Stranded residents under banner of TTFAAS establish a GoFundMe account
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Eight months into American Samoa’s borders closing due to a continuing Emergency Declaration by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, the stranded residents of the territory, under the banner of Tagata Tutu Faatasi Alliance of American Samoa (TTFAAS), have been forced to open a GoFundMe account to seek financial help for not only those who are in dire financial straits, but also to pay for legal help to get them back home.
An article by The Associated Press, which was also printed in the Washington Post on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, reflects on the hardship endured by Mr. Ilalio Polevia and his 16-year old daughter, Rita, who were essentially left homeless in Honolulu, Hawaii when they couldn't return to American Samoa due to the territory’s borders closing.They have been taken in by strangers in order to ‘survive’.
Emotional stress and financial strain have been forced on the 500+ stranded residents of American Samoa, forcing them to unite together under the banner of “Tagata Tutu Faatasi Alliance of American Samoa” (TTFAAS). The Alliance has turned to organizations and individuals within each state for assistance. Such calls for help have been answered by organizations like Le Fetuao Samoa Language Center in Honolulu, Hawaii and the PICA-WA Food Distribution in Washington State.
In addition, the TTF Alliance has now set up a GoFundMe account to "seek for financial assistance to assist stranded families and also to seek Legal Help." said TTFAAS president, Eileen Tyrell, when Samoa News asked for a comment about the Alliance’s current status.
"It has been 7 months now going on 8, and our Government has no plans to repatriate its stranded residents of [which there are] more than 500. We have written petitions both online and printed ones, we have written numerous reports using the Data and Science from reputable sources of ways they can mitigate and contain the virus, we have offered to help with the repatriation plans and we have written to our leaders for financial aids using CARES funds.
“To this day, nothing has been done to alleviate the suffering of our stranded residents. Some of our residents have been displaced — some have had to rely on the help of strangers for meager means of basic needs, Tyrell says.
“All of us have had to use our personal already depleting funds to get by. We are literally surviving day to day, wondering where the next meal will come from, if we have enough money to buy the basic things for ourselves and our families," continued Tyrell when commenting on starting the GoFundMe drive.
Tyrell pointed out "holidays are coming up, an already devastating situation will have irreparable damages if we do not move to get funds for legal counsel to allow us to get home.” Families belong together, she said, pointing out the separation is causing massive depression, anxiety, and sleep depravation, among other things, for stranded residents.
Making a closing plea, she appealed to the public, “Your support will mean that our families get to go home and be with their children, their families, their villages, their church families, their land, etc. Your support will simply mean —you have given us hope, you have given us wings, you have empowered us with the means to continue on with this uphill battle,” she stated.
The Alliance has begun legal proceedings to seek financial assistance and repatriation flights from the American Samoa Government.
To assist with the Alliance's GoFundMe you can go on their Facebook Page "Tagata Tutu Faatasi Alliance of American Samoa" or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
EIGHT MONTHS LATER
Veronica Vaoulu-Gasio of Alofau was living with her husband Johnny Gasio and 3 young children in Las Vegas, when she was offered a job at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center, as its Biomedical Manager. With her degree in Electrical Engineering, emphasis in Biomedical Technology, Gasio was looking forward to working as the only Biomedical Engineer or Certified Biomed Technician at LBJ.
In preparation for the job, Gasio and her family shipped off all their belongings to American Samoa and headed to Vegas to spend a few weeks with her sister before leaving to Honolulu, Hawai’i, for the flight to American Samoa. They had also put their home on the market for sale.
Eight months later — Gasio and family are still in the US Mainland. They’ve moved out of her sister's place and are now renting at a Bed & Breakfast, while waiting for American Samoa to open its borders. Because they have sold their home and shipped off all their belongings to American Samoa, Mr. Gasio had to find temporary employment to take care of their basic necessities and pay for the monthly rental of their accommodations. Veronica's mom in American Samoa helps with their transportation payment.
Mele Nometa Leilua brought her elderly mother to the States to spend the holidays last year and celebrate her 80th birthday with her grandchildren. Both Mele and her 80-year old mother, Maria traveled to the U.S on a Visitor's VISA in Dec 2019. Her mom's 80th birthday was celebrated in the beginning of March 2020, and they were getting ready to return to American Samoa, a week after the birthday celebration.
And eight months later — due to the COVID-19 Pandemic that has American Samoa’s governor closing the territory’s borders, Mele and her Mom are still in the States. And, they have had to pay $500 each in order to extend their Visitor's Visas that expired in June. They now join the more than 500+ stranded residents of American Samoa scattered throughout the United States, waiting for the re-opening of American Samoa's borders.
More dire however, is that due to her immigration status, Mele is unable to procure employment in the U.S, and she and her elderly mom have had to rely on families for shelter, food and their basic necessities. Families that in these dire times are taking care of their own individual families to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, and its economic fallout in the U.S.
Mele and Veronica's stories of true despair are being experienced — in some shape or form — by all stranded residents. According to a wide majority of the stranded residents and those supporting them — the harsh reality is that despite American Samoa's government leader’s mentality that seems to be — ‘Don’t worry, they are being taken care of by their families in America,’ the stranded residents are not “home” and they are not being taken care of by their “Muamua le Atua” homeland with money received under the CARE Act to take care of coronavirus-related issue. Instead they are being told to ‘onasa’i’ (be patient), with no helping hand in sight from their own government.