Enhancing the standard of living, extending a helping hand and building the capacity of others is no foreign concept for the Samoa Fa’afaine Association (S.F.A.).
The non-profit association, which aims to help fa’afafine’s who are affected by social stigma, discrimination and stereotypes, has but one simple goal in mind, to address issues faced by the fa’afafine community and to provide solutions to counter them.
And with So’oalo Roger Stanley at the helm, S.F.A.’s possibilities of helping others are endless.
According to Sooalo, he is driven by one moving statement “be inclusive and leave no one behind.”
Judging from all the good work the Association has accomplished, it is safe to say that he has been doing an extraordinary job at that.
But that’s not all; S.F.A’s helping hand does not stop with the fa’afafine community. Through various charity programmes, S.F.A. has proven time and time again that helping others is their way of life.
Although juggling his formal employment at the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) while running S.F.A. is a challenge, So’oalo remains committed.
So how did S.F.A. come about? According to So’oalo, it all began like all things do; with a gathering of friends who shared mutual goals, interests and concerns.
“We started this off with a couple of friends,” he said.
“We did so because we know from our personal experience that the issues faced by fa’afafine’s have never been the priority for Samoa.”
“Whenever different alumni that I am involved with hosted gatherings, we would bring up the issues we are facing and it would be pushed right down to the bottom of the priority list.”
“Our issues and our needs were never the priority; no one cared. So we thought, why not get together with whatever resources we have at the time and start an association?”
“So with the understanding that our best resource is ourselves and with the various talents and capacity we each hold, we did just that.”
“We launched in 2006 with little money in our pockets but we had a goal in mind and were determined to make it work.”
So’oalo said the other purpose for S.F.A. is to stop the exploitation of fa’afafine’s.
He explained that before S.F.A. came about, the fa’afafine’s would be used for entertainment purposes through different beauty pageants and at the end of the events, the proceedings ended up in the pockets of others, not those who worked hard for it.
“Over the years, a lot of people used fa’afafine’s for fundraising,” So’oalo said.
“There would be a number of beauty pageants going on but it was all done for the benefit of others. So why not do it ourselves so that it can benefit us. That’s how it came about.”
“With us being in charge of our own pageants, we are able to control the money raised and control where the funds will go. In many cases, we decide to give it out to different charity organizations.”
“You see, back in the days we also had the issue with certain laws. Within the laws back then, there was something on impersonations so Police officers would stop fa’afafine pageants.”
“But then that changed to bylaws which allowed us freedom to host our fundraising through the pageants.”
Furthermore, So’oalo explained that the Association provides solid annual plans for the fa’afafine community. This was long sought after due to the community only gathering during certain seasons, sometimes only twice a year.
“Another purpose for creating the association was to create solid programmes for the fa’afafine throughout the year,” So’oalo said.
“In the past, we would only gather during sports seasons because we loved to play sports. We played hockey, netball and many other sports.”
“Once that season was over, we would wait for the end of the year to gather again for beauty pageants but that was it. Now we are able to come up with different activities for the fa’afafine community.”
And with more control over the proceedings raised during fa’afafine events, S.F.A. can now control where the money is used.
According to So’oalo, most of it is always given to charity programmes with just a fraction kept to keep the association running.
“Our charity programmes are a matter of a continuous community commitment,” he said. “I always advise our members to first deal with your own immediate family. Show them respect and do your chores because we want them to keep that Samoan structure where we take care of our elders and family members.”
“Next is to be good members of society with our charity work on the side. Proceedings from our pageants would go towards different donations and we love to give to the elders because we receive their prayers and blessings.”
But no matter how much good S.F.A. and So’oalo does, they are still targeted negatively.
“When diseases like H.I.V. Aids came in, we were targeted,” he said. “The moment different S.T.I’s were introduced to Samoa, fingers were automatically pointed at us. We needed to help those who were impacted by such stereotypes.”
“Those are the issues that I mentioned were not a priority for many other organizations and were pushed to the bottom of the list when we brought it up. That’s another reason why we built S.F.A.”
And with many affected by stereotypical views of the public, S.F.A. has developed into somewhat of a safe haven providing the fa’afafine community with help through counseling, trainings and even just a place to chat.
“When it comes to the term fa’afafine, there would always be some form of stigma and discrimination attached to it.”
“That’s what S.F.A. focuses on; we try to help those who are affected by such social norms.”
“We try and help school dropouts who are affected at school, those who run away from their villages due to maltreatment and so on.”
“We don’t want them to end up being a menace to society or an eyesore. We want them to be good members of their community so we teach them to respect others and they too will gain respect.”
Asked for some examples of assistance provided by S.F.A., So’oalo explained that apart from offering a safe haven for the fa’afafine community, they also help through various trainings.
He added they have experienced great success with the work they have been doing.
“Over the years, we would host vocational trainings,” Sooalo said. “We are just trying to build the capacity of the fa’afafine community. There are so many who leave school early with nothing to do so we train them in different areas.
“Trainings include weaving, sewing, floral arrangements and other activities they can build a career out of and end up becoming independent while earning a bit of income.
“We are so glad that over the years, we notice that so many of them are doing so well. They are growing so well and not limited to just wanting to have a career in female dominant areas.”
And with a good team backing So’oalo, progress is inevitable.
“I wish work like this would put bread and butter on the table,” he said. “Most of our management team holds formal employments so it’s not easy to juggle that and run an association like this.
“Without a proper headquarters, I would have people visit my office to have a chat or for counseling. There would be times where I want to step down but my heart for the fa’afafine community keeps me hanging on.
“The same goes for the other members of S.F.A.; I am glad to have a very good backing team. The idea here is to rely a lot on my team and less on foreign donors because I try to build on their capacity.
“That’s how many N.G.O.’s fail; they would get funds, misuse them and when support stops coming in their team won’t have the capacity to keep running and would shut down.
“We are happy with our progress. We are developing slowly but surely and we are fine with that.”
Asked for challenges they are currently facing, So’oalo explained that not having an official office makes things harder.
“Our main challenge right now is not having a proper office or a drop-in center to help others properly,” he said.