Friday, October 3, 2008

Samoa Kills Volunteers


The percentage of Peace Corps Volunteers in Samoa leaving before their designated time far exceeds the worldwide average. This has attracted the attention of Washington and is reflected in the efforts of the new Peace Corps Country Director to institute changes in the program. When talking to others outside of Peace Corps, I have come to realize that attrition rates are also high for volunteers of other organizations in Samoa. Even paid foreign consultants and employees of companies and NGO’s have a difficult time in this island paradise.

Foreigners come to Samoa to institute some kind of change. They come either at the request of the Samoan government, like Peace Corps, or have their own agenda. Frustration comes quickly as they soon realize Samoans are quite content with who and how they are. Even those conditions that foreigners or even some Samoans may find appalling or disagreeable are accepted as being part of life or Samoan culture. If there is to be change, it is done the Samoan way, which is usually at odds with outsiders.

The question for volunteers then becomes, “If Samoans don’t want change or can’t accept the changes suggested, what am I doing here? If it is just stuff, they don’t need me to get it.” Yet Samoans want and like Peace Corps and seemingly other such organizations, even if they don’t know or understand why we are here in the first place.

Coming to Samoa from a world of ratios and indices where change and “only if” are mantras for all that are good can push one to the limit. Ultimately one has to face the question of “why”. The answer may be as convoluted as Samoa itself. Maybe it is in the lyrics of the old campfire song, “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here…”

It is the being here that is important. I think Samoans want a contact with the world outside of their island nation. Americans especially are held in high esteem. They want to touch you, hear you speak, watch your ways, and measure their own way of life against what they perceive to be yours. It is a reaffirmation of who they are. Of course, they accept stuff. Who wouldn’t?

We must recognize that change is in our nature but expect causalities along the way.


Anonymous said...

Why try and change them, for they are changing you!

Barb Carusillo said...

Okay, the title of this really intrigues a person. One has visions of hordes of Samoans snatching an unsuspecting Pisa Koa off their allotted bike and thrown to the ubiquitous wild dogs, to be drug off and never seen again. Though, I guess frustration can feel like wild dogs chewing on you I guess.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, the americans are free to do what they want???