osmundson decided to name one of the school laboratory computers after the unoffending Canadian province. ‘This computer from now on will be known as Manitoba,’ he announced on the first day of computer class in Logoipulotu College, deep in the heart of the Safotulafai Mountains, on the island of Savai’i.
“John was my first PC teacher; he was from Colorado, with a cool haircut and many funny jokes to tell. He names the first PC computers to ever arrive at Logoipulotu College, prior to that, our whole class had neither touched nor seen a real computer until that bright sunny day in 1996. For a year John had walked us through the art of computing. He had a talent for relaying complex ideas into simply explained concepts that he himself acted out. His teaching styles were a breath of fresh air from the monotony of lectures. John and other Savaii PCVs [also] initiated an English Camp to encourage all of us to speak more English. This improved my English tremendously. When it was culture day John shared his culture with us by teaching us how to make hot dogs, sing the YMCA song and dance like crazy Americans.”
More than 15 years later since John walked into that class room, Cherelle has written for the Agence France Presse, interpreted for the Wall Street Journal and brushed up her Oxford University thesis. She can’t help but be thankful for teachers like John, whose passion and inspiration brought her to where she is today.
Dawn Therese Rasmussen of Malifa was 23 years old and working at the Teachers’ Training College in Apia when she first met Peace Corps Volunteers. She was tasked with developing a curriculum for the Samoa Physical Education Program and was appreciative of the support she received from the Volunteers as physical education was not a well-known subject area in 1967.
Iokapeta Fualuga Petaia from Vaivase Uta served as the Hostel Matron for the Samoa College where Pre-Service Training was held for the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers in Samoa. There was one PCV named Bradd Shore who made a lasting impact on the lives of Mrs. Pataia and her family.
“He was like a real son to us and a real brother to our children…Peleti considered us his family as well. We were amazed at how willing he was to live like the Samoan people did.” Peleti helped with family fa’alavelaves and brought gifts of fine mats and money to celebrate the completion of their new fale. They were so touched. Many years after Peleti had left he returned with his son Robert to share his experience and meet his Samoan family, Robert’s “grandparents.” Peleti treasured and valued his volunteer experience. And that was passed on to his son Robert who later became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia.
In the 50 years since Peace Corps was first invited to Samoa, Volunteers have served in the areas of Education, Health, Agriculture, Environmental Protection, Infrastructure, and Small Business Development, and in addition to these primary assignments, many Volunteers choose to become involved with side projects within their communities.
One of the greatest impacts of early Education and Health Volunteers was the introduction of the falepisikoa (Peace Corps House) known today as the fale’uila (Bathroom).
In the words of Sosopo Leapai – Savaia of Lefaga, “When the Peace Corps came the toilets used by Samoans were in very poor conditions. The people did not really consider these conditions to affect our health. So even though these Volunteers came as doctors and teachers, they still gave priority in making falepisikoa and they worked closely with village matais and untitled men, and this project immediately reached the rest of Samoa.”
Over the course of 50 years, it is inevitable that some villages will have hosted multiple Volunteers. Rako, a currently serving Volunteer in a village on Upolu, learned that a Peace Corps Volunteer had proceeded him and that the villagers remembered her fondly for her work improving literacy at the school, her creation of a school library, and the world map she helped paint on the school walls. The village also hosted a Peace Corps training group (Peace Corps Volunteers are given 11 weeks of language, cross-cultural and technical training before they go to the sites where they will serve for two years).
While there were no amazing stories of the volunteers saving the day or doing something heroic, just helping in day to day life and contributing to the goal of promoting English literacy, Rako realized’ “This isn’t something to be disappointed about, in fact this is exactly what Peace Corps Volunteers are trying to do!”
Volunteers do not join the Peace Corps for fame or fortune, they join because they believe in the Peace Corps mission and are committed to a life of service. For that reason, there are not many stories about Volunteers saving the day or doing something heroic, rather, the stories reflect Volunteers dedicated to contributing day to day. The impact of each Volunteer’s dedication to 27 months of service in Samoa lives on.