I share here advice for those wanting to assist Samoa. I do it in the wake of Cyclone Gita that has done flood damage, and a specific request for advice from a UK sporting team. You can give money but this is not wise – it will go to the leaders of Samoan society, not the likely intended recipients and it feeds a poverty mentality that perpetuates the need for giving. It’s a hard message for those that want to help using their money.
First, to the request for understanding on giving:
I’ve just read your article from 2016 on Samoa.
I am president of a rugby club in the UK and we are in the process of donating £1,000 to support the Samoan U-18 rugby team.
I’m concerned that our money may not make it to the desired recipients.
What do you think?
President [redacted] Rugby Union Football Club, [city redacted], England
I too would be concerned!
But, what a wise man this is. It’s not that I have all the answers . . . it’s more that he’s actually prepared to ask the question because he wants to know and understand things.
The Samoan culture is different to the West. In the West we see things – rugby balls, sports equipment as something of value. In Samoa we treasure relationships more. Equipment is maltreated, stolen, broken, abused and ignored. In the West we want to give money, thinking that this is love, kindness and helpful. In Samoa we too want to give, but we give for show, because it is the cultural norm to do so as a mark of respect and giving honour. We do not maintain, treasure nor care for items, things come easy and go easy – rust, abuse, more gifts from overseas and so on.
There are different reasons why a rugby club in England may want to give – patronising guilt is one negative one but being positive, as I said, we may want to help and genuinely care for those less advantaged, like a third world Samoa.
It may help to answer this man’s question with a description of the mindset of the Samoan who has a new relationship with someone overseas. Obviously people are all different, but this is my best effort to explain the thinking of a typical Samoan who dreams of getting out of Samoa, making it big in sport overseas and bettering their families lot.
a) Any money (or indeed any gift) received – either by a Samoan sports club, or by an individual will always get sent up the chain – typically to the High Chief and Faifeau (Minister, Priest or Pastor). You cannot bypass this for it is a cultural norm. Insisting that monies or gifts go to a specific person or purpose can never work. The ones at the top of the tree MUST and probably WILL get it all. It is then their job to redistribute it as they see fit. Give, by all means but understand that money can be used for beer, food and smokes a lot more easily than buying a rugby ball. For example, when one of our guests gave a tennis ball (against our rules and without our knowledge BTW) to the boy he had befriended, the son of the High Chief fought him for it; then the two parents fought over it and then we were [almost] banned for having brought trouble into a ‘previously peaceful’ village.
b) The first task of a young sporting man is to bring honour to his family, and then to use his talent/fame/opportunities to get out, then send money back home for his parents/family. Any contact with an outsider (Palagi) means heaps more than cash to most Samoans. To get a call from a sportsman in England (even if it is in the middle of the night) or to connect on Facebook brings the honour that is deeply desired. Then to have a meaningful relationship that led to opportunities for a sportsman to play overseas or money, that comes second. Again this is much more valued than cash. The next call from someone who has received a cash donation will be along the lines of, “Can we have more?” or, “Can you get us a job up there?” If I’m sounding cynical, think for a moment. Isn’t this real, natural and only human nature – to be expected?
c) Receiving cash from overseas (and this also ties into Disaster Relief giving) simply reinforces the poverty mentality that so cripples the country. Palagi are seen as sources of wealth (they have it; we don’t) and when it is given, the cycle repeats.
So to specific advice for the President of an English Rugby Football club asking for my thoughts . . . any money will be very well received, thank you very much. Samoans as a people have perfected the art of saying, “Thank you!” Far far better though to use that thousand quid for something that built relationships – even just sending one person down to Samoa for a week and a party, would like have a much higher value than cash, to most.
To send a talent scout would quadruple the value of that expenditure to the Samoans and if an U-18 is the target, then it needs to be with those people directly.
Even a digital relationship or any system of social engagement that was a longer term relationship building exercise would be more appreciated. And the other thing is that it need not be in Samoa that the value is received for it to affect Samoa positively, as the Samoan people transcend national borders and any benefit off-shore is usually fed back (at least in part) to Samoa.
Getting creative in assisting Samoans in England (and there are plenty up there) especially building relationships in a country now getting known for increasing cultural tension will return much more than feeding and providing for Samoan leaders in the Pacific. I’d use the money budgeted for doing something rather than simply sending something (cash or physical).
Another cyclone (Cyclone Gita) has brushed by Samoa and caused flooding.
The calls for cash will be going out shortly if they haven’t already. This is Christmas time for many up there. My advice for giving follows . . .
a) If you give to any government or government agency, know that this will be certainly susceptible to corruption. The more I study and learn about Samoa and the Samoan government, the deeper the corruption becomes visible to me.
b) Even giving to Non-Government agencies will feed systems and brands before people. Look at the vehicles that the people drive – Red Cross has a fleet of new vehicles. This tells you plenty without me even detailing things. Any NGO has a system of management that requires feeding thus your cash WILL be going into sustaining a system, and this will be first, not second.
c) In Samoa, churches are essentially businesses. They operate with cash going FROM the little people TO the leaders week after week after week. Expecting this process to reverse on Monday (or when a cyclone comes) is naive and unrealistic. Sure, things received CAN go out to the people, but I have witnessed more than once the division process and it is certainly not what the Palagi expect when they give!
d) Samoans generally have the supplies that they need available commercially. Local businesses have waterproof covers, canned food, nails and timber galore, and cheap, too! Distribution systems already exist there. If one family has needs, they can usually get that met locally in short order. A container full of batteries, torches, food or tarpaulins usually arrives weeks after the need and is grossly inefficient.
e) As with my advice above, the giving of money without personal relationship and accountability feeds the poverty mentality. Far better to build a relationship with a Samoan, and help their family specifically if there is need. This is what the people really need and want . . . to engage – to share their culture and to have a relationship with Palagi.
f) Give through the local retailers if at all possible. The major suppliers in Samoa all have methods to receive income from offshore and distribute goods in Samoa. Money deposited into their accounts can be available in real goods in Samoa, sometimes within an hour if not realtime. A box of frozen chicken can be in a families hands within an hour and/or purchase from a supplier with a working day! This is a far more efficient and safer method of helping people who need it.
I trust that this description helps you understand the cultural differences and increases your wisdom in giving to Samoa after a Cyclone, or natural disaster.