TriMāori co-founder changed forever by helping whānau pani Samoa

By Bronson Perich
Ariana Paul with a Samoan kuia. / Source - Ariana Paul, used with permission.

When TriMāori co-founder Ariana Paul (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Maniapoto) went to Samoa last Saturday, she had no idea that she would be donating $4,000 WST (approx. $2,250).

But three days in Samoa would change her life forever. Fighting back tears, Ariana Paul told Te Ao Māori News:

"I woke this morning and I was still crying, I just get emotional thinking about it."

Paul described how she accompanied volunteers as they delivered koha and putea to whānau pani.

"We would drive through the villages, and we would see families standing around small, you know, areas on the front lawn, and those with shovels in their hands."

It was obvious to Paul that these people were burying their dead. Paul explained that the majority of families they met had already buried their loved ones. This was deliberately done to give whānau some time and space to heal over their losses.

However, that changed when Paul met a father whose 18 month infant had died from measles. 

"We were in the morgue, with his baby. He couldn't afford a coffin, but he, his wish was to have his child go home to Savai'i in a coffin."

As the Kiwi Coffins were yet to arrive in Samoa, Paul stated that ASA Foundation made arrangements to take a coffin from local funeral directors`Sefo Funerals [Sefo's Funeral Services]. The funeral home would be given a Kiwi Coffin as compensation.

The Kiwi Coffins have since arrived in Samoa and are being unwrapped for use. / Source - Tuala Tagaloa Tusani Facebook Page. Used with permission.

Since their arrival, Sefo Funeral Services will now be giving the Kiwi Coffins to hold measles victims, free of charge.

The extent of the poverty in Samoa became shockingly real for Paul during her visit.

"These sorts of things, have really impacted me, because you know what?

"I'd see these sorts of pictures/imagery and it would be talking about Africa!"

According to Paul, whānau were being charged $650 WST (approx. $340 NZD) to get the tūpāpaku of their whānau members released from the morgue. A fee, that many in the developing nation could not possibly afford to pay.

"They don't have $7,000 tala (approx. $4,000 NZD) to buy a coffin. So they are wrapping their baby in cloths, they can't afford to buy the cloths, the lace, to bury their babies in."

Paul's motivation to help Samoa came after observing that though the measles epidemic had taken more lives than the Christchurch Massacre, the NZ public had not yet moved to act. 

"Every 6 o'clock news was covered with Christchurch shooting. We changed gun laws, we had a Prime Minister that was wearing a black scarf. We had aroha concerts all over the country.

Then came, in Paul's own words, a "really raw moment of "why the hell?"

"Where at that point, I think we were up to about 65 deaths in Samoa and I just couldn't understand why there seemed to be a distance from it."

So Paul decided that she was not going to wait. The Prime Minister was dealing with the eruption at Whakaari, and NZ medical teams had already been deployed to help Samoa. 

"So I just thought "Ariana, get off your high horse, and just, if you wanna do something, then you go and do it.

"Don't you wait for somebody else to take the lead on it."

Paul then reached out to ASA Volunteer Tuala Tagaloa Tusani, whom she had met briefly at the AMCAM Awards held earlier this year in Auckland.

"I just sent him a text, and I said, "Brother, my heart is with you and your whānau.

"If there is anything I can do, that we can do, let me know."

Tuala called Paul back straight away. Paul expected that Tuala would solicit a donation, or would encourage her to rally friends and whānau to donate. Tuala's request was totally unexpected. Paul recounts the phone conversation.

"I'm broken. If you came and you saw, what was happening, you would have a better understanding of what was going on."

"Our whānau just need hope, and having someone from back here [Aotearoa] would give them hope "

Paul replied, "Tuala I'm nobody! You know, I'm so like nobody!"

Tuala explained, that they were volunteers trying their best to help their families. But the isolation they felt, made them wonder, "Does anyone back here [Aotearoa] really care?"

Ariana Paul (centre right), with ASA volunteer Tuala Tagaloa Tusani and whānau pani at a gravesite / Source - Ariana Paul. Used with permission.

Though nobody expected Paul to donate funds, she did not go to Samoa empty handed. Paul had, with her husband's assistance, taken 100 gift bags with her - what she called "aroha packs."

"Tama [Paul's husband] made phone calls, I made phone calls, and within two days our packs were ready."

The contents of the "aroha packs" that Ariana Paul took to Samoa. Source - Ariana Paul. Used with permission.

Paul described the reactions of two Samoan mothers, after giving them an aroha pack.

"She took this shampoo and said "I've never had my own shampoo," you know?"

"One of the other mums took out [we had lip gloss], she said, in her native tongue, "I don't know where to put this! What is this?"

When asked if Māori had done enough to assist Samoa Paul's reply was short. 

"I believe we haven't. Those are our whanaunga, those are our tuakana."

Paul felt that we, as Māori could help fight the long term issues that will arise, once the epidemic has gone such as the cost of unveilings.

After experiencing faasāmoa (Samoan language and customs) and the aroha and gratitude that is part of it, Paul wants to go back when she can, to help.

"We share the same country, we share the same whakapapa, we share, we have so much in common.

"The embrace that I received, the tears that we shared, the gentleness and the tone of their voices, told me that anything would have been appreciated - it wouldn't have mattered what it was!"

Paul called this trip life changing and believes that this is just a beginning.

"I came home too early I feel, I felt that, I haven't finished my work there, there are so many more families."

Paul also advised Te Ao Māori News that the next TriMāori would be a fundraising event.

"We would like to be able to partner with ASA [Foundation] to do one of our TriMāori events.

"We've kinda put TriMāori on hold, because I've been too busy here in Tamaki, but I'm like nah!

"We're gonna use everything we can, to get, to mobilise our whānau back here!"

Samoa has now lost 78 to measles, most of which, are children under the age of 5.

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