Visiting our local scholars in the States
CHARLOTTE, NC — As a founding board member and the current officer of government affairs for Field House 100 American Samoa, I try to keep track of our young scholars whom the organization places in stateside colleges to see how they are progressing with their education.
Field House 100 American Samoa is a local non-profit organization that finds scholarships for students to colleges and universities under the leadership of executive director Brandon Smart. Our mission is not only to place them with the college but we also help them through their transition after leaving the island.
Whenever I am traveling on the mainland for meetings and conferences, I make a special effort to contact our local Samoan communities. Over the years I have learned that you never know where you are going to find Samoans; and when you find one Samoan family you are likely to find a community; and, when the community grows large enough, there likely will be a Samoan church.
A few years ago, in the very cold state of Minnesota, for example, we brought together over 40 Samoans and Tongans, including some who did not know of each other’s existence.
Our own deputy attorney general, Eleasalo Ale, hosted one of the group events, which was attended by Malae Langkilde with whom I grew up here on island, who is mayor of Burnsville, a town in the area with a population size similar to that of our Territory. It is gratifying to know that the group still gets together periodically and is keeping our cultural ties strong.
So it was no surprise to find Samoans in the Charlotte, NC area where I had meetings last week. Additionally, two of our 80 local students and one from Australia are enrolled at Gardner Webb University, which is about 70 miles west of Charlotte on a beautiful campus nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Needless to say, as near as the school was, I wanted to visit our students, especially the ones still adjusting to a new culture and climate so far from home. It was a real blessing when two of our Charlotte area Samoan community leaders, military veteran Lene Maseuli of Mesepa and Rick Fetolofa'i Olomua of Aoa, quickly offered to accompany me. In fact, Olomua, a Charlotte police officer, who also leads a Polynesian dance troupe, did the driving.
We arrived at the Boiling Springs campus at lunchtime and met four of the students at the main cafeteria, which offered an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch for $6.50. I thought to myself that it’s a good thing there are only four Samoans at the school, otherwise at those food prices it would probably go bankrupt.
The students, Samoana's Phillip Eneliko Fata of Pago Pago, Faga'itua's O.J. Lei'ataua Fa'amausili Mau Mau of Masefau, Preston Pemasa and Kapona Asuega had already eaten, but sat with us while we took advantage of the buffet and afterwards gave us a guided tour of the campus.
Of course, as members of the football team, they all beamed with great pride in showing off the magnificent new training facility that just opened recently. Gardner Webb is a member of NCAA’s Big South Conference, which plays in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision. All four students, one in each class, are defensive linemen.
I am happy to report that these four young men all appear very well adjusted to college life in the states. I asked them what besides family they missed the most about being away from home, and they all — even Kapono Asuega and Preston Pemasa who were raised in California — agreed they missed Samoan food, taro, palusami, ulu, pilikaki, pisupo.
We said our farewells to the students with Officer Olomua, Maseuli and his wife Nani promising to remain in touch with them and offer them a home away from home whenever there are holidays or break periods which are too short for them to travel back home. There is nothing more rewarding to me than to bring people together. It may have been the most important thing I accomplished in Charlotte.