Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Locked Out of School

There are some great new initiatives being implemented by new CEO's in various ministries here in Samoa.  Some of them I have found were pretty good and am quite interested in seeing how they pan out.  One particular initiative that I find a little contradictory is where all students at Government schools will be sent home if they arrive at school after 9:30 am.  Ok, I see that this is trying to curb tardiness at school but at the same time it is giving students a reason to be late.  If I were in high school and didn't want to got to school all I would have to do is hang around at the bus stop until 9:30 then rock up to school  and get sent home and have a reason as to why I am not at school.

Obviously that is the devious rascal side of me that no other teenager would ever dare think of doing.  But teenagers these days have a lot of responsibilities at home and if they have a legitimate reason like taking a parent to the hospital or the dentist surely they should not be penalized for showing up to school late and wanting to learn.

The whole point of having free schooling for primary and secondary students in Samoa is to encourage them to get out and get an education so that they are able to make a better living and increase the standards of living for themselves and their families.

Tardiness is but a minute issue when it comes to getting our students into schools.  Perhaps the introduction of truancy officers whose sole responsibility is to police the streets and bringing students who are purposely skipping school to their respective schools would be more helpful?

Again people always see the faults in new initiatives and sometimes need to just hold back on giving criticism to see where it may take us, but I feel in this case there really is no point to it.  If a child is late put them on detention, don't give them a reason to skip school.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Flying Frustrations

I just returned from a trip to Australia to visit my family over the holidays.  I had a wonderful time with them which included seeing beautiful sights, eating or more like over eating the delicious food, fun, sun and laughter.  The trip however was greatly soured as we attempted to fly home.

My son is an Australian citizen and holds a temporary resident visa for Samoa.  This enables him to stay in Samoa until the visa expires in 2015.  I went to great lengths before we left to make sure that this stamp was valid and in his passport.  I was confident that there would be no problems when we went to the Melbourne Airport to check in with Virgin Australia.  Oh how I was wrong! 

The Australian Passport website says that “Australian Passports are valid for travel into and out of Australia regardless of the length of remaining validity…Be aware that different countries have different passport validity requirements for permitting entry. If your passport has inadequate validity, you may be refused entry or not be allowed to board your aircraft or ship in the first place.”

My son’s passport expires in June 2013 and our flight was in January 2013, in my mind that is six months validity and fitted within the six month requirement.  However the guest service agent and supervisor counted from February which in their minds made the validity only five months.  So Virgin Australia refused to check my son in even though they had already checked me and my bag in.  While I know that Virgin were well within their rights to do so, surely the resident visa and the fact that he has lived in Samoa for seven out of his nine years of life showed that Samoa would let my son into the country.  What is the point of making sure that we have all the correct information in place if the airline can just decide whatever they feel like suits them?

The guest service agent was extremely polite and very helpful changing the flight to the next week so that we could organize a new passport, also making the necessary notes so that if another change was required it would be free of charge.  The process of getting a new passport sounds like a simple and easy procedure, but this is not the case.  Australian passports for children require consent of both parents.  I completely understand the reasoning for this and think it is a reasonable safety precaution.   However, when parents are divorced and live in two different countries on opposite sides of the world the process becomes that much more difficult.

While I have not taken legal action to gain sole custody of my son, my mother did.  I remember when I was younger and needed a passport my mother still needed my father’s consent, even though at the time he had almost no contact with me and I was travelling to the country where he resided.  In my opinion surely the legal documentation would mean that the other parent doesn’t need to give consent. 

The other requirement is that if overseas the signing of the consent needs to be sighted by an employee of an Australian consulate or embassy.  My son’s father lives in Utah and the closest Australian office is in California.  With the timing being over Christmas, finances are tight and a return flight is very costly.  Already being a week late for work we decided that it best to leave my nine year old son with my sister as school begins shortly and the passport may take longer than we had hoped and also resulted in my son losing his place at a private school in Samoa.

I understand the reasons for having laws in place.  I know that everyone was just doing their jobs.  I could also have been more proactive in making sure that the passport was MORE than six months in validity.  In spite of this it just feels like the humanity factor of life and making decisions is discarded because of these laws resulting in young children bawling their eyes out because they have to be separated from their parent for a long period of time, people missing work and extra stress on finances.

You would think that my woes with passports and Virgin Australia would end there, but it keeps getting better.

After finding a family member who could bring my son back to Samoa once his passport is renewed, I endeavored to call the Guest contact Centre of Virgin Australia to change my son’s booking.  I was on hold for 30 minutes when my call was initially answered.  Apparently I was directed to the wrong division and my call was transferred.  Three and a half hours later my call was answered.  The service person was a lovely woman, very friendly and eager to help.  However, after being on hold for over three hours the last thing I wanted to do was discuss how long I had been waiting for or how long her previous customer had waited.

Virgin Australia had just introduced a new booking system and this was the reason for the delay.  After speaking with the customer service officer we were finalizing the changes when my over four hour phone call got cut off.  I was not about to call back and instead decided to contact Virgin through their facebook page.  My message stated the situation and my displeasure with their service even asking for compensation for the four and a half hour phone call which would cost around AUD$243.40 as it was made from a mobile phone, the only phone available to me.  When I received the follow up phone call clarifications and apologies were received with no mention of compensation.  I am thankful that the changes were made but if a huge multinational airline changes a system surely they will foresee that there will be waiting times and prepare for compensation for waiting.  Having to wait on the telephone for four hours would never happen in Samoa; we would be hung up on or passed around to several people before being hung up on.  How can we expect our developing country to improve when this is the kind of example our so called ‘developed countries’ are showing us?

You would think that nothing else could go wrong at this stage but my flying frustrations continue!  I made my way back to the airport knowing I had my exemption stamp, fully valid passport and confirmed booking.  I am accustomed to the Guest Service Agent checking the exemption stamp and getting their supervisor’s approval, I had just gone through the process the week before when I was checked in and ready to go.  However, this time the supervisor requested documentation of my Samoan citizenship stating that the exemption stamp was not proof of this because it says “holder has unrestricted rights to enter and remain in Samoa whilst Samoan citizenship remains valid.”  Her interpretation of this statement was that documentation of validity of citizenship was necessary before she would check me in.  Her reasoning being that the airline would be fined should the stamp not be valid.  Their attempts to call the Samoan Immigration were unsuccessful as it was already after 7pm in Samoa.  I had to call the Samoan Embassy in Canberra from my personal phone and one of the embassy staff then had to email the Guest Service Agent to say the exemption stamp is proof of my citizenship and to allow me on the plane.  After my many great experiences with Virgin at this stage I was on the verge of tears and the pure arrogance of the supervisor made it very difficult to stay civil and hold back the barrage of unkind words that wanted to be set free.  The supervisor very matter of fact said that it was not their responsibility to make sure that I had the correct documentation, and I agree it isn’t.  But I had all the correct documentation; surely it is their responsibility to ensure that they are familiar with the various visas and exemption stamps so that they know what they mean and the reason for having them.  How is it that they could check me in the week before with the same documentation and were giving me such difficulty this time?

I do agree that the exemption stamp itself could be made clearer in its wording.  Perhaps including the words exemption stamp and changing the wording or adding a validity date would be helpful.

I also see this as an opportunity for the Samoa Immigration office to introduce an after hour’s line for emergencies such as this.

I am so thankful for the Samoan Embassy in Canberra and the extra effort they took in ensuring I was able to board my flight.

Our National airline is an affiliate of Virgin Australia and even partially shares a name.  If we want our national carrier to do well we need to ensure that the Virgin brand is satisfactorily meeting our expectations.  If people are displeased with Virgin airline services whether in Australia or New Zealand it will affect Virgin Samoa and its ability to prosper.  If this could happen to me it could also happen to others.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The column only I got to read

So, as I told you all yesterday I am no longer a columnist, but I wrote two perfectly good columns so will be sharing them here on my blog.  I hope you like them :)

Things I’ve learned from Evan
By Morwenna Petaia

It has been almost a month since Cyclone Evan brought his widespread fury and wrath to Samoa.  While the rebuilding and recovery stage of our lives is still upon us Evan has taught us each lessons that we can use so that when the next disaster happens we are better prepared and even more resilient.

Heed the Warnings – While I feel for all those who lost lives and belongings, I do not agree that you should place blame on authorities for untimely warnings.  I feel that there was ample time given to all regarding the cyclone and also the need to move away from low lying areas that are prone to flooding.  In fact I was a little surprised when I was purchasing canned foods, water and gas, when the first warnings were issued on Wednesday, that there were not more people making preparations.  Yes my main reason for the preparations was that I knew I had used up all the gas and food knowing that in a few days I was Australia bound so our cupboards were literally bare, but I am so grateful that I did heed the warning.  This was my first cyclone so when I heard the warning I jumped and did whatever I could to prepare because even if the cyclone didn't come I know that the peace of mind that I will not have to line up for food and rush around gathering family and belongings is worth so much more than the thought that I could have starved, been hurt or even killed.  Any warning should be taken seriously especially when lives are at stake. 

Be Prepared – Samoa is located in an area that is prone to tsunami, cyclones, bush fires, earthquakes and drought; we cannot and do not control when a natural disaster will occur.  Making sure that we have an evacuation plan in place so that each person in the household knows where to go and what to do in times of a disaster is one way that we can prepare.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints encourages their members to have a food storage and 72 hour kit ready for any kind of an emergency.  These kits usually include items like a three day supply of food and water, they found that pop top cans can leak so are not recommended, a can opener, first aid kit, bedding and clothing,  toiletries, medication, batteries, torches, candles, waterproof matches, axes  pocket knife, dishes and utensils, money and personal documents such as medical reports, passports, legal documents and credit for telephones.  Each person in the household would have a kit and it would go into a bag that is easy to transport and placed in an area that is easily accessed should an evacuation be necessary.  These kits need to be checked every six months to ensure food and medications are not out of date and also that clothes fit.  Something to also consider putting into your 72 hour kit is a board game, books or toys and paper and pens.  With the extended periods of time with not power and it being unsafe to go outside, children need something to keep them entertained and it can also be a bonding experience to play games as a family.

Cyclone Evan has shown me that I will need to get a car charger for my phone.  With the land lines and power being out of order during the cyclone I was reliant on my mobile phone which needed to be charged regularly.  This would have been easy to do if I had a car charger for my phone.  During the cyclone mobile phones were our only link to the outside world so making sure to use it only in times of emergencies and keeping a spare battery are also needed. 

I will need to make sure that I have boards and rope available to cover the windows and secure the roof of the house.  This also includes having a stock of tarpaulins should the roof need mending.  Even if we don’t use or need these kits during a disaster they may be needed by our friends, family or neighbours.

Get Insurance – Because we do not know when a disaster will happen or the intensity of a disaster we should make sure that we have insurance that will cover our valuables and things that we have worked hard to obtain.  The relief of knowing that you are covered financially should our properties or cars be affected decreases our stress and enables us to help others.

There is always the possibility that a natural disaster could take our lives.  For this reason it is also important to take out life insurance.  While a cyclone is an ordeal in itself dealing with the death of a loved one while also recovering from a disaster would be unimaginable.  While you won’t be there to see the fruits of life insurance, knowing that your family will be taken care of is reason enough.

Disaster Plans – Often we worry more about our homes, as we live in them, and not as much attention is given to schools and other buildings that are important to us.  Evan has damaged school buildings and finding a place where the students can attend once school begins is proving to be a topic of interest.  Maybe now could be a time where the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture and village councils could make disaster plans for each of their schools where possible places to hold classes and procurement of temporary shelters where classes could be held. This could include discussions with churches for temporary use of their buildings.  But by having plans in place makes it easier to know where to go and what to do when a disaster hits; because it is not a question of if a disaster comes but when.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

No longer like Carrie Bradshaw

I went to Australia for the Christmas holidays and didn't have the opportunity to see my column in print for a while.  When I returned last week I made sure to look for my column in the paper because in my head I still don't believe that I write a column in a paper so seeing it just reassures me that I am not dreaming.  It wasn't there!  A little confused I thought a mix up may have happened because they may not have received my email or that it was changed to a different day.

I was gutted when I received a reply to my query stating that the paper had reviewed their programs and decided to cut out a few of the opinion columns and mine was one of them.  That sadness turned to anger as I re read the email and realised that the decision to make the cut was from TWO weeks ago and I had toiled longs hours penning my columns and ensuring that they were received before the deadline for the last two weeks when I didn't have to!  I felt very unappreciated and it made me lose some respect in the professionalism of the paper.

However, I am so greatful that I had the opportunity to write, express and expand my views and so these learning experiences are what I will take with me and the sourness of my final hour as a bona fide columnist will be rewritten with a fairy tale ending like aliens bombed the newspaper office and they were no longer able to publish newspapers.

So while I am no longer like Carrie Bradshaw in that we no longer share the same profession, we are both still really hot and sexy, this will not stop me from writing and instead of sending my columns to a paper I can put all of my thoughts and opinions here in the blog world.

On another note I have finished a draft of the full Candy story and after I make a few more tweeks I will be posting it here for you all to read.