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One Global Family: Funds for Samoa tsunami victims

A charitable foundation that presented $200 educational scholarship checks to each of the more than a dozen local students who lost a parent in the 2009 tsunami is doing the same for students in neighboring Samoa as the non-profit organization also looks at other countries in the Pacific to assist.


Laura Lafoia Ava-Tesimale, president and founder of One Global Family Foundation, made the local sponsorship check presentations during the Sept. 28 tsunami memorial service at Lions Park, organized by Hawaiian Airlines and the Rotary Club of Pago Pago.


One Global Family is working in partnership with GiveLight Foundation (not GiveLife as initially reported by Samoa News) and supported by the Samoa Victims Support Group (SVSG), which has a chapter in the territory. 


Dian Alyan is president and founder of GiveLight Foundation while SVSG founder and president is Lina Chang.


More than a week ago, Ava-Tesimale departed Pago Pago for Apia to continue her humanitarian mission to present educational sponsorship checks to at least 23 children on Upou and six in Savai’i.


“Sponsoring orphans and the education of underprivileged children is something that we at GiveLight Foundation and One Global Family Foundation, do around the world,” she said, before heading to Apia.


During the local tsunami memorial ceremony, Ava-Tesimale, with tears, shared with the audience her personal stories and what led her to providing humanitarian aid around the world leading to the establishment of her foundation.


When the 2009 tsunami hit the Samoan islands, “I was serving in India in the largest slum area serving the... poor, blind, and disabled. I remember, I was [in India] physically, but my heart was here on my island”, she said, “where I took my first breath of life.”


“I left here when I was six years old, due to domestic violence in our family. My grandfather was very violent and so my grandmother and I ran away to… Hawai’i, to escape, and to find peace and an opportunity for better education,” Ava-Tesimale explained, adding that God always has a purpose and reason for everything. “Had we not left, would I even be standing here today? Would I even be able to do this project to help your children and your families heal in some way?”


“We never know what’s going to happen to alter our course in life,” she said. Noting that she used to work in the corporate world, making a six figure income, having a wonderful position, managing multi million dollar branches for a lending real estate firm — but she gave all of that up.


“What woke me up was Sept. 11, 2001 — seeing thousands of lives perish in the two towers [of the World Trade Center] that crumbled,” she said. “And every time I saw it on TV, I felt like a mother who had lost her own children.”


“And then I looked at my children and thought, ‘oh my God, what kind of world would my children grow up in’? And for me that was the awakening moment - stepping away from the corporate arena and praying to God, ‘Lead me where ever you want me to go’,” she said.


For the past 11 years, she has traveled to “more countries and served in the worst of the worst war-torn areas and the biggest slum areas that I’ve never even dreamed of. But that’s the plan of God,” Ava-Tesimale said.


“That was my awakening moment that propelled me on this journey of humanitarian and interfaith peace. That’s the One Global Family journey,” she said.


She went on to share that she and Alyan — who is Indonesian, a mother of two boys and a “fearless little Muslim mother” met in Pakistan to open up an orphanage and “since then, we have raised millions of dollars to open up an orphanage in Sri Lanka, for children who have been victims of poverty and the tsunami.”


And with their support, other orphanages are in the process of being opened in Morocco, Bangladesh and many other areas.


“And thank God, we don’t need to open up an orphanage for Tutuila. Why? Our culture is that we take care of our children, we take care of our elders, we take care of our families,” Ava-Tesimale said. “If you don’t have any surviving family members, a village will step in. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.”


The president and founder of the organization said she knows all about tragedy, pointing to why there was a four-year delay in getting this educational sponsor program off the ground.


Ava-Tesimale said, when she left American Samoa in 2010, she traveled to Samoa before returning to her home in California to prepare to start this program, but then the devastating quake struck Haiti, which took her to the Caribbean nation. She then lost her father-in-law to cancer — “the only father I’d ever known”.


Then she, herself, was diagnosed with cancer and had to go through surgery.


After that, she was called upon to help with the “hundreds of thousands of lives” impacted due to severe flooding in Pakistan, and at the same time, a quake hit Afghanistan, where help was also needed.


In tears and a quivering voice, she recalled two other tragedies in her life: she “lost the only mother” she knew, and that was her mother-in-law. She was raised by her grandmother. She also lost her first-born child, a son, who would have been 29 years old.


Despite these personal tragedies, she promised to continue humanitarian work along with Alyan to provide aid to people around the world.