Although jobs are practically non-existent in Auala and you would be lucky to have even just one member of your family working, Ferina Tofa is still smiling and optimistic about her future.
Ferina recently returned from Apia where she participated in a short course of massage workshops at the Touch of Samoa. Her husband was concerned that if they moved back to Auala they would not find jobs but Ferina tells the Village Voice that she felt confident that God would provide a job in some way because in her opinion, if a person truly had the desire to find work, they would.
“It’s so hard for people to find jobs here,” she said.
“We don’t have big businesses here on this side of the island like Ah-Liki or Frankies to employ and so people will go looking for small jobs though sad, it is true that money is everything because we need to survive.
“The other thing that’s not helping us with jobs is the complacency of many people here in Savai’i. Many people don’t feel motivated to work if they are getting money from others like when they approach working people for a little bit of money - they aren’t even thinking about how hard that person worked to earn every cent.
“The other thing is they are calling their relatives overseas for financial assistance but I feel sorry for those families outside because I know that life is not easy where they live too.”
“What I would say to my community is this, don’t think that a job is going to come look for you - you have to find the work.
“And if you can’t find work there is a way to make money like planting taro, a vegetable garden and banana which you can sell and get money for yourself. I really want to tell everybody that there is a way to make money in working for yourself”
Ferina is so grateful though that she has stumbled across the ability to be self employed by learning a practical skill in Apia and bringing it back with her to Auala.
Fōfō is something that Ferina was exposed to early in life as she watched her aunties treat others for ailments but it wasn’t until she discovered Chinese massage and western massage techniques that she was able to take that skill to another level to assist her community with their health and wellbeing.
“I was in Apia visiting my aunty earlier in the year and I heard that “A Touch of Samoa” was doing a massage workshop and I only had my fare to come back to Savai’i but I just really had this feeling that I should go and have a look so I asked my aunty if I could borrow $5 tala to attend the first day.
“I went to a tutorial there run by a man from China for the first day and then you can decide if you want to continue on with the training. I decided to stay and learn and you know what, the other people were mad at me for constantly asking questions and prolonging the lesson!”
“The teacher could tell that I learnt very quickly and I am glad that we got to have hands on experience, taking turns to be the massage model and practitioner so that we can also feel the benefits of massage therapy.
“It was during this time that I realised that massage is so useful to the health and wellbeing of a person.
“It is useful for bones and muscles. Your body has blockages and knots from stress or from working too hard in conditions that are not natural for the body.
“The teacher told us that if you do too much manual labour and don’t get enough sleep then your body will suffer and this is why I feel that massage therapy is so useful in peoples lives.”
Being passionate about her calling makes Ferina upbeat and motivated and we can see why she was optimistic about her chances of finding work in her home village.
“I am really happy with the work that I do and to be honest if I go a week without doing any physical work then its almost like I feel ill or lethargic.
“When I go back to doing regular massage therapy on people I feel energised
I believe that this is a divine talent given to me by God in order to help heal others.
“The funny thing is, I never thought I would ever be a massage therapist - it was never in the cards. For me it was about school and art - I always thought I would end up being an visual artist but instead God directed me to a different path and gave me the gift of fofo.”
Ferina discovered the power of word of mouth and before she knew it she was in demand from Asau through to Falealupo,
“It only took me to fofo one person from Falealupo before the word spread around about my skills and people were either turning up to my house or calling me about their aches and pains.
“Maybe I could start a proper business when I have enough money to build a room and to buy a treatment table. I don’t have a business license I do fofo of people because it makes me happy to see them feel relaxed, limber and pain free and they give me what they can afford but some people are so happy they pay very well.”
Life in Auala is not without its challenges though and laments about the cost of keeping up with church obligations however she maintains that Savai’i is an abundant island with much to give.
“The water supply is not consistent, all of a sudden it will just stop and even the power when it does go off - it may be a day before we get it back on,” she said.
“It’s true it’s not perfect and I really wish that we had more street lights because to reach my house you have to go inland from the road and it is pitch black and the road is rocky and uneven which can be dangerous.
“But aside from the lack of jobs, Savai’i is great because here there are many things you don’t have to go looking for unlike those in Upolu especially in the town area who need to buy most of their raw materials.
“Here in Savai’i you go to the sea, you will find fish, you go to the plantation you will have your taro and banana.
“But in Apia, if you have a faalavelave, you have to buy the pig and all the raw materials but here the only thing really that I see is a major expense for people is the money for church things but otherwise I feel that there are many things in abundance here - even with ie toga we only have to lift grandmas mattress to find a supply.”