HFH New Zealand Receives Honor For Post-Tsunami Rebuilding In Samoa

Samoan Community Presents Title Of “Master Carpenter” To Habitat; More Than 600 Volunteers Work With Locals To Build Nearly 90 Houses

AUCKLAND/LEPA, 2nd August 2010: Habitat for Humanity New Zealand recently received a moving tribute for completing 89 traditional houses or fales in the Pacific island state of Samoa following last September’s tsunami.

(From left) Grant Cathro, chairman of the board of HFH New Zealand with Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi at the ceremony in Lepa.

Volunteer Angela White (far left) remembers the Samoans’ generosity while Peter Christie (far right) is thankful for the humbling yet fun experience of working with local people.

For Diana Browning (left), the late Faimafili Fatuono (far right), a local volunteer pictured with New Zealand volunteer Maurice Grace, will have a special place in her heart.

A total of 89 families have their fales or traditional houses built byNew Zealand and Samoan volunteers.

In a special ceremony in Lepa village attended by Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, HFH New Zealand was bestowed with the title of Agaiotupu-olemalaetoto’ amalemalaeolea’ava, or “chief master-carpenter”. Representatives from Lepa and the worst-hit Aleipata region were also present at the ceremony.

“You will never be forgotten by our families or our village, and we are so thankful of the good efforts you have done for us,” said Auelua Samuelu Enari, the Paramount Chief and spokesperson for Lepa.

On behalf of HFH New Zealand, chairman of the board, Grant Cathro, accepted the title. “I am overwhelmed yet extremely proud of what we have been able to achieve,” Cathro said, “Having adequate shelter is one of mankind’s fundamental needs and it is wonderful that, through Habitat, we are able to address this need in such a practical way.”

Over several months, HFH New Zealand sent a total of 31 volunteer teams to Samoa. They comprised more than 600 volunteers from New Zealand who have worked together with Samoans to rebuild homes in five communities.

Habitat received more than NZ500,000 (US366,450) in donations. Funding also came from international non-government organization World Vision, New Zealand-based mission organization Global Connections in Mission and ACC World Relief Australia, the international aid and development agency of Australian Christian Churches.

HFH New Zealand’s reconstruction effort in Samoa was supported by many partners who contributed resources and materials. These included Jamaica-headquartered mobile phone network provider Digicel; Caritas, a confederation of Roman Catholic relief, development and social service organizations; New Zealand department store retailer The Warehouse; Air New Zealand; financial and insurance services group ASB; Kew Consult Engineering & Water which managed the project in Samoa and New Zealand government-funded institute of technology Unitec.

Corporations and churches also sent their own teams of volunteers to help with the rebuilding efforts. The volunteers from New Zealand who spent a few weeks rebuilding in Samoa recounted memorable times.

Some like Angela White were thankful for the Samoans’ generosity though they have so little. “I went there to give to them, but somehow they ended up giving me so much more,” she said.

Others such as Peter Christie found working alongside the Samoan construction apprentices and the locals to be “a truly humbling experience but also a lot of fun”.

For volunteer Diana Browning, her third and final trip to the Pacific Island nation, made a deep impression. She was struck by the increased number of volunteers and the progress of Habitat’s reconstruction. On her final trip, Browning and other volunteers were building toilet and shower facilities outside the homes as the majority of the fales was completed.

During her weeks there, she also took note of the rebuilding by the Samoans. Fales along the Foafoa beach have been rebuilt and restaurants are back in business. “You can see the progress everywhere. It is also evident that the tourists are returning which is fantastic for Samoa.”

“It’s a great sight seeing the school children returning home, some to the new fales built by Habitat. Their laughter resounds to the future of Samoa,” said another volunteer Jane Mead

Close ties were formed after working with the Samoans. Many New Zealand volunteers including Browning were saddened by the news of local volunteer Faimafili Fatuono’s death in a vehicle accident.

“Faima was always the gentleman and when I started the concrete mixer, he was quick to lend a hand (even though he knew I could do it). This was just his nature, he would always make sure I was alright on site and lend a hand where he could. He was part of the local Saleaumua crew and was involved in building the fales for his village,” said Browning.

Bruce Frost’s words may well sum up the volunteer experience. “The whole Habitat experience was marvellous, physically, recreationally and not the least spiritually.”

HFH New Zealand is now turning its attention to helping the people of Vanua Levu, one of Fiij’s northern islands. The impact of Cyclone Tomas in March 2010 left many homeless and HFH New Zealand is mobilizing volunteers for the reconstruction effort. HFH New Zealand will partner with HFH Fiji to build 50 houses with rebuilding commencing in September.

To provide immediate assistance in the event of future disasters in the Pacific Islands, HFH New Zealand is calling for donations to set up a Pacific Shelter Relief Fund with an aim of raising at least NZ30,000.

Closer to home, Habitat is mindful of people living in poverty in New Zealand and overseas and urges supporters to become Hope Builders through contribution of funds.