On international volunteer’s day, it’s not just formally organised volunteers that are acknowledged, but also communities.
For Samoa, village councils, women’s committees and youth groups have long been responsible for doing the bulk of volunteering in their communities, without pay but with great effectiveness.
To honour that, Olivier Adam, executive director of United Nations Volunteers (U.N.V) travelled to Samoa from Germany to meet people working on the ground.
Tusani Lefaia'ao Reti, matai of Savaia (Lefaga) village said he was pleased to welcome Mr Adam, where several U.N grants have gone to make the coral reef come back to life, and the tourism industry flourish.
He spent Tuesday afternoon in the sun with Mr Adam, the U.N.V Asia-Pacific manager Shalina Miah and a contingent of United Nations Volunteers explaining how Savaia village has rallied together to make the most of their environmental asset.
“The villagers have seen the benefits of the giant clams’ site and are more inclined to look after it,” said Tusani.
The Savaia Giant Clams, today an iconic tourist spot embodies the theme of this year’s volunteer’s day – that volunteerism builds resilient communities.
Assistance from the Fisheries Division and Australia Aid, then the Global Environment Fund – Small Grants Program (G.E.F-S.G.P), and the Civil Society Support Programme (C.S.S.P) helped rejuvenate the coral reef off the coast of Savaia, and build tourist facilities like step access to the water, and buy kayaks to rent.
“We’re now in a stage where we are fully funded by ourselves, we are using the money the tourists pay. We are not looking for additional funding from anybody except when we have major work, like the swimming pools,” said Tusani.
The funds, approximately T$1000 per day is banked to the village account and is spent on village wide activities, like repainting their rubbish bins, or putting on their famous Talomua.
“We’ve used the funds to build the fence for the primary school, and repair the women’s committee house, and many things we would normally ask villagers to contribute to, and now we are not.”
That realises itself in countless savings for Savaia residents, who spend less on village contributions and more on their families schooling and basic needs, Tusani said.
“Since we had this funding from the marine protected area (M.P.A) we’re not asking the village again to contribute, their contribution now is looking after the MPA.
“That’s all we are asking them to do, making sure the clams are safe; the clams is what is bringing people into the village.”
The women do a lot of the pool and steps cleaning, and gathering any rubbish, and the young men guard the M.P.A at night and monitor the late fishermen to ensure no one is stealing the clams. Said Tusani.
As well as improved financial resilience, the fishing has improved with the blooming of the coral. Tusani said where fishermen used to have to venture beyond the reef to fish, today then can canoe around the edges of the M.P.A and return with enough to feed dozens.
Savaia’s display of success shows how with good governance, villages can thrive with just enough grant support, Filifilia Iosefa, sub regional coordinator of the G.E.F-S.G.P said.