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Living and Working in Samoa by Mrs Edna Tait
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Mrs. Edna Tait Former director, UNESCO Office, Apia

Living and Working in Samoa

I lived in Samoa from the start of October 1995 until the end of January 2005. These were very happy years and I was sorry to leave such a beautiful country and special people. Number plates on cars in Samoa claim her to be the Pearl of the Pacific and I was privileged to share almost a decade with that pearl.

What to say about my time in Samoa? As head of the UNESCO Office for the Pacific I worked with the government leaders, officials from appropriate line ministries, civil society representatives, schools and universities, the media, church leaders, youth and women’s groups. UNESCO is not a funding agency of the UN but we sometimes were able to support projects with small grants and always provided technical assistance when it was appropriate in all our work fields of education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information. We developed many projects for all independent Pacific Member States of UNESCO and Tokelau (17 countries in all) and some of the networks we established include the Associated Schools network, the Education for All network and the heads of Museums and Cultural Agencies network. We also strengthened the network of Pacific Directors of Education, supported the Forum Secretariat meetings of Pacific Ministers of Education and the establishment of the Pacific Association for Technical and Vocational Education and Training. We participated in the development of the Pacific Regional Initiative for the Development of Education and developed and implemented the STEPS (Supporting Teacher Education in Pacific Schools) project for its six years duration. In other work we provided ongoing support for media development and for research in both the natural and human and social sciences. Considerable support for environmental work, energy and marine studies are also a part of the work of the last ten years. We established the International Council for the Study of Pacific Islands (ICSPI) and developed and implemented a four year Pacific youth leadership programme. Samoan representatives participated in all of these and other activities.

All sectors of our work have grown and consequently the office and staff have more than doubled in size. The UNESCO Pacific office is now staffed in all sectors of UNESCO’s mandate in the UN system, it is fully computerised and has a well established library and conference room. The office participates in all UN agency theme group activities and is currently Chair of the UN HIV/AIDS committee in Samoa. It has taken a lot of hard work by all staff to achieve the progress of the last ten years and it has been a pleasure to work with such committed people. I pay a special tribute to the Hon Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Minister of Education in Samoa and Chairperson of the Samoan National Commission for UNESCO. The Minister has been extremely supportive of all our activities and in her term (and since then) as a member of UNESCO’s Executive Board Fiame was able to provide considerable support for all of UNESCO’s Pacific work.

Although my role as Director of the office required a lot of travel away from Samoa, I was able to enjoy some leisure activities when I was “at home”. I belonged to the Apia Rotary Club and I was also able to provide some support to the Animal protection Society. My love of dogs resulted in the ownership of six dogs over the years, the last two of which have returned to New Zealand with me and are now learning to bark in English. All of us enjoy Samoa’s clean and beautiful beaches and excellent restaurants and I shall also miss the all-year-round warm climate. I managed to develop a large garden around the house I lived in for most of my time in Apia and it is a special pleasure that some many different kinds of flowers, fruit and vegetables grow so well in Samoa. One thing I shall not miss: I was in Samoa for cyclone Heta and I am now very sympathetic with all peoples who live through these challenges. However, I was very impressed with Samoa’s preparations before and clean up after the Heta. It reflected the determination of the government and the people to lead and live independent and well managed lives.

Everyone writes and talks of Samoa’s strong traditional culture. Most tourists are entranced by the music, dancing and the craft work and they learn a little of the matai system and its contribution to village and national life. I also note the strength of Samoa’s Constitution and the way in which traditional and modern practices are intertwined, whether in governance, the law, social concerns or financial matters. It is a complex mix and it works.

As I look back on my time in the “Pearl of the Pacific” I remember many kindnesses, many friends and many happy occasions. I hope to return one day but in the meantime there will always be a little piece of Samoa in the heart of this Kiwi now living in new Zealand.