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Tuesday 29 September 2009 a magnitude 8 earthquake struck off the south coast of Samoa just before 7 in the morning. The following tsunami was so close that there was little chance of any warning. The damage was extensive, with whole villages in the south eastern corner of Upolu Island wiped out. 143 people died. The stories of the survivors are both harrowing and amazing, and the miracle was more people didn’t die.

Satitoa, on the southeast corner of the island of Upolu, was one of the worst hit villages. The school was completely destroyed. If the tsunami had hit during school time many of the children would have died.

Banzaid, working with the Samoan members of our New Zealand Baptist churches, applied to NZAID for some of the funds that the NZ Government was offering through non-government organisations (NGOs). The Samoan request was to rebuild the Satitoa school, as this would be an important part of the village’s recovery and move to a safer site.

Through a period of negotiation and planning, which included the Prime Minister of Samoa, the Ministry of Education, and the local village council, the decision was made to turn this into a village building project. The Village Council employed a local master builder and his team. A number of village men who had carpentry skills were employed. The village provided other labour as necessary, and provided food and accommodation for the building team.

We had a team of volunteers from Christchurch on the site in August. They had two weeks on the site, and then in September there was another team – this one from Auckland. These teams paid all their own costs, and brought cash donations to the project.

The school was rebuilt on a new site, looking to the long term future, well out of the way of future climate related problems, either tsunami or the effects of global warming. The new site was also an opportunity to build a completely new school, a significant upgrade on the facilities of the old school. All part of good planning, and good for the future of the community. However this did mean that the project was a lot bigger, and cost a lot more than our original budget. This was a brand new school with excellent facilities.

The village set themselves the target of opening the new facilities on the anniversary of the tsunami – the 29 September 2010. That was a great day – a day to remember what happened and to celebrate the new beginning. Prayers and speeches from both sides were followed by the cutting of the ribbon by the CEO of the Samoan Education Ministry. The pig population of Satitoa was seriously depleted as presents of meat, mats and baskets were given to the building team and all those who had been helping them!

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