Sellout Gala to Support and Raise Funds for Spinal Injuries in Samoa

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A sell-out crowd turned out at the Auckland Pullman Hotel Ballroom on Wednesday night to show support and raise funds for spinal injuries in Samoa.

The Gala was hosted by rugby legend Eric Rush and Samoan DJ Seumanu Francis Ioane. A supporting cast of celebrity helpers was led by Sir Bryan Williams, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Caleb Clarke.

A spine-tingling array of donated entertainment was led by Punialava’a, Mr Cowboy and Tatau Manaia.

Over 350 guests were treated to a four course plated dinner designed by Samoan Award winning chef, Michael Meredith.

The main sponsor for the night was Return to Paradise Resort, led by General Manager Afamasaga Ramona Su’a Pale.

“We were overwhelmed by the love and support that so many gave to make this night a success,” says Afamasaga, “It has been hard work, but just so worth it to see such generous support from so many sources who really do care about our spinal injuries in Samoa.”

Alongside Return to Paradise Resort, sponsors for the Gala included Sinalei Resort, Tarana Radio, Samoa Tourism Authority, the New Zealand Rugby Foundation, Troppo Fishing and House of Travel.

One of the highlights of the night was donated by Richie McCaw who donated a helicopter ride over Christchurch with himself as pilot as a special auction prize.

Sir Bryan Williams also spoke at the Gala, and endorsed the New Zealand Rugby community for getting behind such a worthy initiative. Sir Bryan and Sir Michael Jones donated a special once in a lifetime All Black jersey signed by all four All Black Knights – themselves plus Sir John Kirwan and, Sir Wayne Shelford.

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The Gala was first planned for 2020 but had been postponed three years due to the pandemic. “Many of the guests had bought their tickets three years ago and held on to them ever since, rather than get refunds. This was an amazing show of support and trust,” says Rush.

Over $150,000WST was raised at the charity auction with a whole range of prizes. The Gala was the latest in a long line of fundraisers, first initiated by then All Black Captain Richie McCaw back in 2010.

The first recipient of this aid was Samoan player Ben Lei’a who continues to be supported by the Trust, along with many other spinal injuries in Samoa.

The funds raised go towards the Pacific Disability Support Trust which distributes the aid in Samoa through the Marist Trust.

Marist Trust President Tagaloa Faafouina Su’a flew to NZ at his own expense to be a part of the Gala. Care is targeted directly to support spinal injuries in their own homes and villages, including such practical support as wheelchairs, orthopaedic beds and mattresses, home modifications, food, computers, and medical supplies.

“It is 13 years since our first Gala,” said Tagaloa,” so we are grateful to guys like Richie and Rushie who have supported us loyally ever since.”

Many of these are rugby injuries, and we all know what a huge debt NZ owes to Samoan rugby players. These brave souls have very bleak lives and none of the ACC support that we would take for granted in NZ. This is where the Trust steps in.

Everyone involved is volunteering their time, even paying for their own tickets, so that 100% of all funds raised will go directly to the care for the injured players.

The evening concluded with a special Siva Samoa led by 92 year old Josephine Ioane, grandmother to rugby greats Rieko and Akira Ioane with a siva band led by Joe Annandale and Tatau Manaia.