Op-Ed: Tribute to Le Tofa Fofoga-O-Samoa — US Senator Daniel K. Inouye
I was quite fortunate to have had the distinct honor and unique privilege to know and serve with the late Senator, at various capacities, in Hawaii for 15 years.
In my numerous occasions of contacts with the Senator, I can attest to one fact: the Senator’s incredible passion and undying “aloha” (love) in helping and making sure all with the communities especially distressed, disadvantaged and disenfranchised, are well developed and adjusted to the greatest extent possible, socially and economically, so each would have an equal chance to share in and contribute towards the “American dream”. It is through this inspiration, I developed a program called, Acculturation for Samoans at SSPA, juxtaposing Samoan “values, principles, and customs”, comparing to that of a “Western-based” society, reconciling therefore their differences, as we journey through this new “way of life”, including democracy and its inherent complexities. In that vein, he also made sure that his beloved Samoan community in Hawaii was not left behind (or lost) in that regards. Thus, he single-handedly developed and implemented several initiatives to safeguard our (Samoans) “place” in the State of Hawaii.
Among other many organizations, he established Samoan Service Providers Association (SSPA), as a platform to carry out that vision, of which I had the privilege to serve, as its CEO for 13 years. For SSPA, the Senator created a special grant from USDOL, under the JTPA program specifically, for Samoans both in Hawaii and California. Through this grant, thousands of Samoans were professionally “trained” in all fields of trades and technology; even professional disciplines, after which they were “placed” in meaningful and unsubsidized jobs that were recorded, as “living” wages, displacing many of people from government programs that continue to plague our communities.
As a 2nd phase of SSPA’s strategic plan, the Senator unconditionally supported my efforts to develop the 1st Samoan Business Center and the 1st Business “Incubator” Project in Kalihi, with the help from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA), where Native Americans, including Samoans were “trained, incubated and started- up” small businesses, aiming as a main focus to create a “pool” of Samoan entrepreneurs for purposes of “self-employment”. As a result hundreds of small businesses sprang-up throughout the State, displacing the notion that Samoans can’t be business owners. In fact, the program was so successful SSPA was given the highest award on behalf of the State of Hawaii’s award for Business Advocate of the Year, from the Small Business Administration (SBA).
With the Senator’s strong influence, he help supported a “vision” to create a leadership training program for emerging leaders from the Pacific Islands; a cause that was materialized by the Pacific American Foundation (PAF), a parent entity of the NAPALI Institution, where I have the pleasure of being one of its Emeritus Senior Lecturers on traditional issues and cultural affairs, where each year, NAPLAI annually trains emerging leaders from the Pacific Islands, entering their professional careers, with a grounded sense of Pacific Island values, as they pursuit their place and assume their roles in the Corporate and public service worlds.
These are just a few (of the countless) programs that the Senator most poignantly helped the Samoan and Hawaiians community in Hawaii, as they forged their way through the maze and complexity of a modern and urbanized society—a tender issue that was never lost with or neglected by the late Senator.
Notwithstanding, the Senator is in short: a compassionate, genuine and well respected leader, who never lost focus of his humble beginnings and where he “came from”, but never he also took his eyes off the “prize”, amid and in spite of the politics and power of Washington DC. Moreover, he clearly understood the plight of the under-privilege and championed the cause of the under-dog particularly; those who genuinely seek to improve themselves through education, integrity and hard work!
Samoa not only has lost a “friend” but, a leader who was also a “father” figure to the Communities and Country. For me personally, Senator Inouye truly epitomizes an old Samoan proverb appropriate for this solemn occasion, “Ia pa’u se Toa; ‘ae tu se Toa”. I will truly miss him as a friend, great mentor and a profound community colleague and, I pray and hope that, if God willing provide Samoa with another compassionate and an honorable leader like Le Tofa Fofoga-O-Samoa US Senator Daniel K. Inouye.
Soifua ma ‘ia manuia lau Malaga