Gov. Togiola Tulafono, First Lady Mary Ann and some of the talented women of American Samoa including the guest speaker of the Women’s History Month Observance Ceremony, Colonel Leafaina Tavai Yahn at a special program held on Thursday, March 22, 2012. (L_R) Gov. Tulafono, DHR Director Evelyn Vaitautolu Langford, Colonel Tavai Yahn, Pastor Amy Wendt Tavai, head of Procurement Ivy Taufaasau, and First Lady Mary Ann Tulafono. [photo: Leua Aiono Frost]

The month of March has been proclaimed National Women’s History Month since Jimmy Carter’s administration in 1980, and the Governor of American Samoa has recognized the celebration for the fourth consecutive year now.

In  2012, the Department of Human Resources celebrated Women’s History Month in American Samoa with a Luncheon Program last week, at the Governor H. Rex Lee Auditorium in Utulei.

The theme for the event was “Women’s Education, Women’s Empowerment” with a program presenting historically important information with some of American Samoa’s most significant women featured and remembered. Director Evelyn Vaitautolu Langford of the Department of Human Resources selected the best of the best from among our daughters in the Armed Forces, as the keynote speaker for the well attended program—Colonel Leafaina Tavai Yahn, who is the commander of the 404th Army Field Support Brigade stationed at Joint Base, Lewis - McChord, Washington.

Col.Yahn shared with the audience her personal experiences, trials and triumphs as she climbed the chain of command within the United States Army. She is a firm believer in the theme “Women’s education - Women’s Empowerment” as she noted, “Women today might take educational opportunities for granted, however, the fight for these opportunities was waged by many tenacious women for years.” 

She reminded those present that our times are made better because others before us had their share of struggles and determination to improve all walks of life for women.

“Many women in history overcame difficult obstacles and paved the way for future generations; and we are enjoying the fruits of their labor today as we are able to pursue higher education, hold many different leadership positions in government and in the private sector and become leaders in our churches and in our communities.” she said.

She reminded the ladies of the most powerful tool to ensure empowerment, when she said, “Education is the key!”

“Education plays a key role in empowering women to pursue their dreams and overcome challenges. It is the single most powerful tool empowering women to succeed, realize their full potential, recognize their inherent rights and provide them with choices.

“Education helps open your mind and expand your horizons, it is both a stepping stone and an entry point into your future and something no one can ever take away from you.

“Education is the single best weapon in the war against poverty, hunger and inequality and there is no better way of empowering women than educating them.” she stated.

“Empowering our women will make them improve their skills to be able to overcome obstacles in their lives,” she added.

“The empowerment of women means expanding their ability to make life choices, pursue their dreams and participate in decisions that directly affect their lives through education, leadership training, coaching and mentoring. Empowering women to participate in all levels of management and leadership have proven throughout history to build stronger and more stable societies, improve quality of life for their families, and contribute to a strong economy.”

She told the group that even with freedom of choice and the equality in opportunities we are enjoying, we still have a lot to improve on and make better. Just like the saying goes, “it takes 10 men to do a woman’s job!”

“Despite all of the advances in women's rights and opportunities, there is still much work that needs to be done to continue to break down the barriers and allow future generations of women to have equal footing in all areas with their male counterparts.”

She also left the audience with a challenge for the future, “I urge all of us leaders - both men and women - to continue the fight for women's educational opportunities and open the doors for future generations.  

She said we can only do this by:

*  Being a mentor to others and helping them on their journey - giving back to others.

* Being an advocate for policy changes.

* Investing in programs that open opportunities for advancement across all businesses.

* Leading by example.”

Col. Leafaina Tavai Yahn was Samoana High school valedictorian 28 years ago, and this opportunity is the second speech she delivered at Lee Auditorium— tearfully.

According to her testimonial, she was instilled with a lot of competitiveness and self-confidence early in her life as the eldest child in her family. “I thank my parents for the way they brought me up.  It made it easier for me to adapt to the competitive and demanding environment of West Point.  I hope I never disappoint them or Samoa.”

She was selected by American Samoa’s Congressman Fofo I F Sunia to be educated at West Point Military Academy, and there she suddenly found herself alone and homesick. Yet determination took its course, competitiveness played its role, improvement in self reliance and the continuous support of her parents led her on.

Yahn is the first Samoan woman to graduate from West Point, and the first Samoan woman to attain the post of colonel within the US Army. She is the daughter of HC Atiumaletavai Kaleopa and Lauolive To’omalatai Tavai of Gataivai, American Samoa.

Prior to the keynote address Governor Tulafono took the floor and asked every woman there “to start looking at yourself daily, ask yourself, what have you done for the betterment of your other sisters and your community?”

Director Langford also recognized the great works and tautua of First Lady Mary Ann Tulafono, and she asked the audience to applaud while she presented her with a plaque as a special gift.

Col. Yahn also received a special plaque.

To close the event, DHR featured some of the distinguished women in the history of American Samoa for its first 100 years of government. Included in their lineup onstage were women to represent Mable Coleman, Pepe Haleck, Fa’avaina Tiumalu Tilo, Sa’eu Rusty Scanlan, Mrs. Gaoioi Poumele and Penelope Ala’ilima Utu among others.

 Women from DHR read out the bios of the featured women and the crowd took turns guessing who’s who.

Luncheon was served in honor of the speaker and Pastor Amy Tavai delivered the benediction.

Click on attachment to download the full text of Col. Yahn’s speech.


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