28 July 2020 Apia Samoa. This time last year, Andy Faitua was living the jetsetter life working as a flight attendant for Samoa Airways and spending much of his time away from his home in Faleseela.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of that for the 27 year old who has had to exchange his Samoa Airways wings for a plantation tools.
Faitua has returned to his first love of plantation work and tour guiding at Lalotalie River Retreat in his village.
The sudden career change hasn’t been drastic or unwelcome as some may think because this multi talented young man made the transition very easily from his workstation in the air to planting his feet again in the land he loves.
“I have been working on the plantations my whole life” said Andy “Even though I travelled with my job I’ve never forgotten where I started and I’ve always come back to the village.”
“My family love working on the plantations and we are still growing taro for export” he added “Even when I had my days off from Samoa Airways I always came back to the plantation and planted taros”
The only apprehension Andy had when Samoa Airways ceased flight services was the fear of income loss, but the blessed abundance of Samoa’s local attractions, land and ocean; this tour-guide and eco-warrior has been able to keep busy in the interim.
Andy has taken up the lead tour guide position at Lalotalie River Retreat under the guidance of his uncle, Olsen Va’afusuaga who owns ECAT (Eco-adventure Tours).
Lalotalie is another unique attraction in Samoa, where visitors are taken on the 6 hour muddy hike through rivers, forests and through magnificent mountainous landscape to view stunning waterfalls… 14 in total!
As a youngster, Andy was a budding visual artist who has been working and training as a tour guide since he was 16 years old.
He then tried his hand at tour guiding as a teenager and had been inspired to pursue a tourism qualification and in 2017 he was awarded a scholarship to study at APTC in Vanuatu for 6 months.
Despite working full time for the airline since 2018, Andy was always drawn back to his village on his days off to help out.
“I was a little worried in the beginning when Samoa Airways stopped operating but then I remembered that I have tour guiding at ECAT Adventures at Lalotalie and our family land to fall back on. I’m very grateful that I have been able to come back and work with my uncle Olsen at Lalotalie and also focus on the many environmental projects that we work on as a village.”
“I love to meet new people who are interested in our way of life here in Samoa” said Andy “
I share with them my knowledge of plants and animals in the forests as well as our cultural cooking traditions when we make the umu for groups who stay at Lalotalie”
The village’s life source, Liua le Vai o Sina River dried up in 2011, threatening their livelihood and future. Since then environmental projects have been an ongoing community effort.
Since then the river is flowing again and the village has been proactive in setting up the Faleaseela Environment Protection Society motivating their community to take active measures in protecting their land and water resources.
“The history of the river is that it has never dried up until it happened in 2011 – it was really sad for the village to see; people were throwing rubbish in it, and also up in the mountains people were clearing too much land.” said Andy
“So our Matais had a meeting and planned a project to plant trees to protect the river from the impact of climate change and also to encourage our community to take care of our land. Once a week we gather the boys of the village and we go and clean up the trees, kill the vines, chase wild pigs away, plant trees and clear away the rubbish.”
Although the future still remains uncertain for Andy’s flight attendant career while borders remain closed and the confirmation of Samoa Airways new aircraft is still pending, this young leader is optimistic and looks forward to wearing the uniform of our national carrier again.
Until that day, Andy will continue to work on the land, serving his family and his village while leading the youth in their latest environment protection project focusing on developing and protecting the mangroves.
“I love working in the village because I grew up here in the jungle,“ Andy laughs. “I don’t like staying in the house and doing nothing – I just love working.”
“This is what I tell my younger brothers and cousins – we have been blessed with this land here in Savaia and Samoa,” he said.
“I’ve travelled and lived overseas and it’s way different to how we live in Samoa. We have been blessed to be able to grow anything in Samoa and grow up here.”
“The plantation is freedom – you go to your backyard and plant taro, it’s so easy. I always tell the young people, don’t forget to work on the land because these are the things that we have to learn and keep alive.”