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NMSAS announces names of winners for Hokule’a Voyage

Sixteen-year-old Hope Autele of Faleasao, Manu’a, and Faga’itua High School freshman O’Riley Siona Le’au are the two lucky winners who will be representing Tutuila and Manu’a as part of a historic Hokule’a Voyage set to arrive in the territory later this year.


The two were selected from a pool of 30 high school students (13 from Manu’a and 17 from Tutuila) who competed for a spot on the Hokule’a. In order to “earn” a seat on the voyage, the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (NMSAS) solicited two-page written essays from all interested high school students, from both Tutuila and Manu’a.


Among other things, interested students had to be between grade levels 9- 11 and have a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher.


NMSAS Education, Outreach, and Community Coordinator Apulu Veronika Molio’o Mortenson explained yesterday that a boat was specially chartered for them to travel to the Manu’a Islands to spread the word about this golden opportunity to the students there. And the trip was not in vain, as Manu’a High School produced 13 essays — the highest number of submissions from a single school.


NMSAS Communication and Outreach Coordinator Isabel Gaoteote said the response was good, as 17 essays were submitted from local high schools. “Almost each high school had an essay submission,” she said.


The Hokule’a Voyage is heading to the Pacific for the first time since 1986 and Autele will be on board for part of the trip from Ta’u to Tutuila, where she will disembark — while Le’au hops on for the voyage leg from here to Apia, Samoa.


NMSAS superintendent Gene Brighouse explained in an initial interview that the local student will arrive in Samoa during the time of the UNESCO conference later this year and this is something they had planned on, as sort of a way to link the two Samoas through navigation.


In addition to being part of the Hokule’a Voyage, Le’au and Autele will make presentations during the Youth Ocean Summit set for next month, and they will be traveling to Hawai’i to take part in a two-week navigation training camp in June — all paid for by the NMSAS.


The selected pair must also serve as volunteers for the NMSAS for ten hours during the summer months.


Autele is the daughter of Rev. Iosefa and Mrs. Fa’afouina Autele. She is a junior at Manu’a High School and yesterday, during a conference call at the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center in Utulei, the Faleasao resident expressed her joy and excitement about being selected.


“It never crossed my mind that I would win a seat on the Hokule’a but when I received the good news that I was selected, I was thrilled,” she said, adding that her essay took a lot of effort and research, as her resources were limited, considering her remote location in the Manu’a Islands.


She thanked her teachers and parents for helping her and said she was motivated to take on the Hokule’a challenge because “I love the ocean”. She added, “I advise our young people to take care of our oceans. Don’t litter and remember the importance of the ocean to all of us.”


So what are her plans for the future? Autele said that after she graduates high school, she will head off to college to major in marine biology — a field that is often overlooked by locals, both males and females.


In the meantime, the young Segaula said she is looking forward to her journey, as this will be her first time off-island.


When it was his turn to answer questions, Le’au explained that his winning essay was inspired by a story that was passed down from his forefathers.


According to the Aua/ Leone native, his father shared with him a story told to him by his great-grandfather — a story that involved a voyage out on the open ocean with no modern technological tools (similar to the Hokule’a) and how his great-grandfather was able to navigate his way to the Big Island of Savai’i, using nothing but the ocean currents, birds, stars, and the points of sunrise and sunset.


“All his techniques focused on science and math, my two favorite subjects,” Le’au explained. He said he is looking forward to his trip to Hawai’i, where he plans on meeting other kids and sharing stories with them.


His advice to youngsters is: “Stay in school and make your parents proud. Also, stay close to God and everything will work out.”


The young Viking said he doesn’t know yet what he wants to be in the future, but he is certain it will be something in the field of science or mathematics.


Le’au’s proud parents Fatima Sauafea-Le’au and Oliver John Le’au were present yesterday for the official announcement of their eldest child’s selection. “We are very happy for him,” said Le’au’s mother. “This is a wonderful opportunity for him to learn new things and prepare for college, in addition to becoming a better public speaker. Also, this will be a good example for him to set for his three younger brothers.”


Autele and Le’au will hop on board the Hokule’a once they return from Hawai’i in July, where they will be visiting Sanctuary sites and visiting the home of the Hokule’a. Apulu said once on board the Hokule’a, the two will be treated as VIPs, riding and navigating alongside the legendary Nainoa Thompson, a renowned ocean navigator, who has his sights set on circling the entire globe — using nothing but a traditional vessel.


In case Autele and/or Le’au are unable to be part of the Voyage for unforeseen reasons, two runner-ups have been selected to go in their place. They are: Gabrielle Langkilde of Fa’asao-Marist High School and Patricia Penitito of Manu’a High School.


More information on the Hokule’a Voyage can be obtained by contacting the NMSAS at 633-6500.