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Family of four lives on $41 a week

By Charlina Tone APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Nov. 29, 2010) – The notion that poverty does not exist in Samoa has been quashed by a number of families interviewed by the Samoa Observer.

The general consensus is that poverty and hardship are compounded by the rising cost of living. As a matter of fact, it is taking its toll on people.

Leone Saumalu, a 67-year-old mother of four in Sogi, says life is "too expensive."

"I hope you do not think I am making this up, she says, but most days all we live on are bananas cooked in coconut cream (fa’alifu fai). We can’t afford to buy anything from the store. We struggle to get by everyday and I fear that my two children here with me will live like this for the rest of their lives."

Mrs. Saumalu is so distraught she is teary during our interview.

Her daughter works and earns a gross income of 100 tala [US$41] a week.

"We have to budget it very wisely because if we don’t, we will be in trouble," she says.

The money is spent on electricity, water and donations to the church.

"If there is any money left then we use it for sugar and other basic necessities."

She is not alone. There are other families in town facing similar struggles.

Temukisa Tauinaola, of Vaimoso, is unemployed. She and her husband raise four children on less than 100 tala [US$41] a week.

"I stay home everyday, do house chores and look after our children while my husband goes to work," she says.

Two of her children are now in school. They walk to school everyday because transportation costs are expensive. They only take 2 tala [US 80 cents] for their lunch.

"This is what I went through as a child, she says. It saddens me that so many years later little has changed. My children are still walking to school. It breaks my heart to watch my children live such a hard life."

Ioane Iakopo, of Vaitoloa, blames the government for the cost of living. He feeds a family of seven with a 120 tala [US$49] a week budget.

"I blame the government for not seeing the needs of the people, he says. They are concerned with so many other things yet there are people like us who are stuck in this poverty cycle with no chance of escaping."

He reveals their water supply has been cut. For the time being, they depend on rain water.

"I am trying to figure out where to get the money from to pay it," he says.

He says this type of lifestyle contributes to so many social problems.

"It’s depressing and frustrating, and it’s being in this kind of situation that causes some people to turn to alcohol to release their anger and commit crimes as a last resort to get money."

And it is not just the town area feeling the pinch. Many people in rural areas struggle with similar grievances.

Tofamamao Semu, of Vaie’e, has four children between the ages of seven and one. She and her husband are both unemployed and are also caring for her elderly parents.

She says the sea is their source of life. Her husband goes fishing in the early hours of the morning and at night.

"It’s a tough life but it is the only means of survival," she says.

She says she can’t remember the last time her family bought meat from the store.

"We just can’t afford it, we have no money," she explains.

She says money is sent over from relatives every now and then but even that doesn’t get far.

"We’re talking about once every three months, she says. We use that to buy sugar, soap and other necessities."

Not far from Mrs. Semu is the family of Eneli Longhoi.

The Samoa Observer found him working hard in his plantation. It was almost midday and the sun was boiling hot. He wakes up at 6 am most mornings to start work in his plantation.

His wife tends to their children and does house chores. He does not return home until late in the afternoon with food for dinner and the next day.

At night, he goes fishing with other village men. The family lives in a tiny shack with very scarce possessions.

There are no beds and they all sleep on mats spread out on the wooden floor of the fale.

Eneli says these are the conditions he grew up in and he fears his children will face the same struggle.

"It’s a terrible hard life but the government does not see that, he says. A lot of resources were concentrated into the tsunami areas but we have been living like this all our lives with no assistance from the government."

He says meat from the store is a luxury.

"We only have some on special occasions but the whole year through we eat fish and whatever I get from the plantation or the sea."

Leafa Pogai, of Lotofaga, lives with a family of 40.

"The cost of living has sky rocketed and we are struggling to get by," she says.

As we spoke with Mrs. Pogai, dozens of children start to gather around her.

"Some are mine, some are my sister’s, my brother’s, my cousins, we all live here," she says.

She says their way of life has not changed much since she was a little girl.

At 43, she says she has seen little development in their family.

In a letter to the Samoa Observer, Peter A Bendinelli, President of the Saint Vincent de Paul, said "the subject of poverty is one many people prefer to brush under the table."

He said no matter what some politicians, pastors and village hierarchies say, there are pockets of considerable poverty in urban Apia as well as in many villages especially those in Savai’i.

He says the generalization that people are poor because they are lazy is not always the case.

"Some poverty is a direct result of unadulterated laziness, he writes. Unfortunately this makes it so easy for all poverty-struck sufferers to get labeled with this description. The poor and needy easily become stigmatized."

Samoa was earmarked for graduation from the least developed country status this year.

But the government asked to push back our graduation because Samoa is not ready.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Saliele Maliegaoi told the United Nations, Samoa has been experiencing economic difficulties because of the after-effects of the September 2009 tsunami.

As a result, the General Assembly has extended Samoa’s transition period until 2014.

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