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I Shall Return

Matafaa from across the bay

As I drive around the lush southwest corner of the island and toward the village of Matafaa, the road abruptly starts climbing the headland that isolates this small community. The otherwise good road turns to gravel—and holes where gravel should be. I bump along, up and over the steep mountain, and descend toward Lefaga Bay. Following the coast out toward the point, crossing a river that in rainy weather cuts off the village entirely, I pull into Rev. Fepai’s courtyard, under a brilliant blue sky and fierce sun glittering off the water.

Rev. Fepai and his wife

His wife lets me in and goes to look for her husband. He emerges, as he had over a year ago from a back room, looking like we’ve awoken him.

“Jon Ross, I prayed that you would return!”

I can’t believe he remembers me, let alone my name. This is the power of doing this work. My appearance a year ago made more of an impression than I realized—and even though, at the time, I emphasized that I would “only try to help,” the impact was more substantial.

As they served lemongrass tea, fresh banana bread, and boiled tapioca root in coconut cream, we outlined the project, the budget, and timeframe: Build 13 canoes to bring them back to the 25 they had before the tsunami. Since then, they have been able to replace 12 on their own. But there are more kids that need to get across the bay to school, and parents that need to shuttle produce to the market. On Wednesday, we will go into the jungle to cut down the trees for the canoes—and I will live in the village to oversee the progress.

As I say my farewells for the day, my hosts are surprised because lunch was being prepared. The other food was only an appetizer! But I have to go so I can get back to Apia before dark. As I leave, the reverend and his wife emphasize their gratitude to me and to those who made donations to make this happen.

This kind of magic moment makes all the difficult traveling and hardships worthwhile. And confirms that the MicroAid model works.

I was reading an article in “The New Yorker” about altruism and they can’t figure it out—there seems to be no benefit to the individual. The writer obviously hasn’t been in the field with us—MicroAid—and our wonderful donors.

More from Samoa later.

Fafetai from Jon

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