Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Send Money To Loved Ones


“If you can’t be there, your money can”, so reads the heading of a Western Union ad. The ad pictures a Samoan man dressed in shirt and tie looking down on a grinning girl in traditional Samoan garb. In essence, the ad captures what the Samoan economy is all about, people overseas sending money back home. The ad also captures the Fa’asamoa obligation to support your family and to share what you have, combined with good old Christian guilt.

Without the inflow of overseas money, Samoa would be even farther behind the western world than it already is. There is hardly any internal source of income to sustain the population. Samoa’s economy is based on raising children, teaching them English, and sending them overseas. We in the Peace Corps perpetuate this system by teaching English and computer skills or writing proposals to seek foreign aid.

What is happening in Samoa is like hundreds of other developing countries whose subsistence, barter based economies are thrown into the world of cash. The good thing is Samoans are ahead of the curve when it comes to training and sending children overseas for salaried jobs. The bad thing is those going are the best and brightest, never to return again.

The Peace Corps slogan is to “Help People Help Themselves”. I think we are doing that, but not in the way we imagine. Who am I to judge what Samoans do in their own best interest? My job is to help them do what they want me to do. So be it if that is to find ways to send more money back home, get a bigger piece of the aid pie, to support that grinning girl in the ad, and to maintain the man’s yearning for Fa’asamoa.

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