Friday, April 29, 2011

Samoan Diabetes Association

April 27, 2011

During my past stay in Samoa, I worked closely with the Samoan Diabetes Association. They were very supportive of my screening efforts. Since that time, there was a big expose on the misuse of the association funds, probably owing more to poor controls than corruption, which resulted in a whole new team of personalities.

The Samoan custom for arranging a meeting is usually by writing a long letter of explanation accompanied by a humble request for the person you want to meet to write back their reply. This is not my style, but seemingly Samoans forgive my “ignorance” when I barge into a place unannounced. This is true if I have something for which they are interested and feel they can contribute their ideas to the discussion. So too with the Diabetes Association who appear to want to mesh their program with the Challenge.

Diet, exercise, and the role of obesity are common themes in diabetes circles, especially the evils of imported foods and the benefits of “God’s Natural Foods”. As each biblical reference emerges from my mouth, an “Amen” emerges from hers. We agree on “The body is the temple for the spirit”, she being Pentecostal.

She talks about how churches and ministers are who Samoan’s follow and who set the example for others. I agree unconditionally. She says her husband a pastor and am I interested in getting the Challenge into a hundred churches. She has my attention. He husband then walks in, she introduces me. He has to weigh at least 320 pounds.

A Good Meeting

April 27, 2011

We have all been through them, good and bad meetings. Today is a good one.

My main goal is to get my main contact at Women in Business Development, Tina, to think what I am proposing is possible. She is a sharp and capable lady whose job it is to make things actually happen. Her favorite word is “realistic” Indeed she is the one for asking those questions about how realistic is this gigantic, and maybe unprecedented plunge, into influencing a country’s lifestyle.

This woman, Tina, is a doer, not a dreamer, so dreamers have to be able to tell what can be done, and doers need to be able to grasp the dream. Today Tina has a little star dust in her hair and me the green light to proceed as planned, just keep her informed. A good meeting, indeed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere

April 23, 2011

One of the problems in Samoa is not the lack of fresh water, but its distribution and pricing. It is estimated that 1/3 of the fresh water is lost to leakage. Water pipes are above ground and are often broken. This leads to not only to a loss of water, but to the accumulation of little chucks of “stuff” and dirt which also come out of the faucet.

In some villages, the Village Council has elected to join the Samoan Water Authority to maintain its water supply and quality. For this, the water is metered and villagers are charged for their water usage. In other villages, I suspect the one I live in now, have their own water source and provide it to villagers free of charge. This leads to geysers sprouting everywhere, but only a dribble at the tap.

Women in Business Development

April 21, 2011

I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer who works under an NGO called, Women in Business Development (WIBD), in the organic vegetable division. In fact all Peace Corps Volunteers work as part of some host governmental or NGO. What is unusual about my position as Coordinator for Samoan Challenge III is the seeming disconnect between what I doing and the organization for which I work. But in actuality, it is not.

The first Samoa Challenge, 2009, was initiated by WIBD and was a “Biggest Loser” type of contest, with eight contestants, including Samoa’s Prime Minister and the Peace Corps, Language Training Manager, Faleseu Pita (“Seu”). The contest was entertaining, but lacked sustainability.

Samoa Challenge II, 2010, was a joint venture with Peace Corps joining WIBD to develop a more wider program aimed at obese women in rural villages, administered primarily by Peace Corps Volunteers who are firstly, teachers of English in primary schools. The program involved about 10 Peace Corps and about 100 participants with mixed results. However, disappointing Peace Corps Volunteers felt about Challenge II, the Ministry of Health and WIBD both rated it a success to be continued. With funding for Samoa Challenge II also included funds from the U.S. and Fiji for Challenge III in 2011. Hence, yours truly was invited back to Samoa.

The WIBD was started 20 years ago by five Samoan women who wanted to find ways for rural women to earn money for their families. Their first main success was providing a market for women to sell “fine mats”. Weaving them was becoming a lost skill with no market for their purchase.

WIBD are now involved in many ventures including the export of sweet bananas (Misiluki) and organic virgin palm oil for cosmetics (80,000 pounds just shipped to the Body Shop in the U.K.). One of their best efforts is getting Samoan farmers to grow certified organic fruits and vegetables, both for domestic use ad export. Their biggest problem is not the lack of demand, but getting farmers interested in growing organic corps and then teaching them business practices. This effort requires almost daily visits to the farmers involved. Part of what I am doing is to help them promote their organic farming program. For additional information, visit their website at

My New Office

April 21, 2011

I have a desk located in a room with people in the Organic Gardening section of Women in Business Development. The WIBD air-conditioned offices are on the second floor of the Nia Mall, which is across from the main market and bus station in Apia.

One the advantages are the ready supple of bananas, other fruits and vegetables. WIBD do not give free stuff to staff or volunteers, owing to its tight business practices.

My Desk

Nia Mall, where offices are located on second floor

Two women who are my bosses with organic veggie baskets,
Tilo, Organic Vegetables, and Tina, Head of Organic Farming Section

Women Quality Control Lab,

testing purity of Virgin Palm Oil

Peace Corps Resource Room

April 19, 2011

The Peace Corps office was once a bustling hub of activity centered on what was called, the Resource Room. Time, budgets, programs, policies, and personnel have changed all that.

Today, the Resource Room is now what the Trainer’s Office was. The Trainer’s now are in the former Resource Room. The only aspect of the new Resource Room that reminds me of the old one is that it is a junky and filthy as ever. Rooms may change, but Peace Corps Volunteer housekeeping habits do not.

The new volunteer program for Samoa is composed only of rural primary school teachers. They have little time or opportunity to be in the Peace Corps office, like Apia based teachers of the past.

The office staff has also changed along with the volunteers. Only a few of the old faces remain, but they are as helpful as ever.

Of course, there are those really old volunteers from the 1970’s, like the couple with whom I had dinner. Those were the days of no electricity, running water, and muddy dirt roads. Regardless of the amenities, the rewards for their efforts show themselves as the students they taught and the family where they are staying remember them still.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One Week Has Passed

April 18, 2011

One week ago I staggered off the plane to my new “job”. For those who doubt it is a job let me reassure you that Peace Corps is a job. The pay is almost non-existent, the difficulties immense. Maybe that is why they call us “Peace Corps Volunteers”.

My job title is ”Coordinator for the “Samoan Health Challenge III” (SHCIII). The title implies coordinating something. In a way this is true, for the pieces of the puzzle do exist. They just need to be defined, found, and then put together.

As coordinators know events don’t happen serially, but in somewhat chaotic parallel trajectories. I am in the process of defining and redefining the program. Along my path of discovering, how am I ever going to get 5,000 Samoans to wear vinyl pink wristbands, take a pledge to “try” to get control of their weight, create an eight-week program, conduct talent contests across the country, deal with a Country Director who is worried that someone may die during the program, and get Miss Samoa to be the program’s lead spokesperson? I lay in bed at night wondering about this monster time bomb I have created.

The program, as it is today, is on track. Just where the track is going I really don’t have any idea. I do have all the necessary “MBA-type” steps in place. Here are a few:

The SHCIII Primary Goal is to have 5,000 adult Samoans participate in the program and to have 50% of the participants be able to either, walk one mile or lose 8 pounds/4 kilos, as well as, know and understand the program’s theme. This is accomplished through groups of 20 or more individuals, led by a group leader, and supported by a staff of volunteers.

SCHIII Secondary Goal is to identify as many as possible those individuals already showing signs of or having diabetes and hypertension with referrals for appropriate medical attention. This task is to be conducted primarily by the National Health Service.

The SHCIII Theme is:

Exercise determines your fitness.

The amount of food determines your weight.

The type of food determines your health.

The SCHIII Slogan is:

Look Better

Feel Better

Be Better

SHCIII Calendar

Week of 8 May- Begin promotional campaign

Week of 29 May- Begin Group Registrations

Week of 19 June- Begin Group Sessions

Week of 7 August- Last Group Session

Week of 14 August- Begin Regional Talent Contests

Week of 21 August- End of Regional Talent Contests

Week of 28 August- SHCIII Grand Talent Contest

-What is a Group?

A Group has of 20 or more men and/or women, at least 21 years of age. The Group can be made up of individuals from any village, organization, business, or family.

The Group should have a common place and time to meet.

The Group needs to have use of a bathroom scale and measuring tape.

Session Topics

Session One: Introduction and explanation of program, talent contest. Ask why participants joined “The Challenge”.

Session Two: Samoan lifestyle changes

Session Three: Exercise determines your fitness.

Start talent contest planning

Session Four: The amount of food determines weight.

Session Five: Biblical references to health.

Registration for Talent Contest

Session Six: The type of food determines health.

Session Seven: Relationship between weight, and overall health and vigor.

Session Eight: Wrap-up Q&A. Final weight-in and mile walk.

A successful group is one in which 50% of the registered participants either lose 8 pounds/3.5 kilos of weight and/or are able to walk one mile/1.6 kilometers.

The Talent Contest

The talent contest is an optional part of SHCIII.

There are two parts to the talent contest:

-A Regional Talent Contest at a nearby site.

-A Grand Talent Contest to be held in Apia for Regional Contest winners.

-Prizes are to be awarded to both Regional and Grand Talent Contest winners.

For a group to qualify for the talent contest, the group must be a “successful group”.

A group can only have one entry.

Any number from the group and only registered group members may participate.

The performance can be a dance and/or song.

There is a 5 minute time limit for each performance.

Overtime performances are to be penalized.

The group is to provide its own music, sound system, any props.

Performances are scored by a panel of independent judges.

The order of appearance shall be based on a random drawing.

Performances are judged on a 10 point scale on the following:

-Quality of Performance

-Originality of Performance

-Effectiveness of Portraying the SHCIII Theme.

-Effectiveness of Portraying the SHCIII Slogan


Participants- 5,000

Group Leaders- 250 (also participants)

Volunteers- 75 (non-participants)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Savaii Peace Corps Volunteers

April 14, 2011
I was able to circumnavigate the island of Savaii in a one day rush to visit all of the volunteers who now call my old island, home, and who will help administer the Samaon Challenge in their villages.

Robert Gonzales (83), Tafua-Tai

Rachel Goldstein (82), Samalaeulu

Patricia Marks (83), Tufutafoe

Olivia Hanson (83), Iva

Nancy Magsig (83), Faga

Michael Jeter (83), Vaisala

Matt Kaplan (82), Asau

Lillian Watson (82), Gagaemalae

Jennifer Sutherland (83), Samauga

Patricia Neal (82), Sapapalii

Elisa Law (82), Vaipua

Devon Childress (83), Sagone

Dana Gray (82), Neiafu

Missing: Allison Campbell (82), Sasina

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nick's New Samoan Home

April 13, 2011

Here is my new place. Very different from village life. Suburban living in Samoa, quiet, far from everything. I'll take village life, but this is where I will be until th end of August.

Number 14

Front Entry Living Room View into kitchen

From kitchen to living room





Sunday, April 10, 2011

Departure Eve

April 9, 2011

Twas the night before departure and all through my daughter's, Kim, house

Not even Kim's loose boa constrictor, Mr. Burns, would come out for a mouse.

The front bedroom walls painted in preparation for the baby to arrive,

Kim doesn't have to go far for a spectacular dive.

My children and Mary resting in a soft living room chair,

Knowing soon Nicholas II would no longer be there.

Nicholas III's girlfriend, Heidi, exclaimed before we left for the night,

"Going on the 'Pedal Pub' without Nick II, just won't be right".

So leaving some pink wristbands for others to wear,

And a copy of "The Pledge" upon which to swear.

I depart with trepidation and with yearnings to return,

To a new baby grandson, townhouse, a condo sold, and the reappearance of Dear Mr. Burn.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Free at Last

Mary, the happy housecleaner

After a 2 1/2 year search, we closed on our townhouse today. With little sleep the night before, Mary with bucket in hand rushed to the new digs to wash out the cupboards and savor the activity of new neighbors enjoying Minneapolis' first real spring day. Free at last from her interminable quest. A happy lady is she.

While me. I just wrote the checks and made sure my 50 pounds of wristbands were not trashed as Mary and her sister started to "stage' our condo for sale. Only three more days before departure.