ASBA gives Morrow Justice Award to Ipu Lefiti
During the Law Conference’s 40 year anniversary celebration, that was held by the American Samoa Bar Association at the ASCC lecture hall last week, Mrs Ipu Avegalio Lefiti was awarded the first annual Arthur A. Morrow Justice Award.
The Arthur A Morrow award is named after American Samoa's longest serving chief justice, from 1937 to 1966, and this award recognizes an individual or an organization that has made significant improvements to the justice system and the rule of law in American Samoa.
Mrs Lefiti told the audience of lawyers that she “felt a stab of fear followed by the most profound sense of unworthiness”. She added that by receiving and looking at the award that she speaks to all of her colleagues who are doing their part in the community to bring justice, this award is to prove how valuable your work is and it places honor upon all the risks that you take as an advocate.
“I’m so moved to this totally unexpected and I don’t know how to thank you and I would like to say out there for all the victims and survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault, there is hope out there and there is life after violence, as an advocate here in the territory for the past 10 years the hardest thing to do is to speak the truth.
“Why is it hard to speak the truth, its because the offenders that who’s behaviors that we are advocating against, are our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers. How do you speak against them.”
Mrs Lefiti said this island is so small and everyone is related one way or another. She lauded her greatest strength which gave her the courage and the boldness to speak out against these crimes. “The God that stood with me and walked me through all the fearful things that I was threatened with, against isolation, anger and everyone who speaks for justice knows what it feels like to make that stand.
She acknowledged her family members and how they fear for her safety but they never doubted her work. She noted that through the years of prayers, came conformation of her duty in society, which is to speak out for the weak, the rejected and the abused.
Mrs Lefiti who is seen at the court house during cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, thanked both the non government and government organizations for supporting her.
She also acknowledged her spiritual mentors who stood by her even when churches would not listen. “Churches denied that child abuse, domestic and sexual assault was happening among the church members”.
Mrs Lefiti said that her spiritual mentors, Tinei Akapo, Elder Reverend Masalosalo Sopoaga and the late Elder Reverend Oka Fauolo, were the ones that gave her words of wisdom in which she recevied courage to speak out against what the churches was concealing. “Today the churches has opened their doors, and are taking up the torch of spreading the word of hope and love”.
Mrs. Lefiti is a graduate of Samoana High School and served in the U.S. military. She is the vice-chair for the Multi-Disciplinary Task Force against family violence; a founding member of the American Samoa Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, serving as vice chair and then as executive director, a co-founder of American Samoa’s Task Force on Faces of Abuse; secretary for the Women in New Dimension, a domestic violence transitional facility; secretary on the governing board of the Boys and Girls Club of American Samoa; and member of the First Lady’s Ta’ita’itama Executive Board on prevention of underage drinking initiative.
Mrs. Lefiti has retired from her job as a surgical technician at the LBJ Emergency Room, but she continues to work there part time to assist with staff shortage at the hospital.