Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Samoa’s Crowded Classrooms

My son was schooled in Samoa from preschool up until year four.  In Primary School his teachers had always said that my son was uncontrollable and wouldn’t concentrate.  His favourite thing to talk about at school in Samoa was lunch time.  When I asked what he learned at school his response was always “I don’t know”.  He did not excel in school and I thought that he may just be a late bloomer.  At the end of year four my son still couldn’t read.  My son cried often when he had to go to school.

My son began going to school in Australia this year.  In a recent parent teacher interview his teacher said that he was a well mannered child and with the right amount of individual attention he will be able to read quickly.  My son loves school and goes willingly and talks about his sports classes in the gym, reading books in class and choir.  It is nearing the end of the first term and my son has received a certificate for spelling as well as choir.
How is it that there are two completely different pictures of my son with his behavior, his learning ability and his outlook on school in less than three months?

One of the biggest differences that I have noticed is the size of classes.  While in Samoa my son always had more than 50 students in his class, whereas his new class has only 19 students.

Overcrowding of classrooms is an Occupational, Health and Safety hazard for teachers.  The added stress of having to not only control 50 plus students but to try and teach each one is definitely not an inviting working environment.  There is a teacher’s association in place here in Samoa, what are they doing to ensure that the working conditions for their teachers are conducive to them being able to do their jobs well?  If other countries have gone on strike for having 34 students in their classrooms surely there is something our teachers can do to ask for a less stressful working environment.

Each child is an individual and has their own way of learning as well as social circumstances or learning disabilities which may inhibit them from learning.  While we do not expect a teacher to be a social worker we do expect them to take the time to get to know each child, what their learning strengths and weaknesses are and teach the students in a manner that is best suited for them.  We cannot expect teachers to be able to do their jobs well if they have to deal with 50 plus students. 

Overcrowding classrooms defeats the purpose of trying to educate our children.  We cannot expect our children to learn to the best of their ability when they have to compete with 50 other students for the attention of their teacher.  Locking tardy students out of school is one way of cutting down class sizes, but what else are the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture doing to address this issue?

While overcrowding of classrooms is not the sole problem for our education system woes, it certainly is a contributing factor.  It also brings about the question of how many other students fell between the cracks because there were too many students in their classroom?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Where’s the Consistency in the Dispersion of Disaster Relief?

* The Samoan version was published in the Iniini Samoa Newspaper, here is the English version :)

After the 2009 Tsunami I was involved in the rebuilding efforts through assisting Habitat for Humanity.  Through my role I became aware that the victims were given a choice of either receiving $18,000 in financial assistance or to have a house built for them through Habitat for Humanity and funded by Digicel, Caritas and the Government of Samoa.  I thought this was a great initiative.

I am saddened when I hear that the same gesture was not given to the many victims of Cyclone Evan.  Yes it is understood that there are stipulations placed upon funds received by others in response to this disaster.  Usually these stipulations include what sectors they would like the money to be used for.  For example AusAID donated money to go towards the rebuilding of schools; others may have donated and asked for it to be used towards restoring water or electricity.  I do not believe that part of these stipulations included making money from the victims who have already lost so much by having them apply for loans and repay extra money on top of the loan repayment.

The Disaster Management Office has completed their assessments of those who are in need.  Would it not make sense to give the money that has been housed with Samoa Housing Corporation to those people rather than have them take out a loan that only puts them at a further disadvantage?  When you think about it 4 million tala is a massive amount of money.  Working in the water sector I know that 4 million tala is equivalent to upgrading more than 10 water schemes so I can see that it would be of great benefit to the victims of the cyclone who have lost so much. 

According to the 2011 census Samoa has 187,820 persons.  Not all of Samoa was greatly affected by the cyclone so it is not necessary to give the aid to everyone.  The Government of Samoa Press Secretariat released a table on January 16 stating the Villages and Families supplied by NEOC during Cyclone Evan.  This table identified that 2385 families received assistance from NEOC.  If we divided the 4 million tala among these people each family would receive 1677 tala.  Yes this is not a huge amount of money, but not as much aid was given for the cyclone so we cannot expect the same relief as was given during the tsunami.  However, I feel that the precedence was set with the tsunami and so the same should be done with the cyclone.  I do not see how making victims of Cyclone Evan struggle even more by repaying a loan funded by relief aid is consistent with why disaster relief was given. 

It is understandable that not as much aid has come in after the cyclone, this is beyond our control.  But Samoa was not totally devastated and we are still able to do so much with what we have.  If we as a country commit ourselves to back our local businesses by purchasing locally made food and produce and other goods and services that keep our money here in Samoa we will be helping each other to get back on our feet.

Government could offer tax deductions on any money that is donated to local charities giving people more incentive to give.

My son’s favourite saying, particularly when I am eating chocolate is ‘sharing is caring’.  We all have our own burdens and not everyone knows another person’s circumstances but if we all make an effort to share whatever we may have be it a chainsaw to help remove trees so that land can be used for planting, or our time in helping to remove such debris from land we as a country will recover so much faster and so much stronger.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Call for action to end violence against women

*Another of my column pieces for the Iniini Samoa Newspaper

A recent discussion with a friend regarding the responses of NUS students who were asked if they felt it was alright to hit women, brought sadness to my heart.  What I found sad was that the majority, including the female students, said that it was appropriate in certain circumstances to physically hit a woman.  What saddened me more was that we adults have taught this to our children, it is our fault!

When a father lays his hand on his wife in front of his children, he is showing them how to treat women.  When a woman stays in such an abusive situation and does not take action to stop it, she is showing her children that it is ok to have a man lay his hands on her so disrespectfully.  When friends and family witness such violence and do nothing to stop it, they are condoning the abuse of women.

Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, said “Laws alone are not enough.  We must educate to shape new norms and behaviors…To empower women and ensure equality; we must challenge every form of violence every time it occurs.”

An example of where laws are not enough is when a husband comes home drunk and physically abuses his wife in front of their son and daughter, her mother and a house girl.  The police did not respond to the call for help and the neighbors did not provide any assistance either.  He did not spend any time in jail and charges were not even made.  This example shows that while the laws are in place they are worth nothing if women don’t follow through on charges.  This example also shows that we are not caring enough of our neighbors to help each other.

Violence is not just physical.  There is sexual, psychological and economic violence all of which are a violation of fundamental rights and human dignity.

The increase of sexual abuse of women and young girls in Samoa is heart breaking, particularly in cases where these acts of violence are at the hand of their spouses, fathers and other family members.  The fact that these cases are often hushed and swept under the mat are a major factor as to why they continue and why young boys think it is acceptable behavior when they are older.  Surely saving the name of a family is not as important as the well being of a precious young girl or a beloved mother and daughter.

Calling names and belittling a woman to the point where she has no self confidence to do anything is a form of psychological violence.  Making a person feel small just to make you feel better about yourself is one of the most cowardice things a person can do.  This is because it can be done behind closed doors and there are no physical marks to show the abuse, but the deterioration of a person’s self worth and soul can be far worse than physical abuse.

Economic violence is not one that is well publicized and yet it exists here in Samoa.  An example of economic violence is advertising a job opportunity and encouraging women to apply when the organization already have in mind that a male counterpart is preferred resulting in wasted time and money for female candidates who are shortlisted and interviewed.  The inequality of pay for women and men is also an example of economic violence.

March 8, 2013 is International Women’s Day and the theme is “A promise is a promise: time for action to end violence against women.”  Ending violence against women is something that everyone needs to do and can do.  We need to challenge each and every form of violence in order for it to end.  We as a country have made the promise to end the violence now is the time for action, what will you do to end violence against women?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Carrie Bradshaw is back!

So it has been a while since I last blogged, which isn't that new life has so many things that keep us all busy.  One thing that has kept me busy is a new column that I have been writing for the newest newspaper in Samoa, the Iniini Newspaper.  Because the Iniini is not yet available online I am able to blog my column pieces here.  So I hope you enjoy :)

Let Peace Reign
By Morwenna Petaia

February 23, 2013 marked the 108th anniversary of the first Rotary Club in Chicago.  Rotary International is a service club formed to mirror the same friendly spirit Paul Harris, one of the founders, felt in his youth. 
Today Rotary has 1.2 million members and 33,000 clubs in over 200 countries.  Samoa has a Rotary club as well as a Rotaract club.  The Rotaract Club is a partner club of Rotary that is aimed at people between 18 and 30 years of age.  The aim of the Rotaract Club is to “make a difference through charity work in Samoa and the Pacific Region.”

In an effort to celebrate the anniversary of Rotary, the Rotaract Club of Apia performed a peace dance at the SNPF plaza as a part of the Rock n Rotary: End Polio, Build Peace celebrations.

The Apia Rotaract President, Lealaiauloto Billy Chan Ting, said Rotaract clubs around the Pacific and north New Zealand held similar peace dances with the intention that they would all be collated to form the World’s biggest commercial on eradicating Polio.  Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal disease affecting mainly children under 5 years.  While Polio may not be as prevalent here in Samoa in comparison to other countries, this did not stop the Rotaract Club of Samoa in supporting the efforts in trying to eradicate the disease in other locations.

Naomi Fuamatu, a Rotaract member stated “Rotaract is about ‘service above self’ and we are committed to making the small changes in our community through our service projects – when you see the needs/ challenges within your community, it makes your ‘issues’ in life seem small.”

We often feel that as individuals we cannot make a difference to the world, that the world’s problems are all greater than we can overcome.  The Rotary Club and its worldwide success in helping people all over the world are an example of how each of us can make a difference.  If it were not for the founders of Rotary the millions of people around the world who provide services to those who are in need would not be here.

If each of us in Samoa were to serve one another we would not need all the foreign aid, the casinos and the added social problems that accompany them, there would be no children walking the streets and families starving.  We need to stop looking at what we can get from everywhere else and look at what we as a country can do for ourselves and for each other first.  Through service to others we will have no wars, no people in need because our selfish desires would not be there.  Another Rotaract member, Jonathan Porter, summed it up eloquently when he said “it is always a privilege to volunteer.”  We shouldn’t see helping other people as a faalavelave or a burden; it is a privilege to be of service to our fellow people.  Let each of us take the lead of the Rotarians and let peace reign.