John Campbell and some bloodthirsty mosquitoes.

So John Campbell has stirred up a flurry of blood thirsty mosquitoes with his brief show on ‘misuse of tsunami aid relief funds.’ Now let’s be clear – I like Mr Campbell. He’s nice to look at( but of course Im not that superficial…there are other things I look for in a person that determine whether I respect them or not!) He’s also very nice to listen to and chat to. I first met him when I was handing out supplies at the local hospital the day after the tsunami back in 2009. Little hygiene kits for injured tourists. That’s right. I met John Campbell while I was giving out toilet paper. I met him again a few weeks ago when he came to do a follow up story about the tsunami and interviewed me about the tsunami book. Did he remember me? Well…he remembered the toilet paper! (note to self – want to make a lasting impression? Hold loo paper and smile!)

But I digress. (not that I do that often…) I was saying that I like Mr Campbell. He’s funny. Down to earth. Approachable. And he did English Lit at Victoria Uni – just like me! I love his show. Its thought provoking and insightful. (most of the time.) So, Im totally ready to be nice about whatever he puts on his show. Except, I have to say, that when it comes to Samoa tsunami aid relief, I have to disagree with Mr Campbell. I would even go so far as to say, that this time, on this story, Mr Campbell got it wrong. VERY wrong. ( I can safely say this without worrying I will hurt his feelings because I seriously doubt that John is one of the 5 people who read this blog…) If it had been Mr Campbell’s intention to highlight the plight of a scattered few families who had missed out on the aid wagon, then I would have applauded his piece. But instead, he was making sweeping allegations about the ongoing recovery effort, about ‘millions’ of dollars in aid either being misused or vanishing into thin air. Ouch.

I am not a tsunami aid expert. I am not involved in any shape, way or form – with the receipt, distribution or administration of aid. I wouldn’t have a clue about the total budget and how it was spent or not spent. I’m just a person who has been on the ground in the disaster zone since the day after it first happened. And spoken with countless survivor families about a lot of different things. Including the assistance and relief they have received post 29/09. I have driven on roads cut through inland bush – paid for by tsunami money. Roads spanned by power poles taking light where there was none pre 29/09. I have sat in houses built by Habitat for Humanity, Caritas, Digicel, the LDS Church and others – and listened to people weep with gratitude as they tell of the mealofa, the gifts they have been given post 29/09. I have washed my hands with water from tanks supplied to every new tsunami house – thanks to the Samoan govt, the Red Cross and many other organizations. I have seen schools, churches and village committee meeting houses springing up in the mountains behind Salepaga, Lalomanu, Satitoa, Lepa, Saleaumua as communities rebuild inland. With money from generous aid donors. With hours of sweaty labor provided by numerous volunteers and govt workers.. The tsunami recovery effort is still ongoing today. Roads and water pipes are still being constructed and installed. Nobody is claiming that the work is complete. Nobody is saying that there isn’t still work to do. And aid funds still waiting to be used to do it. But a year on from 29/09, people have homes. They are planting gardens. Raising families. Sending children to school. They are working with many different agencies and govt depts. to restore livelihoods. It is not easy. But the work continues. One day at a time. I could go on. And on. But I won’t. Instead, I want to ask Mr Campbell – how long did you spend in Samoa researching info for YOUR story? How many people did YOU talk to? Let’s take the housing situation.

Campbell Live – did you drive inland? To where the majority of people have relocated? Did you know that the new housing scheme was put into place to ensure that people had a secure home AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE after 29/09? Before the cyclone season set in? NOT to ensure every family got exactly the kind of house they had lived in before the tsunami. Did you know that the design was planned and approved by certified engineers? Both local and foreign? Did you know that the tsunami house design included a brick bathroom block and a water tank? (tanks being something that not every family had PRIOR to 29/09) And clearly, Mr Campbell did not know that families were offered the option – have a house built for them OR receive the building materials worth $18,000 so they could build their own home, adding on to it with their own supplies. An option which almost half the families on the list chose. (Many of them used the supplies to build a home, some are still sitting on their wood and bags of cement because they are too busy working to build beach fales to ensure their income, and a quiet few sold their supplies.) If Mr Campbell had sat in on any of the Tsunami House committee meetings( like I have) he would have been party to some very interesting challenges. Like extended families who lived communally pre 29/09, sharing the main fale and various scattered meager bathroom and cooking dwellings. Then after the tsunami, every piece of that family tree jumped up and wanted a new house. With its own bathroom. With its own water tank. The names on the housing list grew exponentially as each week people started realizing they were in for a sweet deal. The housing Committee had to make tough choices and some of those choices made people mad, some of those choices meant a few deserving individuals may have missed out on what they should have gotten. I do agree that there are a few families who are in great need and I would hope that Mr Campbell’s expose’ will have positive results for them.

But on the flipside, I won’t even begin to bore you with the details of SOME families who went and knocked their humble homes down in the days after the tsunami…because they wanted to get on the list. Or people in Apia who joked about their families calling them to come and line up at different areas each day – so they could walk away with sacks of rice and boxes of canned food. Or those who hid their relief supplies in the bush so they could piteously lie about their desperate need when the next (sucker) relief truck went by. So Mr Campbell, there are also people in the tsunami zone who will take advantage of any opportunity to try and get something for nothing. Is it possible that you were taken for a ride by some such people?
I guess I’m a little annoyed. Because so many individuals, govt employees, companies and churches gave of their time and effort to build tsunami houses and your report kind of kicked us all in the gut. I myself am personally affronted
( because once again, its ALL about me!) – because not only did I get my hands dirty carrying bricks down muddy tracks that a 4wheel drive couldn’t access and blisters from wheeling barrows of sand…but I witnessed my husband, my 73 yr old father and many other senior citizens like him get sunburned, splintered fingers, numerous mozzie bites and heat exhaustion – because they were part of the massive drive to build homes for people who had none.

Its too bad Mr Campbell didn’t choose to do a story on rebuilding. Instead of on destroying. But then, we will see and find whatever we are looking for. And clearly, Campbell Live was looking for rack and ruin.

But now that I’ve had my rant and rave, I have to go watch Campbell Live. Because I like John Campbell and I LOVE his show. Even if he does get it wrong once in a while.

Just as a side note and matter of passing interest, the first lot of tsunami houses were completed in Saleaumua before the end of November 2009. I went to American Samoa in early December. NOT A SINGLE TSUNAMI HOUSE PROMISED BY US AGENCY FEMA HAD BEEN BUILT. Not one.

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5 comments

  1. The truth is a construct of the facts that people "choose" to use and believe. Unfortunately a lot of people will disagree but I for one dont disagree with your observations Lani. I myself have been there from the beginning. But that is life. Thanks for the read though, at least I know someone out there knows another side to the story that Campbell is painting… or many sides depending on which one you want to take.Toa Gabriel

  2. Perhaps maybe Campbell is wanting to know how the money was or is being spent? Maybe what he sees in terms of infrastructure doesnt amount to however millions was donated? I am in no way discounting what you are saying about all the hard work and time people have been putting in, but for those who couldnt be there and thus donated money, John might be asking the questions that any normal Joe Blogg might not get the oppurtunity to ask…I dont know…Just a thought?

  3. A good thing from Campbell's focus pieces is that he is ensuring media attention on Samoa's tsunami rebuilding situation. Which can only have positive repercussions in the sense that we 'the public' dont forget about what still needs to be done. further discussion and conversation about aid and whats happening to it is a good thing. Just as long as all the diff sides of issue get out there somehow! And we dont end up demonizing the Samoa PM and govt – to the detriment of those who really need the assistance. Those living the day to day reality of life in a disaster zone.

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