APIA, Samoa - Rosa* and Simi* have five children together. Until recently, Simi was able to support the family through his carpentry work while Rosa stayed home to raise their children. Like many others, Simi lost his job when a state of emergency was declared to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Over time, the financial stress of making ends meet began to wear on both husband and wife. As tensions in the house rose, Rosa blamed her husband for letting the family down while he accused her of being unsupportive. He began to intimidate her, as well as humiliating her with verbal abuse. Rosa, realizing that the arguments were likely to escalate, called the Spotlight-supported Fa'ataua Le Ola (FLO) lifeline. “I don’t know what else to do,” she said.
“Our family has found peace and order again after sharing my problems with Faataua Le Ola (FLO)” - Rosa*, FLO client
After establishing that Rosa wasn’t in immediate danger, FLO’s team of counsellors engaged her in a series of conversations over several days about how she wanted to address the situation. They provided information on referral services and police action, offered financial counselling, and developed a contingency plan in case Simi did become violent. Rosa ultimately decided to speak to her husband about the situation and he agreed to work on the marriage by improving their communication.
A week later, FLO followed up with Rosa, who said the relationship was significantly better. She and her husband had decided to move to their family plantation to earn an income while the state of emergency was in place, and they were committed to communicating in a respectful and empathetic way.
“Our family has found peace and order again after sharing my problems with Faataua Le Ola,” said Rosa.
While some FLO clients wish to remain anonymous, most willingly divulge their contact details so that FLO staff can continue checking in with them. This ongoing support is a crucial step in ensuring that vulnerable women and girls don’t fall through the cracks. FLO remains available to Rosa, Simi and their children 24/7 should any of them wish to talk.
“People living in Samoa are being challenged by many and varied forms of violence and abuse within the family unit” - FLO Executive Director Papalii Carol Ah Chong
Remote support is critical
Six out of ten Samoan women experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, while nine in ten children experience some form of verbal, physical or sexual violence, according to data from the National Public Inquiry into Family Violence 2018. This makes the work of survivor-centred organizations like FLO critically important.
Since January, FLO has counselled 135 people across the country, 70 per cent of them women. Primarily established as a suicide prevention helpline, FLO often receives calls from women experiencing violence.
“People living in Samoa are being challenged by many and varied forms of violence and abuse within the family unit, village communities, church communities and in schools,” explains FLO Executive Director Papalii Carol Ah Chong. “FLO has documented that the majority of suicide cases derive from relationship issues and violence within families… In Samoan society, family connections are of utmost importance and the severing of this connection or link is a significant risk factor for suicide.”
To ensure that help reaches those who need it most, Spotlight Initiative has invested US$20,000 in supporting FLO to meet the increased demand for counselling. This includes establishing safe digital platforms for vulnerable populations to seek help, a national gender-based violence awareness campaign, and support for FLO staff to do field work, including counselling sessions and suicide prevention outreach.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy. Photo: James Mepham/UNICEF Samoa.