Islam in Samoa #illpraywithyou

Muslims pray while Christians form a protective human chain around them during a protest against the elimination of a popular fuel subsidy that has doubled the price of petrol in Nigeria's capital Abuja
Muslims pray while Christians form a protective human chain around them during a protest against the elimination of a popular fuel subsidy that has doubled the price of gas in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, Jan. 10, 2012.
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/christians-muslims-unite-to-fight-terror-group-boko-haram-in-nigeria-67299/#cEvSY0JOuI8A1PiM.99

The problem with ‘Indifference’ is that most people who are don’t know, and when they do they don’t care.

This is the problem with the Samoa Council of Churches attempt to ban Islam – it is fueled by fear, a lack of understanding, and zero attempt to try which = ignorance. In turn they have villainized a whole religion based on the actions of a few. Ironically, this move by the Samoa Council of Churches is so UN-Christian.

It deeply deeply saddens me that this conversation is even happening. I spent eight years of my schooling life in Australia surrounded by beautiful, joyful, loving and caring Muslim children, some of whom were my closest friends – we ate together, played together, laughed together, and learnt together, and because of this exposure I am more accepting of others, more understanding others, more tolerant, more willing to learn, and most important more open to loving and welcoming into my home anyone and everyone regardless of their faith or background.

I can’t quite articulate how I feel because for the first time in my 25 years of life, I will genuinely be ashamed to call Samoa home if we close our doors to my Muslim friends and family.

‪#‎illpraywithyou‬ ‪#‎keepIslaminSamoa‬

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#DayOfTheGirl – Why I can never stop being an Opinionated Woman!

580799_10151073901401363_175995219_nIn light of International Day of The Girl, I thought I would sidetrack from my NSLF Reflections to share a short opinion piece on #education #womenempowerment #socialjustice.


Throughout the entirety of my schooling life, I was told on countless occasions that I talked too much (surprise surprise). I was called cheeky, aggressive, rude, and wait for it, “fiapoko”, because God forbid a young Samoan woman vocalises an opposing opinion. With every question I asked, challenge I posed, and suggestion I offered, I was often met with an eye-roll and sigh. I didn’t think much of it, in fact – I often thought everyone else just lacked the balls to do so, and because of that it didn’t bother me much at all. What they actually meant to call me was opinionated.

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Sharing a hug with my beautiful mother at graduation. “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” —Abraham Lincoln

Fast forward to educated, employed, loved and loving Mary – I’ve come to realise that these labels didn’t bother me because I had that mum who came to my 3rd grade class for the sole purpose of calling out Miss Coleman (soz girl) for tearing up my artwork because I was talking, I vividly remember her saying, “How’s my daughter meant to learn if she doesn’t talk?!”. Yup! That is the type of woman I have as a role model.

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The rock and heart of our family. Grandma Gafa Telesia Ponifasio Ah Tani ❤

Two years ago I was asked by a friend whether I “mentor” because I feel sorry for my students. Stunned by the question, I reflected and thought to myself, who am I to feel sorry for these young people. I could have easily been in their shoes if it had not been for a series of fortunate events that lead my parents to take a different path from many in their own generation; a path which their children are now reaping the fruits of. I was extremely fortunate to have positive role models within my reach throughout my life. This is what I now know to have been a blessing that many young people unfortunately didn’t and don’t have – Parents who kept mine and my brothers education as their priority in life, parents who would spend money that we often didn’t have to pay for extra tutoring, parents that I could run to when I felt that something was not just,  parents who constantly told me that all they wanted was for me to realize my own potential, parents who took an active interest in my friends and the people that I would socialize with.

Parents who were and are my mentors.

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The two men who have empowered, enabled, and uplifted me all my life. Dad & Big Brother.

My point is I had people who championed me right throughout my education. This is not the case for #62milliongirls around the world who are denied the chance to have an education. Almost 60% of the world’s 115 million illiterate youth are women. A mother who it literate is more likely to be able to protect her children from HIV/AIDS, chronic illnesses, and from dying young which means access and opportunities to quality education is literally a matter of life and death! Education is the best possible weapon we can keep in our arsenal to fight poverty, injustice, inequality, and violence!

As someone who has been so unbelievably blessed to receive the education that I’ve received, and done reasonably well in the areas that I have, it’s my obligation first and foremost as a follower Christ, as a woman, as a Samoan, and as young person who has been enabled and empowered to make a difference, to do so. As we succeed, achieve, and excel, we’re obliged to take with us as many people in our communities as we can!  It is only logical that we reach out, empower and enable others to access quality education.

Educational inequality is everybody’s problem. Regardless of whether you are a man, woman, girl, or boy, we all live in the same world! A world that is in desperate need of strong, compassionate, and educated men AND women!

Education empowered me to be ambitious, to be brave, to uplift, to respect, to love, and to serve!

More than 60 years ago my grandparents envisioned a future for their children, and their children’s children, where they could learn, live, and love freely! 60 years on, their grandchildren are now reaping the fruits of their vision and courage to dream! This is why I can never stop being an Opinionated Samoan Woman.

My dad’s best piece of advice for his very opinionated daughter, “aua le palaai!” (Be bold! Be gutsy!).

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Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes.

Don’t be scared. There’s no need to be.

Confessions of a recovering ‘control freak’…

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I’ve just completed writing the following blog, and I am a complete and utter wreck. I’m listening to Carrie Underwood “Jesus take the wheel” while I wipe tears and snot off my face. lol… I don’t usually bare my soul, mostly because I never want to be associated with weakness, but as you will hopefully see by the end of my blog, there is deep sense of strength in the ability to be vulnerable.

I wanted to share some recent revelations in the hope it may help or challenge someone else… 🙂


So, it’s been a few days since the conclusion of the National Student Leadership Forum on Faith and Values, in Canberra, and I am well and truly suffering from NSLF 15’ withdrawals. This forum was extremely confronting, it challenged all my preconceived ideas of leadership and how I  identified with it, all while being unbelievably and surprisingly uplifting.

It’s funny how, a group of complete strangers (I literally knew NO ONE!) can make such an unlikely impact on your life, on your heart,  on how you see the world, and what was most unexpected, on how I saw myself. While the conference was themed around leadership, faith, and values, I didn’t quite anticipate that my personal conference experience would be centered on my self-worth and my irrational need to present myself as a “Woman of strength” and a strong Pacific woman at that. Somewhere, between the ages of 12 – 24, this irrational need became an obsession.

Growing up, I learnt to be determined, to work hard, to put my head down, and soldier on. As a result, I have been fiercely independent since I was about 12. Every day, I would purposefully strive to present myself as confident, to be strong, to be assertive, to talk with assertion, and to walk with purpose, all in an attempt to be seen as fiercely independent. “YASS Girl” you may cheer, and “What’s wrong with that?” You may ask… Well the clue lies in the word “fiercely”, coupled with the fact that I am also a self-confessed and recovering ‘control freak’.

The problem with being “fiercely” anything, is when you become so comfortable with your position that you refuse to move, you refuse to accept criticism, you refuse to self-reflect, and perhaps the worst of all, is the refusal to be vulnerable, even if it is for your own good. There is then an inevitable degree of inflexibility, stubbornness, and dare I say it, arrogance, associated with my obsession to remain “fiercely independent”.

Prior to NSLF 15′, I often wore the label ‘control freak’ as a badge of honour, as if to say to the world that I have it all together so beware of challenging me. Sadly, and quite embarrassingly ‘control-freak’ to me actually translated to “I am so free from mistake, you must be wrong”. You see, my reluctance to do something as simple as blog, and essentially share what I believed in and what I am passionate about, was incapacitated by an unnecessary fear of judgement, criticism and the inability to control what others may think – yes, I even wanted to control what others thought of me! This trait is born out of an almost debilitating need to grasp control. In effect, I stifled my own voice.

I have gone back and forth about whether I should blog for years actually, and for a few years now many people close to me have pushed me to share my thoughts and pursue a blog, but here’s the thing, I don’t like to be wrong. As much as I liked to think I was an open person, it turns out… not so much! So with that in mind, here is my first genuine attempt at blogging free of the fear of being judged – because whether I am or not, that’s completely okay. I am merely sharing what I feel to be true to myself, on this day, and at this moment.

There have been so many breakthroughs from NSLF 2015, I will be blogging a series of pieces to try and encompass the awesomeness that was NSLF 2015.

NSLF Lesson #1 – Let your guard down!

This is arguably one of my greatest learnings from the NSLF. Vulnerability, one of life’s many paradoxes, while most of us work overtime our entire lives trying to keep it together and remain strong (well at least we try to “appear” to), others happily bare their souls and share their deepest darkest weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and learnings with the world. Oh how I admire this type of person. To be so free of insecurity and self-doubt!

While at the conference, I sat amongst a group of incredible young leaders, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of security, love, and acceptance in a space where I could come as I am, flaws and all. So, I opened up and confessed to this group of peers (now friends) that I am a hopeless control freak and that my mind is incredibly chaotic and that it’s actually somewhat tiring to keep up the façade of having it all together. Let’s face it, aside from Beyonce, who does have it all together!? I mean, this morning, my breakfast was a stale packet of dorito’s and I can’t actually remember if I brushed my teeth (TMI, I know). Anyways, I’m pretty sure the angels in heaven must have been high-fiving at my new revelation. I guess, at the core of my issue, was that while I have always maintained that I have had a deep connection with my faith (which I do) the problem is that I relied predominantly on my own strength and not Gods. You have to keep in mind that this is coming from someone who often prayed just to let God know how angry and frustrated with Him I was for not following my meticulously planned checklist for my life.

I’ve come to realise, that the best leaders recognize the importance of allowing oneself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability lays the foundation for us to be open and non-judgemental; something our world greatly lacks. Arguably, one of the most courageous acts of a leader is allowing themselves to be openly and publicly vulnerable. During NSLF 15’, three leaders really stood out as being courageously open and vulnerable, yet incredibly strong; Cecilia Flores-Oebandra, Mike Baird, and Chris Hayes. All three have incredible portfolios and diverse stories of ‘overcoming’; some have fought through unbelievable hardships, others have had to step out of their comfort zones and pursue the uncertain, while another battled with constantly having the legitimacy of their faith and convictions challenged. However, the most profound trait across all three leaders was their readiness to share their vulnerabilities, to admit their flaws, to share their learnings, and to recognise when they needed to change. You see, I will gladly tell you what I have overcome, but not what I am battling and the problem with this is, if you don’t share your challenges, no one can help you!

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An incredible thing happens when you actively and purposely walk down the road to ‘Control Freak’ recovery. I found a deep sense of contentment, fully aware that I have many struggles and possibly my most difficult battles ahead, despite this, I walk with an absolute certainty that my God is faithful, my family is loving, my friends are loyal, and that I am enough. Vulnerability allows you to love yourself freely and wholeheartedly. In the same way, swallowing your pride, knowing when to ask for help, and sharing our vulnerabilities, is likely to bring about more meaningful conversations and genuine relationships.

I am learning to allow God and other people to change me, and even wander away from my life checklist (again, cue the angels singing). It’s funny how when you shut up and listen, God speaks to you. I will no longer be putting “fiercely independent” on my CV, but rather “work in progress”.

Sometimes, strength is not about fighting, it’s often about having the courage to relinquish control and let go.

 

Vulnerability humanizes leaders.