Sunbury Students Visit Samoa


10 December 2012 | General Interest

 Rupertswood Students Experience Beauty and Hospitality of Samoan Culture



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A rich learning experience was enjoyed by a group of eleven students and two staff from Salesian College, “Rupertswood”, Sunbury, who recently had a week in Samoa during which they were immersed in the beauty and hospitality of Samoan culture. This extraordinary learning experience commenced many months beforehand thanks to the efforts of the Senior VCAL students, under the guidance of their teacher, Mrs Janene Christenson.

The VCAL students undertook this project as part of the Personal Development studies. They undertook research into various aspects of Samoan culture, investigated the cost of the trip and conducted a series of fundraising activities. Perhaps the most valuable part of the experience was engaging the rest of the College community in their project. The students quickly realized that this was not just about them. It was about them belonging to a larger Salesian family and representing Salesian College when they journeyed to Samoa. So they prepared themselves to be able to address the whole school community and over time they won the co-operation and collaboration of other students, staff and parents in the community. A smaller group of other student representatives and their Rector, Fr Will Matthews, even joined them on the trip.

This is how, in the words of their teacher, the group explained their objectives for the Samoa Cultural Exchange:

The following is a report of the Samoa Culture Exchange as narrated by Senior VCAL teacher, Mrs Janene Christenson, who accompanied students from beginning to end of the project:
The focus of the Samoan Cultural Exchange Program is on solidarity rather than charity. Charity is traditionally top to bottom. Solidarity is more of a horizontal focus, taking into account equality and a shared experience. Our students visited Samoa as ambassadors for the college to develop a long term relationship which I know will benefit our Salesian community. The itinerary was flexible and shaped by the Samoan community on the ground; we had three basic principles whilst we were in Samoa. 1. Smile 2. No swearing and 3. Learn from every experience we encounter during the week. I can assure you that all tree objectives were achieved.

We arrived in Samoa to be greeted by Father Ford at two am in the morning and he was smiling, a characteristic that we were soon to learn is part of ‘Samoan’ culture; everyone smiles. We picked up our mini bus and were transported to the Don Bosco center in Alafua where after a short sleep we attended Sunday mass at St John Bosco Parish in Sinamoga. The Samoan culture focuses heavily on family and church and they cherish them and we were privileged to experience both. The singing at mass was astonishing. The students were amazed that the ‘lads’ outside church, entered and obviously enjoyed singing and being part of the community.

After mass we all went to separate families’ homes for to’ona’I or traditional Samoan Sunday lunch. Whilst the activity was daunting for the students they all returned with wonderful stories. It was a great opportunity for all of us to learn about each other’s culture. I have included a reflection from Taylah Mclean’s diary. “After mass we were split up and each went to a different family’s homes I went with Tota and Tash. Tota was 35 and Tash was her seven year old daughter who lives with Totas husband, sister and brother all in a house smaller than my bed room, being with them felt like I was home; they were so welcoming. Before lunch Tash did my hair and showed me her kinder work. Lunch felt like Christmas day, they told me they do the same amount of cooking every Sunday but I still felt embarrassed because it was all for me. Me Tota and Tota’s sister didn’t stop talking the whole time I was there. They were so open and told me a lot about their culture they were the happiest people I’ve ever met and I feel very grateful to of been welcomed so quickly into their home.”

We then spent the next three days at Don Bosco College in Savai’i where we learnt more about the Samoan's love of dance and singing when we attended the school assembly in the ‘fale’. Father Mosese was willing to share with the students concepts about the culture and told us ‘not to think too much but just go with the flow’; it was an invaluable lesson for us as a group. Rachel Cicero was the protector of this saying and often reminded us ‘to just go with the flow’. I hope the students can infuse a little of this concept into their lives in Melbourne. Through discussion as a group we continued to add ideas on how the cultural exchange program can continue to evolve. The students themselves have not stopped coming up with ideas.

On the island of Savai’i we had a wonderful day sightseeing with Brother Antonio as our intrepid tour guide. The highlight of the day was when Brother Antonio took us to his family home where we were given bananas and pineapples form the family plantation. The Samoan people are incredibly hospitable and made us feel very welcome. We had many conversations about whether we display the same hospitality in Australia and how we could improve our reception of visitors at our own college. The fact that the students had no electronic devices distracting them meant that we had many opportunities for constructive conversations whether that was in a classroom, at Don Bosco college or on a beautiful beach. The farewell at the college was awe inspiring and we tried to show our respect by leaving gifts expressing our thanks and also singing. Well let’s just say our singing was not up to the Samoan standard and we decided we had to find another way to express our thanks. When we were leaving Savai’i, Father Mosese commented on how well behaved the students were and on the fact that he had not heard them swear. Number two objective met, I felt extremely proud of our maturing young adults.

On Wednesday we caught the ferry back to Upolo and returned to Don Bosco College in Alafua. Again we were welcomed with open arms and continued to learn about the culture by being immersed in classes at the college. The assembly was spectacular and we were treated like VIP’s this time when it came time to express our thanks, we explained the purpose of the project and then gave a brilliant rendition of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi, made all the more spectacular when about 250 Samoan students chanted it back to us.

On many occasions we were left speechless throughout the week and to watch the Don Bosco boys perform their traditional dances at the Opening Ceremony of the World Judo championships was one such occasion. We felt very privileged to be part of the Salesian community that set off to watch the ‘boys’ perform for the dignitaries of Samoa and the international competitors.

From sightseeing in Apia to being part of the fun day at Saint Joseph’s primary school in Leauva’ our learning opportunities never stopped. We were humbled by the fact that the people of Samoa continued to make us welcome and allowed us to join in their festivities. From face painting to skipping rope, the fun just continued. However we also had the opportunity to discuss the serious side of life in Samoa. Before sharing lunch with Father Petelo at the Parish of St Michaels the students had the opportunity to talk to Father Ford and Father Petelo about the challenges that face the youth of Samoa. Just like in our own country young people in all Salesian communities face challenges that can harm their development. As part of the project we aim to focus on how we can enhance the learning prospects of all students. It is hoped that through fund raising we will be able to sponsor Samoan students to attend OZ Bosco at Chadstone in 2013.

On our last morning we rose really early to attend 6.30am mass in Moamoa, where Father Will was the main celebrant it was a lovely way to complete a very successful week in Samoa. The students had been immersed in a culture that had taught them the value of a smile. I am very grateful for the learning opportunity that was offered to all of us and am extremely proud of the young men and women who travelled with Father Will and myself and embraced every opportunity. They certainly have laid a very firm base on which the project can grow and prosper. The students kept a diary during their time in Samoa and each day listed something they had learn. The list is impressive and had a common theme. The lessons the students learnt from the Samoan community were they love their family, they try to stay relaxed, don’t rush, help each other family or not, there is not an obvious division between the rich and poor, material possessions are not the most important element of life, respect is so important, everyone is polite, such loving people, no one is rude, they do not swear and they are always smiling. The most significant comment made by many of the students was that whilst the Samoan community does not have a huge number of possessions they are happy and that the students themselves have nothing to complain about in their own lives.