Samoa: Nella’s story – a home at last

Published: 29 September 2010 0:00 CET

Karina Coates, Australian Red Cross, Samoa

“I can sleep at night now – maybe because I’m so happy,” Nella Tufugafale says. For almost a year since the tsunami destroyed her house in Utulaelae village, Nella has lived in a temporary home that was open to the elements. Now that she has been able to employ builders with a Red Cross livelihoods cash grant, and Nella is finally seeing the home she has been dreaming of take shape.

On the morning of 29 September 2009, Nella was visiting her cousin when she heard that a tsunami had struck Samoa’s coastline, killing 143 people and causing widespread destruction. When she returned to her village she couldn’t believe her eyes. “Everything was gone – even the clothes,” she says of her home and tourist bungalow business. “For weeks after the tsunami I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t feel like doing anything. I didn’t know what to do.”

Shelter options

Nella, like other individuals or families whose homes were destroyed, could elect to receive a traditional house without walls, built by government contractors, or choose to build a new home utilizing materials funded by the government.

“I chose to take the materials because I need a place I can lock when I go somewhere. While others have family living with them for security, I am by myself,” she says. However, with no income or immediate family in Samoa, the 51-year-old needed money to pay builders.

Supporting needs

The Red Cross livelihoods programme recognizes that some families have more resources to enable them to help themselves after a disaster, while others need the additional support of cash grants. Nella’s was one of 169 households in 19 villages assessed as most vulnerable, who received cash grants to meet self-identified needs.

While some families chose to start small businesses or pay for housing or plantation labour, others used the grants for fishing equipment, livestock, fencing wire, seeds, sprayers, plantation tools, education expenses or transport for construction work.

Renewed hope

The design of Nella’s home incorporates a one-room grocery shop to service her small village, an endeavour the business woman is looking forward to launching. “Before the tsunami, I had a beach resort with ten bungalows. I had just built a new kitchen. Then the tsunami came and all my hope was lost.”

While five of the families in her small village decided to move away from the coast permanently, Nella chose to stay. “I love being by the sea, and this is my family’s land – this is where I was brought up and my parents are buried here,” she says.

Settling in

Nella has happily started adorning some rooms with shells and pictures, and is enjoying catering to guests using her half-built kitchen to demonstrate typical Samoan hospitality. This vibrancy and enthusiasm is a change from the year she describes – one of low spirits and regular ill health. “Before, I was often sick, because the wind and rain would come in. And I didn’t have a toilet until now – I used my neighbour’s,” she says. “Now that the house is nearly finished, I feel like cleaning up. I want to decorate, to make it a home.”