Making a Difference
By Linda Osmundson
Like many college students, my 22-year-old son wanted to travel before
he settled down to obligations and responsibilities. With no savings
put aside, he knew it wouldnt be easy. He studied his options
and chose the Peace Corps.
When Johns assignment finally arrivedWestern Samoa, a group
of four Pacific islands he packed his allotted 90 pounds of carefully
selected necessities. Although an adventurer at heart, John questioned
his decision once on board the jumbo jet: Can I teach? Can I learn
the language? Will the students accept me? Can I make a difference?
His first four weeks were spent in the home of a Samoan family on the
island of Upolu. Five to 10 family members lived together in an open
fale (faalay), a 25 by 15 polehouse without walls or separate
rooms. His hosts insisted he sleep on one of their few luxuriesa
John and his Peace Corps team members followed local tradition for the
village feast and killed four small piglets and cooked them along with
taro, palisami (coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves, breadfruit, and
fish). Then, along with the children in his adopted family, they served
at the fiafia or village gathering.
After his training, John began teaching business, accounting, and English
at a Catholic high school (grades 9-13) in a remote part of the island
of Savaii. He lived in a small wooden house with one bedroom and a bathroom.
A bicycle, furnished by the Peace Corps, was his only form of transportation.
At school, few students spoke English, even though the national school
tests are written in English. The success rate of his rural students
was extremely low: only about 5 percent continue their education beyond
secondary school. In addition to teaching, Peace Corps volunteers must
develop community projects to further aid their host country. John solicited
funds from various organizations to build and equip a computer lab so
students could train for better-paying jobs. Five computers, two printers,
and a copy machine, along with money for building materials, carpenters,
and electricians, arrived from Canada, the U.S., and New Zealand. John
helped with the building project. He acted as athletic director, helped
create costumes from potato sacks for local fiafias, and became known
as one of the best Samoan dancers around.
Not quite having made the difference he desired, John volunteered for
a third year when his 2-year assignment approached its end. He called
his three years in Western Samoa the best vacation Ill ever
Did he make a difference? One of his Samoan sisters asked him to be
godfather for her son,
Sioné LaitiitiLittle John.
LINDA OSMUNDSON lives in Ft. Collins, CO. Her son John taught at the
Pacific Peoples Institute in New Zealand for two years, where he met
his Western Samoan wife. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.