News Story

Village Churches Unite to Rebuild Cyclone-Damaged School

Months after Cyclone Evan destroyed their primary school, and with long-hoped-for financial aid still nowhere in sight, residents in the Samoan village of Safaatoa decided the only solution was to rebuild it themselves. They are on schedule to re-open the school this week, just in time for the beginning of the third term.

Cyclone Evan (December 13-14, 2012) tore away most of the school’s corrugated metal roof. Ceilings, walls, desks, books and other supplies in the exposed classrooms were heavily damaged or ruined by the pounding rain.

The village was told by the education department that they would look for financial aid to repair the now unusable school, but so many schools had been damaged by the storm that things looked bleak. After four months and no aid, the village council decided they could wait no longer.

The village matais (chiefs) committed their families to raise the needed cash. Farani Loto, pulenu’u (mayor) of Safaatoa, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was put in charge of reconstruction.

He asked the village’s churches (two parishes of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, one ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and one congregation of the Assembly of God) to work together on a variety of repair and rebuilding projects.

Finau Sefo is the chairman of the village school committee, a deacon in the CCCS church and a matai.  “We are three different churches, but we all worship the same God,” he said. “Working together is very good for the whole village, especially when (it blesses) the children and their futures. “

While families sacrificed to pay for the needed materials, the churches united to provide organization and labor. Fortunately the village had experienced plumbers, carpenters and masons.

Since the storm, the 180 primary students have been going to school in several family fales (traditional Samoan homes).

Because the fales are open-sided, teachers must unpack and repack books and supplies each day. It is also difficult to keep the childrens’ attention, especially when family members drop by or when travellers pass on the coastal road fronting the makeshift schools.

“There are no walls to post anything on,” said Lualua’i Ulinai, a teacher at the school.  “I miss putting up the children’s work, so they can see their accomplishments.” 

Today men are priming and painting inside and outside walls, ceilings, and window frames. The color scheme is white with red, blue and yellow trim. Some of the volunteers stand fearlessly atop covered desks as they roll white paint onto the ceilings.

Tuiala Asegi, a farmer and carpenter by trade, and bishop of the village’s Latter-day Saint congregation, is busy painting the classroom walls white.  Three of his four children attend the primary school.  “I’m happy to be doing this.  It will help all of the children in the village to have a better education.” 

Fiaui Folasa Sene is a farmer, a Latter-day Saint, and the father of eight children, two of whom attend the school. “It makes me happy to help,” he says. 

Not all workers have children attending the school but they still want to help.  Harry Faafeu Finau, President of the Upolu Samoa South Stake, said, “This school is a part of us because we attended here. It is important for us to work together to rebuild it.”

Farani Loto, a nephew of the mayor, is a returned Latter-day Saint missionary and an accomplished carpenter.  Asked why he volunteers daily to help, he replies, “It makes me feel really good.”

Former Safaatoa Ward Bishop Siave McKenzie recently moved to New Zealand, but when he came back for a visit, “I was volunteered to work at the Primary School,” he said with a smile.

The school has an entirely new corrugated metal roof. The old roofing panels lie in laboriously piled stacks of twisted and bent metal. Dozens of now useless school desks sit outside the classrooms. The rain that poured in when the roof came off ruined the particle board desktops and rusted the metal frames. Pule Nu’u Loto would like to buy some plywood to make new desktops but does not have enough money to do so.

The carpentry work is now mostly completed.  Many rafters, ceiling joists and ceiling panels have been replaced.  A covered walkway and porch runs the length of the building outside the classrooms. Wood columns that supported the roof overhang have been replaced with much stronger metal ones. Nails attaching the posts to the beams will soon be replaced with bolts.

Electricians have rewired the classroom lighting systems. While they were at it, the village decided to add a new room to the school to give them space for a library.

Today, members of the Latter-day Saint congregation are trimming the grass in the large schoolyard normally used for netball, soccer, rugby and other schoolkids’ games.  The bishop provided the gas and string, while the members brought their own trimmers to do the job. 

On Saturday, the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa has the assignment to clean away construction debris and replant flowers and shrubs at the front of the school.  Every Monday the taulele’a (untitled men) from the village come to work at the school.

President Finau observed, “There is a Samoan saying, 'So’o le fau i le fau,' which means unity is strength.  It is important that we work together, because we become stronger."

Additional Resources

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