Alex Bouteiller - Combined Veterinary Medicine & Animal Care in Samoa
Talofa, my name is Alex Bouteiller; I am 19 years old and recently spent a month volunteering in Samoa with Projects Abroad. I’m not sure how to describe my experience in a way that would convey just how incredible it was. I decided to travel as I was unsure what I wanted to do with my self (like many people my age) and volunteering was something my mum had suggested to me. Immediately I thought to go as far away from home as physically possible.
So I did some research and found Projects Abroad, which had glowing reviews and all sorts of exotic locations, Samoa being a new one. I got in contact with their fantastic team in the UK who gave me great advice and set everything up for me very quickly as well as sending a lot of information over.
Arriving in Samoa
So after a combined total of 32 hours on planes I arrived in Samoa slightly clueless, as I wanted to preserve some of the magic of discovering a new place, and incredibly excited. Magical is just what it was; driving from Apia Faleolo Airport through rural Samoa and into the city at 6am with the sun rising behind me is something I will never forget. I won’t forget the wonderful man who met me at the airport, from Projects Abroad, and took me to my host family.
Another surprise was in store for me when I got to the house which was pretty much a mansion! On the way we’d passed lots of ‘Fales’ which were one story and quite exposed. I was welcomed by multiple family members and met the four other volunteers who were staying there at the same time as me, and promptly collapsed in a heap and slept for the rest of the day. Only when I got up did I realize that there were 17 of us living in the house.
The Sports placement
The next day I was shown around the town, set up with everything I needed to know and my role was explained by the Projects Abroad staff. They were so very helpful and I think this is where Project Abroad really shines is how well you are looked after.
My first day at Saina-Toamua school was a massive shock to the system. It wasn’t much better than the kind of schools you see on charity adverts, with the corrugated tin roofs, objects in various states of disrepair but also the most charismatic and attentive children you’ll meet in your life. The fact that they had a foreigner coming to their school was like a gift to the kids and you couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed by excited children, it was incredible.
Yet another surprise when I was at the school was the lack of equipment and teachers; if a teacher is off sick there are no cover teachers, the children can sit silently in a classroom, double up with another class or just go home. As well as this, without volunteers the children at Saina do not get structured sports lessons which made me even more determined to give the kids the best possible experience that I could.
Samoan’s love their rugby, and at the start of every lesson there would be cries for ‘Ragbee’ or ‘Kirikiti’ (Samoan cricket) and the level of talent amongst children aged just 7-14 was incredible, as was the passion they displayed.
Overall working at the school was not only fun and a new experience, but incredibly humbling and made me so grateful for the education I received back in England. The Samoan way is evident within every fiber of the children I got to interact with and I would say 100% that it was a life changing experience and one that I will never forget.
Veterinary Medicine & Animal Care
My next two weeks were spent working at the APS (Animal Protection Samoa) which was an independent veterinary practice in the hills looking down on Apia. It is funded mainly by donations from Australia and New Zealand and whilst I was at APS there was a vet working from each of these two countries. Again, this was an eye opener for me when compared with how easy it is to go to the vets in England, yet in Samoa it seems to be a rarity.
Not many people own pets in Samoa, and most of those who do tend to be Palagi. However, there is a huge problem with stray dogs or pet dogs not being looked after properly, and this is what I spent most of my time helping with. As a self-confessed animal lover some of the work was heart-breaking but it also highlighted to me how Samoa is growing as a country and how it is trying to catch up a bit with the ‘developed’ countries it is near.
Another key element of the APS was its interaction with school children; one of the staff at the center would go out to local primary schools and educate the kids on proper behavior around animals. I thought this was absolutely beautiful and the engagement from the kids was incredible. With songs and stories it was all so well thought out and age appropriate and I really hope it has a long term impact.
Traveling in Samoa
Aside from volunteering, the country itself is without a doubt the most staggeringly beautiful place I have been in my life. The environment is completely untouched with incredible wildlife and wonderful sights and sounds. We went on day trips most weekends, including a stay in a beach house on Lalomanu beach and a swim on To Sua Ocean Trench. We did so many great things and saw so many breath-taking places that I could write an essay on just that, but to whittle it down Samoa is somewhere I will definitely be going back to.
Finally, the people and the culture never stopped amazing me during my stay. Family is everything in Samoa, and this is not just those related to you by blood, friends, teachers, workmates, anyone who you keep in your company is important to you and I absolutely adored this aspect of my stay.
Samoa is a very traditional country and they focus very much on their values, for example physical objects aren’t their main focus, yes some own mobile phones but all of this takes a back seat when compared to being happy or looking after one another.
Anyone staying in Samoa is sure to be looked after, the families love having you to stay and pull out all the stops as well as making you a member of their tribe (my host-dad said he was losing a son when I left). And don’t be afraid of the food, yes they eat your bog standard chicken curries but embrace trying local delicacies such as Oka (raw tuna in a creamy coconut sauce) roasted green bananas and Taro with Palusami!
I had the best month of my life in Samoa, and I still get emotional when I think about it two months later, but without a doubt it was the most incredible experience of my life made possible by my host family and Projects Abroad. I’m now thoroughly excited to watch Samoa smash England at Twickenham in November and planning my trip back to my second home, Fa’a Samoa!
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