Oct 30, 2009
By Gerard Niemira
News from Samoa: Update from the Field

On September 29, 2009, an 8.3-magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami that claimed 184 lives in the Pacific Islands of Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga. It was the deadliest disaster in the history of Samoa – a country with a population of 188,000 – and a date that Samoans say “will live in the heart of Samoa forever.” Many of you have emailed Kiva, concerned about the particular person you have lent to. Please know it was very touching for those here in Samoa. It has been heartwarming and comforting to see so much support.

As a Kiva Fellow with South Pacific Business Development (SPBD), Kiva’s Field Partner serving entrepreneurs in Samoa, I have seen first-hand SPBD’s non-stop work since the disaster to
assess the extent of the tsunami’s damage and to organize both a short- and long-term aid effort for tsunami victims. It has been hectic to continue normal operations while conducting an emergency relief effort, but I can proudly say that SPBD has been one of the leaders of a group of international organizations brought together by the United Nations to head the aid effort in Samoa. Here is an update from the ground:

The Aftermath
Fortunately, none of SPBD’s borrowers have lost
their lives. Out of over 5,000 borrowers, 143 have lost their homes and businesses and an unfortunate few have lost multiple family members. Children and the elderly, the most vulnerable demographic, made up a large part of the death toll. The tsunami’s effects on Samoa’s infrastructure and economy are still unraveling. In one village, women report that their bakery sales have decreased by 20% because the school where they usually sold their goods is temporarily closed. Shop owners have seen their consumer base disappear along with tourism.

The businesses affected most by the tsunami are plantations, shops, and fishing operations. Beachfront plantations were reduced to brown reeds and others located further inland were damaged by salt water. Demolished tourist shops have only the concrete foundation remaining. Those who fished for a livelihood have seen their nets washed away and their canoes broken.

The silver lining in the wake of all this destruction is that it was limited. The tsunami hit the touristy southeast coast of Samoa and spared Apia, the capital. At 7 a.m., when the disaster struck, most Samoans were awake and in the middle of morning chores. Uninhabited islands and reefs shielded some villages from the full brunt of the wave. Overall, less than 5% of SPBD’s portfolio was affected by the tsunami.

In the week following the tsunami, I traveled to the villages where SPBD’s borrowers were affected. The stories of survival and loss are incredible. One woman recalled how she woke up surrounded by water and grabbed a wooden panel to float to safety. She did not feel the earthquake when it struck. Another woman told of holding on to a doorknob while gushing water pushed her off her feet. The force of the wave ripped some people’s clothes off. Most Samoans, however, were able to run uphill to safety, only to watch helplessly as the water swept their belongings out to sea. Most of the Samoans I met are still in shock. They say little, which is unusual for a culture famed for long speeches!

Below are a couple of stories from SPBD women that I had the opportunity to speak with:

Fiataua Loto
Fiataua Loto is a pretty 31-year-old whose house on Manono Island was located a few feet from the shoreline. Before the tsunami, her house was an idyllic spot, with the Pacific as a backyard. She had just used her second loan from SPBD to renovate her house. But now, her home is reduced to rubble and her fishing nets and canoes have also been washed away.

Fishing was Fiataua’s main source of income. Fishing three times a week typically allowed Fiataua to save 100 talas per week. She now estimates that it will cost 20,000 talas to rebuild her house. Though Fiataua has experienced a heavy loss, her spirit remains strong. “I’m angry at the wave, sad that I lost my house, but thankful that I have my three children and family. I won’t forget what happened, but it isn’t going to change the way I live.”

Ruta Sao
Ruta Sao lives in Saleapaga, a coastal village that was decimated by the tsunami. Thirteen of SPBD’s borrowers in Saleapaga have lost their homes. The village can now be found interspersed among the bushy outgrowth in the hills, where some of it was cleared for plantations. Sadly, Ruta lost four of her children during the tsunami, but her two remaining children can still be seen playing in the sun.

Ruta has set up a makeshift shelter (a tarp held up by wooden poles) next to her plantation, a quarter of a mile away from the other plantations. Due to her shelter’s distance away from the beach, Ruta was unable to receive relief aid until two days after the tsunami struck Samoa. It was only after driving around and asking villagers that we were able to find her. Amazingly, Ruta was ready to make her weekly loan repayment to SPBD. She now plans to rebuild her home inland away from the beach.

Help is On the Way
On October 9 and 10, SPBD distributed an aid package to each of the borrowers who had lost a home or business to the tsunami. Each package contained basic items such as water, tinned fish, rice, toiletries, buckets, tableware, mosquito coils, and a bush knife (the most popular item!) along with 150 Tala (spending power of approximately $75 in the U.S.) to buy other necessities. Each aid package totaled 400 talas, more than a month’s salary for underprivileged Samoans. The women were all very excited and appreciative for this assistance.

In the next several weeks, SPBD will roll out a larger relief effort for all of the victims of the tsunami. They have committed over 100,000 talas to this initiative and have brought in two consultants to help with the relief projects. In addition to offering each of the 143 affected clients an additional 1,000 tala loan, SPBD will be experimenting with a cash-for-work program that will hire tsunami victims in community clean-up and reconstruction projects. Not only will this initiative put money into the pockets of those who have lost their homes and businesses, but it will also pump back money into the local community.

Samoa will recover from the tsunami. Plantations can be replanted and regrown in 6 months. A fale – the typical Samoan home – can be rebuilt in days, though Samoans will probably want to use sturdier materials in the reconstruction of their houses. Most of the tourist resorts have announced plans to rebuild. However, it remains to be seen when the tourism industry – which accounts for about 25% of Samoa’s gross domestic product – will come back. The prime minister has pledged that Samoans will never forget what has happened and will learn the lessons of the tsunami.

In the upcoming weeks, I will try to speak with each affected Kiva borrower and share their stories. Out of the 143 SPBD borrowers affected, 36 are currently on Kiva and 42 others have previously been posted on Kiva (as of October 14).

Listed below are the women with active loans on Kiva:

Name

Status

1

Silia Oa

No House

2

Nora Taleni

No House

3

Koreti Potoi

No House

4

Alofa Saupo

No House

5

Solema Ese

No House

6

Kalameli Tiligo

No House

7

Salaevalu Matila

No House

8

Kiona Levasa Pela

No House

9

Soonalote Tuigamala

No House

10

Satelite Falanaipupu

No House

11

Mamaioa Nuuali

No House

12

Mu Pato

No House

13

Samalaulu Vaa

No House

14

Maseiga Iosua

No House

15

Laumoe Seuala

No House, Badly Injured

16

Talaleu Toafa

No House

17

Sosefina Taupega

No House

18

Tae Pologa

No House

19

Sefau Kaisa

No House

20

Makerita Tootoo

No House, No Business

21

Iemaima Peni

No House, No Business

22

Loimata Ioapo

No House, Lost tourist fale, but still has plantation

23

Ato Ailaulau

No House, No Business

24

Iloa Tovia

No House

25

Soo Lefale

No House

26

Lemapu Fialua

No House

27

Veronika Silipa

No House

28

Soo Perise Maulolo

No House

29

Faalaeiau Tauailoto

No House

30

Folole Tanuvasa Lefao

No House, No Business

31

Pele Faasisila

No House

32

Suati Lima

No House

33

Otilia Ulu

No House

34

Elena Pasina

Furniture/Kitchenware/Clothes lost

35

Iuni Siaosi

No Fishing Boat

36

Olataga Faapito

No House


Listed below are the women with loans that have ended on Kiva:

Name

Status

1

Iloga Niko

No House

2

Siulepa Sakalaia

No House

3

Tauala Feagai Sale

No House

4

Meleseke Tagaloa

Furniture/Kitchenware/Clothes lost

5

Vaioalisi Faaiuga

No House, No Fishing Boat

6

Fiataua Loto

No House, No Fishing Boat

7

Faanimo Togitasi

No House

8

Fofoa Meleisea

No House

9

Maota Asasa

No House

10

Falanika Nuu

No House, No Business

11

Noela Alataua

No House

12

Vitolina Fiaaiti

No House

13

Mele Popea

No House

14

Alataua Mefi

No House

15

Faisealofa Puletiuatoa

No House

16

Faia Muavae

No House

17

Lematea Anapu

Furniture/Kitchenware/Clothes lost

18

Pua Laga

No House, No Fishing Boat

19

Talita Alaivaa Foleni

No House

20

Talaleu Maota

No House

21

Tivalo Vaa

No House

22

Faletaulupe Lui Paulo

No House

23

Nina Pati

No Business

24

Patisepa Neli

Furniture/Kitchenware/Clothes lost

25

Seutaatia Unasa

Furniture/Kitchenware/Clothes lost

26

Talele Mua

Furniture/Kitchenware/Clothes lost

27

Potoae Unasa

Furniture/Kitchenware/Clothes lost

28

Tuli Faia

No House, No Business

29

Olovesi Tafeaga

No House

30

Pogisa Frazer

No House

31

Palolo Mainuuoti

No House

32

Sieraseta Fiu

No House

33

Ana Samoa

No House

34

Alofa Fili

No House

35

Faalua Pata

No House

36

Fofoa Gasolo

No House

37

Moegau Soamauli

Furniture/Kitchenware/Clothes lost

38

Akenese Pauli Afoa

No House

39

Pepe Levaai

No House

40

Seaga Faatoe

No House

41

Amia Suafai

No House, No Business

42

Toeafe Tiatia

No House


For SPBD’s perspective on the tsunami and its relief efforts, see the blog of Greg Casagrande, the founder of SPBD, on MercyCorps here.

You can join SPBD’s lending team on Kiva here.

Kiva plans to post some of the 1,000-tala calamity loans for tsunami victims on its website here. Please check back at a later date to help fund these and other new loans for borrowers in Samoa.

Also, check out Agnes Chu's latest post on the Kiva Fellows Blog here.

- Agnes Chu is a Kiva Fellow who arrived (safely) in Samoa on September 30, the day after a tsunami devastated the area, for a 3 month assignment with Kiva Field Partner South Pacific Business Development (SPBD).

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Gerard manages Kiva's Partner Product Team, working on tools for Kiva's Field Partners, staff and volunteers. His passion for social enterprise led him to Kiva in 2008 after a stint in Washington, DC working for First Book, a nonprofit organization that distributes new books to programs serving children from low-income households. Gerard graduated with a B.A. in History from St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, NY and now lives in Oakland, CA.

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