Thursday, August 05, 2004

A Poor Nation

Hey, everybody. I haven't heard from a lot of you in awhile. I'm desperately needing some gossip or something. So, somebody email me already...

So, I thought I would write about why I believe Samoa is poor. There are of course, like every nation, a wealthy minority but the majority of Samoans live in what the western world would consider sub-standard living conditions. I have come to the conclusion that there are 3 main reasons why Samoa has not been able to get itself out of poverty.

Reason 1: The Fa'alavelave

Anytime there is a funeral or wedding somewhere in your Samoan family it is expected that you will donate a large some of money. As Samoan families are typically huge there is always a fa'alavelave going on and you are always giving money away. It is expected that you will give the most you can possibly give. Even at the workplace it is expected that you will donate some Tala (Samoan currency) so that the group at the workplace can donate something if a fellow worker had a death or wedding in their immediate family. Usually in return, the person who had the fa'alavelave will return your money by giving you boxes of tinned fish or pisupo (canned corn beef). "Saving" is a concept here that many Samoans (especially the older generation) consider selfish. A few of my young Samoan friends have opened saving accounts at the bank but have done so in secret. So although Fa'alavelave's aren't the prime reason people are poor in this country they do keep people from saving what little money they do have left over after basic needs are taken care of.

Reason 2: The Church

95% of the Samoan population is Christian. The missionaries arrived in the late 19th century and were easily able to convert Samoans from their Pegan Gods to the Christian God because it had been prophetized in the Pegan religion that a new God would come from a distant land. Almost all of the Christian demonations are represented here. There are Catholics, Assembly of God, Mormans, Methodists, 7th Day Adventists, and Baptists. The problem is that with the exception of the Mormans, all the churches expect their congregations to donate massive amounts of money to the church. It's not like in the U.S. where giving is usually a personal private matter in the church. Here, in many churches the amount you donated will be read aloud in Church. It is also expected that you will bring a big plate of food to the minister's house on Sunday after church. The majority of the ministers are crooks in my opinion. They are always the ones in the village with the nicest house and the nicest car. Families will borrow, scrimp, and scrounge just to give a sizeable donation to the church each week.

Reason 3: Foreign Aid

Samoa receives all kinds of aid from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Canada, Germany, and the U.S. There are Austrailian Aid volunteers, Australian Youth Ambassador Volunteers, Japanese volunteers, and of course U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers. The United Nations also has a huge presence here doing development work. In addition to the huge amounts of money that these foreign goverments pour into Samoa, families living abroad also send massive amounts of money, materaial good, cars, furniture, and who knows what else to their families still living Samoa.

Now let me be clear in stating that I am all for foreign aid. I believe in helping countries that are not as blessed with resources and industry as wealthier nations. I certainly believe in programs that promote sustainable development (such as U.S. Peace Corps and the United Nations). However, there is something as too much aid for too long. It has created a dependency on aid rather than eliminating the need for it. The mentality among many Samoans when they need something is "Well, we'll just ask the Japenese for the that" or "I need a car so, I'll just get my New Zeeland family overseas to send one". Instead of trying first, to save or getting a community together to work towards a common goal. Now, these are just my ideas and the ideas of some other volunteers. None of this is supported by actual statistical research just our own observations from living with and among the people.