I spent several days in Apia last week presiding over a change in our Chargé d’Affaires there. Chad Berbert left us after two years of distinguished service, and Peter Ganser arrived to fill the position. To mark the occasion and celebrate our vibrant engagement with Samoa, I brought from New York City the Harlem Gospel Choir for a series of school, church, and public concerts to say goodbye to Chad and hello to Peter.
We’ll talk about Peter and the Choir later. Today I would like to share with you Chad’s farewell thoughts about his time in Apia. He reminisces warmly about how Samoa beguiled and impressed his family and him, and he makes excellent points about the large, ongoing American contribution to Samoa that is sometimes not recognized as coming from the United States because so much of our aid is provided and our work is accomplished collaboratively with or through others.
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Memories That Will Never Be Forgotten
by Chad Berbert
My how our time in Samoa has flown. I can’t believe it has been nearly two years. Coming to the end of one’s diplomatic tour is always a bit difficult, but Samoa in particular has grown on our family in ways that no other place has.
Our first family photo in Samoa taken at the U.S. Embassy Residence in Vailima.
I remember clearly my first day on the job visiting Fagalii Primary with U.S. percussionist Tom Teasley. Tom’s show was impressive and the students really enjoyed it. But what made an even bigger impression on me that day was the beautiful voices of the students as they sang their choir songs. Even at a young age they were in beautiful unison and they sang with a power that has stayed with me through my time in Samoa.
The experience was repeated with even greater force later that week when I visited Leulomoega Fou College and heard the 300+ students there sing. There was so much life, joy, and energy to their performance I couldn’t help but be moved. I’ll never forget those great first impressions of Samoa.
One of my first events was a visit to Leulumoega Fou College with percussionist Tom Teasley.
The beauty of it is that Samoa has, true to form, lived up to those first impressions throughout our tour. People are as friendly and warm as the greetings we received when we first arrived and Samoa’s beautiful music served as a perfect window into the souls of the Samoan people that we would come to know throughout our tour.
I know for a fact that I will never forget the experiences and the memories that I have made here. I’m grateful to Samoa and its people for making such memories possible. I feel a true, inseparable tie to Samoa, the land of the Sacred Heart.
Samatau primary school students perform a haka for the crew of the USS Waesche.
I couldn’t have come to Samoa at a better time. Under the direction of President Obama, the United States has expanded engagement in the Pacific and I have had the opportunity to help guide that process here in Samoa. Working under the strategic, tenacious direction of Ambassador Huebner, during the past two years we at the U.S. Embassy have worked to build the U.S.-Samoa relationship in positive ways, helping both nations contribute to global peace and prosperity, and building connections that will benefit not only our countries but humanity more broadly.
Some of our achievements include building a new medical center which is scheduled to be completed in October, signing a U.S.-Samoa Shiprider Agreement, expanding visa interviews in Apia by 50%, and conducting medical clinics, health fairs, and health and education sector renovations via Pacific Partnership.
With Prime Minister Tuilaepa, officially breaking ground for the U.S.-funded district medical center in Faleolo.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa and Ambassador Huebner sign the Shiprider Agreement on the USS Chafee. Illegal fishing fleets, watch out.
We have supported expanded cooperation between American Samoa and Samoa as a means to help both Samoas in their economic development. Recent statistics indicate that with American Samoa and the rest of the U.S. combined, the United States is Samoa’s largest trading partner, a relationship that can and should be nourished.
One other key area where we have expanded our engagement with Samoa is on climate adaptation and disaster response. During my tenure USAID has engaged in no less than five climate oriented projects here in Samoa and that number is expected to grow. In addition, the United States was quick to provide emergency assistance following Cyclone Evan.
Conducting a village assessment with Samoa Climate Service Scientific Officer Cecilia Amosa (in red) and Savaia resident Rev. Kaisara Sisiga.
We’ve expanded cooperation in the education sector and are sending a new Samoan Fulbright scholar to the United States for post graduate study. In addition, we are bringing four U.S. Fulbright-Clinton Fellows to Samoa to work in government ministries here.
This increase in engagement is clear, evident, and — as you will see post my departure — sustained. And while many projects have over the years not been recognized as coming from the United States, our presence and engagement here is a continuation of sustained engagement that has occurred over years and even decades here in Samoa.
Take for instance the Peace Corps. We have had Peace Corps volunteers in Samoa for over 40 years and we will have another new group of volunteers arriving in October. As I have mentioned before, the present day value of Peace Corps volunteer contributions over the 40-year period exceeds USD $100 million. And due to the immense contribution, the Samoan term Pisi Koa is now used as the generic term for volunteer.
Our most recent arrivals (from left): Lou Chen, Teuila Pati, Mildred Andrews, Bradley Boelman, Angelina Velarde, Allyson Miller, me (Chad), Michelle Paul, former PC director Dale Withington, Rebecca Haas, Kate Brolley, Allyson Fraser, Kiri Center, Madisen Rhodes, Joshua Fraser, Zach Wegner, and Karen Acree.
Similar contributions that are not always recognized as coming from the United States but which involve substantial U.S. technological and monetary contributions include initiatives such as the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the South Pacific Tuna Treaty.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, largely U.S. Government funded, provides critical tsunami warning information for Samoa and other nations around the Pacific. Establishing such a network requires extensive upfront investment and continued maintenance, an effort that we have supported from the beginning and which we are committed to continuing to support.
As for the Tuna Treaty, over the past 30 years it has brought millions of dollars to Samoa via economic support funds, and that is in addition to the money paid for the tuna itself. The treaty has also provided thousands of jobs for Samoans in the American Samoa tuna canneries, an important source of additional economic support here in Samoa. And even more importantly, with the renewing of the treaty Samoa is set to gain substantially greater economic and other benefits.
Delivering supplies to the SVSG Children’s House of Hope.
Perhaps the largest U.S. contribution to Samoa has been through a completely separate conduit, one that is typically not associated with the United States but which indeed involves substantial U.S. funding and commitment. That is through multi-lateral institutions. We simply don’t engrave our name on everything we do.
Following World War II the United States made an unprecedented move to fund and support the largest aid coordination and global security support organization the world had ever seen, the United Nations. Throughout its life the United States has remained the largest financial supporter of the United Nations.
In 2013 the United States will provide 22% of the UN’s core budget. That is the most of any nation, more than twice that of the second largest funder Japan, three times the amount of Germany, and approximately four times the contributions provided by France, the United Kingdom, China, or Italy.
Presentation of findings from a UNDP project on enhancing the resilience of Samoa’s tourism sector to climate change risks.
Just in the most recent year for which I was able to access data, the United States’ total assessed and voluntary contributions to the United Nations and its various subordinate agencies – including the UN Development Program (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and others — exceeded USD $7 billion.
More than US$ 40 million in American development support money has come to Samoa through the United Nations in the past year. (The U.S.-origin of the money does not disappear just because we sent it through the U.N.) And that is just United Nations projects, it does not include the enormous U.S. funding to the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, or other multilateral institutions of which the United States is also a member.
After discussing aid and climate change projects with (from left) Aid Coordination ACEO Noumea Simi, Ministry of Finance CEO Tupa’imatuna Iulai Lavea, USAID Director Dennis Wendel, and Ministry of Finance ACEO Henry Ah Ching.
On the environment front, in the past three years the United States provided USD $7.5 billion to aid in climate change assistance. Much of this money has been contributed through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to which Samoa has access. One such project that has been funded via GEF is a USD $25 million Pilot Project for Climate Resilience.
The United States is the largest funder of these multilateral institutions and as such has always played a significant role in the development of Samoa. These institutions have been playing a role in Samoa for years and U.S. support, while not obviously identified, has been critical to that effort. For instance the World Bank has been significantly engaged in providing money for infrastructure development and health sector support. And that is just recent money.
Serving as a torch bearer for the national march to end violence against women.
Which all proves a key point — the United States remains Samoa’s closest geographic neighbor and a true and constant friend. We have one of the largest Samoan diaspora populations in the world, and Americans remain major business, private, and philanthropic contributors to Samoa in addition to the institutional and government funding mentioned above.
These honest and heartfelt connections to this, the land of the Sacred Heart, are deep, strong, and long standing. They arise from personal rather than transactional impulses. They stem from a desire to give and to build and to support Samoa like family.
My sons Lincoln and Isaac and I help paint the National Council of Churches offices.
U.S. Navy optometrist with one of the Little Sisters of the Poor during an eye clinic we conducted earlier this year.
With deaf students from Senese School who traveled to Washington to take part in one of our Sports United exchange programs.
At the Easter Egg Hunt that we hold at the Residence each year for village children.
I loved visiting local schools.
Which brings me back to where I started. My family and I have loved our experiences, our associations, and the culture and beauty of Samoa. It is a place that we will never forget. It has been a privilege to be here and a privilege to help develop the U.S.-Samoa relationship to be perhaps the strongest it has ever been.
It is now hard to say goodbye, but rest assured neither I nor my family will ever forget Samoa. More importantly, neither will the United States. We are tied at the heart.
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Chad and his family were superb representatives of the United States of America, and they will be greatly missed. We wish them well in their future endeavors, and I look forward to seeing them back in Samoa on holiday sometime soon.