Equipped with the knowledge of public health learned from my college and an enthusiastic heart, I came to American Samoa, the southern territory of the USA nearly three weeks ago. There are so much differences here, culture, family structure, work regulations, personal habits, traditional ceremonies, views of the world, just to name a few. Fa’asamoa, which means the Samoan way to do things, influences every corner in this place. In addition, the natural beauty is pristine and fabulous. However, behind the gorgeous attractions, there are tremendous public health problems here.
From the first time I arrived here, I saw the trash spread around the road. This is not because of the residents, but the stray dogs. The stray dogs are almost everywhere. They knock down the trash can and look for food, leaving a mess and walk away. Also, being scared by bitten by the stray dogs is a main reason that people do not excise outside and do not allow their children to do it. There is one time more than 10 dogs tried to surround me! People here even joke as “if you never get bitten by a stray dog, you don’t really live in American Samoa”.
From my point of view, except for the most salient public health problem—obesity, people have stress behind their normal smiling face. One prominent culture burden is the Fa’alavelave, in which people have an obligation to show respect through gift-giving when involved in an event such as a funeral, a wedding. People here live in a bi-cultural environment that is reflected in the conflict between the traditional Polynesian life style and Americanized procedure. Furthermore, people have much more obligation in church than people in the USA mainland. The changing economy and family chores are other stressors for the local people.
Through talking and interviewing people, I collected valuable information to better know about the local culture and tailor interventions for the community. Dr. Biukoto in Lyndon Baines Johnson hospital is the only psychiatrist on the island (not anymore, because he already left). Last week I did an interview with him to get a depth insight about the mental health on the island. Besides, I went to community with my coworkers, serving food stand, promoting healthy diet and conducting interviews.
In general, I am glad that my college and Hope Through Healing Hands Foundation provide me this fantastic opportunity to come and help the local people. I am looking forward to my next work.