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Pacific ambassadors for the environment put American Samoa on the map

Finafinau members with sign saying save our land, protect our ocean, empower our people

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Finafinau does it again! Recently, members of the Finafinau community service project gained acceptance into two highly competitive environmental programs that provide a platform for young people to inspire a change within their community.

The emergence of Finafinau first occurred during the summer of 2018 when a motivated group of Samoana High School students were able to make their mark at the Native Youth Community Adaptation Leadership Congress (NYCALC) and the Urban Climate Action Network (UCAN).

NYCALC is a week-long program held in West Virginia that is primarily for Native Americans, and is inclusive of Pacific Islanders in the U.S. territories, who share a common concern for environmental issues, natural resource conservation, community leadership, mental health issues, and public service.

This program is hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Conservation Training Center, the Department of Interior, and various other agencies. NYCALC encourages a dialogue for community plights and allows students to devise effective solutions through hands-on activities, community service projects, and daily workshops that seek to strengthen networking, integrative learning, leadership, and team building.

In addition, this ambitious group is currently attending the UCAN conference hosted by the National Aquarium in Maryland, in which they discuss the atrocities of climate change and work towards concrete steps that can be taken to mitigate its ongoing effects that are most severe on our islands.

Through the experience gained from these national programs, Finafinau, a student-led project based at Samoana High School, emerged with the objectives to the “Save the Ocean, Protect our Land, and Empower the Youth.”

Finafinau has been successful through collaborations with several local agencies to achieve their goals by conducting monthly beach cleanups and assisting Land Grant with watershed cleanups throughout local villages. Once more, they have persevered in gaining the honor of attending both programs.

This year’s team consists of three rising seniors: Abcde Tupa’i, Elorah Tusiofo, Tuiolo Aumua; and four S.H.S. alumni: Maribett Malubay, Morgan Ulu, Lessei Perelini, and Paulina Ioane.

“We are extremely grateful for this opportunity to participate in these programs because they promote the development of youth leadership all whilst addressing important environmental issues. I think it’s important to keep them informed of the casualties around us and get them prepared on how to navigate through climate change,” said Sabrina Suluai-Mahuka, the Finafinau advisor and a teacher at Samoana who serves as a mentor for the students on their trips.

The group has recently completed the NYCALC with outstanding marks and are currently attending the UCAN conference at Towson University.

“It’s been a great experience so far, and I am grateful for this opportunity to represent my territory. I hope to acquire the skill set and knowledge necessary to return back to my community to inspire a change,” stated Tuiolo Aumua.

These highly selective national programs aim to boost student engagement, educate the youth, identify possible routes around the issues they face in their community, and provide an array of college and career opportunities. In addition, it is preparing the students to become environmentally aware and assisting them in practicing eco friendly habits that will work towards a sustainable future for American Samoa.

The students will be returning home tonight, July 22nd, ready to implement their 2019 Finafinau project funded from the Young Pacific Leaders small grants program, a $10,000 award won by their advisor Suluai-Mahuka.

The grant will fund various activities such as an environmental cultural exchange between the two Samoas, collaborative clean ups, youth workshops, etc. Overall, the students will be applying what they have learned from these national programs to take affirmative action in protecting the environment as Pacific Ambassadors for Conservation and Environmental Resilience.