Reflections on Home’s trip to Samoa as part of the Habitat for Humanity – Global Village program.

It has been over a month since we returned from Samoa, and it has taken all that time for me to gather my thoughts and memories in a way that I hope will reliably articulate the wonderfully emotional and edifying experience I feel privileged to have shared with my work colleagues and new-found Pasifika friends.

The premise for these trips is simple - join a team of like-minded people to visit a beautiful Pacific nation that needs some extra pairs of hands after they have suffered a consequence of climate change to their land. We go to help, to offer our expertise and muscle, and to join alongside others to meet whatever needs we can.

This project was to build a community evacuation centre and we were coming in to help a few weeks into the program.

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The Journey

On the flight over our mixed group of colleagues, friends and business associates made small talk, getting to know each other and musing over the possibilities and expectations of our adventure. Some of us had never been to Samoa and some were returning home, so us newbies tried to glean from them what to expect.

The first “difference” was the heat that hit as we stepped off the plane. The layers so dearly needed in the winter temperatures back home slowly relinquished and stuffed into suitcases. On the road to the hotel from the airport, as we pass glassy blue seas and palm trees as well as brightly coloured houses and churches, we soaked up our guide Lou’s many interesting facts about Samoa. It was uplifting to see how vibrant, happy and mostly well-kept everything looks.

After checking in at the hotel, we met local representatives for ADRA - the organisation collaborating with Habitat for Humanity – who present us with the most beautiful gifts. Even the Deputy PM of Samoa, who owns the hotel, popped by to hang out. A novel experience and yet another reminder we are not in New Zealand anymore!

On our second day in Samoa, we head to church and experience a humbling amount of hospitality and the gift of the most delightful harmonies I think I have ever heard. That afternoon we headed to the ferry which would take us to our final destination, the beautiful island of Savai’i.

Savai’i is stunning. Again, the contrast of colours and heat were deliciously overwhelming. Community living is so evident on the island. Low to no fences, community gathering points, a local church, local shops and children playing together everywhere. The beaches have golden sand and azure blue water – paradise for sure.

The rest of the day was spent settling in and getting ready for the build days ahead.

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Day One of the Build

We arrived to meet a rather large crowd on site. The base of the build is boxed up and filled in with volcanic rock and sand from the site. The crowd of men are mixing concrete and pouring the slab in sections. It’s already 28-degree heat.

We are given the use of a lovely house opposite the site where we were based for meals and breaks, as well as our first safety briefing. Colene, the beautiful local who had given up her home so we could have this cool place to shelter and rest on our breaks, was a joy to connect with and hard to leave.

We find out the crowd is made up of the contracted build team and a local youth group who are working together to get the slab completed. At first, we are a little unsure of where to fit in but gradually we became of service to the team, moving trip hazards of branches and trees away from the site. Once this is completed, digging begins on a hole to house the septic tank under the ablutions block.

One hour into service and a Kava ceremony is initiated. All work ceases and everyone gathers around the Head Builder as he makes the calls and begins the ceremony. We are honoured and enjoy watching each other drink the murky liquid with great gusto!

Day Two of the Build

More digging to get our hole at the desired 6-foot depth and some moving of blocks to make it accessible to the builders laying them. Work for me usually involves an office so going back to the hotel caked in mud and sweat every day was a new experience!

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Day Four of the Build

More rocks, more creativity. We had exhausted the rock supply closest to the build and had to wander closer to the back of the site where there was a dry riverbed. By now the team had really bonded and many laughs were had as we pumped up the music (thank you DJ Joseph!) and formed human rock-moving chains. More running fully clothed into oceans ensued and our team is now forever connected through many inside jokes about rocks. Pretty special stuff.

At the end of this day, we had a ceremony led by the local Chief and dignitaries. It was so much fun and truly humbling.

I was struck by how very generous they were with their praise of our help and how many gifts we were given. This was hard to process in one aspect as, by then, we felt we had received so much more than we had given out. We thanked the attendees with a song from our culture – Tūtira mai Ngā iwi - and received an encore request. This was humbly received as we had to practise so much to get it right! The ceremony was finished off with joyful dancing and photos.

Our last night in Savai’i was full of reflections and laughs. It was an absolute privilege to experience the beauty and simplicity of the Samoan culture and these experiences will be forever imprinted on my heart.

Jessica Cooper - People Care

A huge thanks to David Monk, Lissa Birse and Anna Williams from Home Foundation for coordinating such a successful trip and to Habitat for Humanity and ADRA for the amazing opportunity and management.

I strongly encourage everyone to give this a go. The only skills you need are an open mind, a willing heart and hands to serve.