Samoan migrant communities in search for governance

14/09/2012 03:09


By Cherelle Jackson

Monika Pei and moved with her parents and her little brothers and sisters to Vaitele, Samoa, a village on the western side of Apia town, in 2007, along with her six younger siblings, in search of what she says is a better future in the town of Vaitele near Apia.

Her family moved into a 15 square feet house, in a small compound, occupied by urban migrants, mostly from the island of Savaii. At 22 Monika says the atmosphere in her adopted community is different.

"It's exciting to live around people from different villages, we created our own community despite our different backgrounds," she said. Monika and her family dine with the other families at least once a week to encourage a sense of belonging in their adopted community.

Vaitele would soon see changes that will further strengthen the small community as a result of the Vaitele Urban Governance Pilot Project. Funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and implemented by Planning and Urban Management Agency (PUMA) of the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment, the project looks at the governance structures within migrant communities.

The project, which started in 2008, saw the development of a Sustainable Management Plan (SMP) to assist in devising adequate planning mechanisms and a new governance structure for this Vaitele region.

People like Monika and family may soon find themselves in a village structure that mirrors the homes they left in Savaii. According to the SMP, Vaitele is a village currently undergoing rapid urbanization, as people from all over Samoa move closer to the urban center for medical services, education, business opportunities, community services and employment.

PUMA says the area has been the industrial zone of Samoa for a long time, hosting factories, scrap metal yards, light and heavy industry and the brewery. Over time people have settled, some as squatters alongside industry without adequate planning, resulting in potential damage to their health, as well as social and cultural well-being. “This type of situation is occurring throughout the Pacific, and as such, this project is seen as a pilot in which lessons may be learned and implemented in neighbouring countries,” the SMP states.

Monika who reminisces about life in the village, refers to it as a system that “protects” her community.

According to the SMP in traditional village settings the government can rely on systems cantered around the Fa’asamoa or the Samoan way of life, for consensus building. These include the maintenance of basic social justice, harmonising development and culture, assisting with community services and support and having encouraging strong respect for the environment and basic lawfulness.

However, without such platforms in Vaitele, the community and Government have faced problems. Head of UNDP Governance and Poverty Reduction Unit, Sala Georgina Bonin says while urban migration may seem a positive move for many rural Samoans, there are issues that have not been adequately dealt with and planned for when large influxes of people move from their traditional village settings to one which lacks significant aspects of local culture and society.

PUMA reports that for some, there is little opportunity to pursue subsistence or cash-crop farming because of the small land holdings of on average, a quarter acre per family. The project  which falls under Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 1: “To Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger,” and Goal 3: “Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women,” will ensure that appropriate governance structures are developed as a socio-economic framework for managing both the human and natural resources in an equitable manner.

Sala says that a consideration of traditional systems is integral in the expected outcomes. "It's important to develop options for urban and environmental planning that consider the benefits of traditional village governance."

In addition to the development of the SMP, other expected outcomes of the project address urban and environmental planning that assists economic development while recognizing the contribution of men and women to the process. It also tackles capacity building, by aiming to develop a road-map of institutional capacity to balance the protection of the environment in the pursuit of economic development to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life in the Vaitele community.

Sala says that capacity building for PUMA staff and community leaders is a significant outcome of the pilot. “PUMA staffs have been trained and are equipped with carrying out the consultations and required planning for Urban Governance.”

Outcomes also include a disaggregated data collection and a monitoring system for tracking progress towards achieving greater equality between men and women that takes into consideration the needs of vulnerable groups such as youth, elders, and people with disabilities. As the Vaitele Urban Governance Pilot project comes to a close this year, the systems are already in place to ensure that residents like Monika, her six siblings and her parents, attain a good quality of life in their new community. 

-Samoa Observer