Transformational Change for A Young Woman from Poutasi Falealili - Samoa


Author: Jordanna Mareko

Luisa in discussion with other participants at training.  Photo: UN Women/Jordanna Mareko
Group work on Break Through Initiative. Photo: UN Women/Jordanna Mareko 
Programme Participants at WILS Leadership training. Photo: UN Women/Jordanna Mareko

What seemed like just another training, ended up being life-changing for 25-year-old Luisa Tiotio Afoa Sulu of Poutasi Falealili in Upolu, Samoa. Sulu first participated in the Women in Leadership in Samoa (WILS) Project’s vocational, language and leadership skills training for young women back in 2019, paving the way for a more confident and sustainable future for her and her family.

The leadership training program, which aims to empower women to take their place as leaders in their homes and communities, helped Sulu through her journey from being un-employed to becoming her family’s breadwinner - becoming a Police Officer in the Ministry of Police, Samoa.   

“I will never forget that particular day that I got the phone call that I have passed my interview and will be graduating as a Police Officer later in the month. Seeing the tears of joy in the eyes of both my parents on Graduation Day was both heartwarming and happy because I was the reason for such happiness,” said Sulu.

In 2019, the WILS Project rolled out the Village Leadership Development Initiative Training for the district of Falealili 1 and 2.   Sulu was among the 33 participants that had attended the training and attributes the training to her change in attitude, in how she looked at herself, strengthening her capacity to look for work and consequently enable her to secure employment after the training. 

The WILS Project leadership training continues this week, where Sulu is participating as a refresher that will assist in her journey as a young woman, a daughter, a young mother and first policewoman in her family. 

“My participation in the program changed my life forever. It made me believe that it is possible for anyone to make a difference if they have the courage and the drive to do so.  Holding on to my values and living by it daily. To be able to contribute to decision making discussions in my family without feeling scared or undermined was the confirmation for me that I was being heard.  It took some time to get used to this change and it built up great discipline and perseverance for me.  At the same time, I can apply it in my line of work as a police officer. To not show favoritism and upholding the law when it is called for, whether in uniform or not.”

The trainings are an initiative of the Women in Leadership in Samoa (WILS) Project since 2018 where the Transformational Leadership Development Programme was translated into the Village Leadership Development Initiative, a contextualized leadership development curriculum, tailormade for Samoan villages and communities with the aim of building leadership pathways for women by strengthening the leadership knowledge, skills, and abilities of established, emerging village and community leaders. 

The programme also focused on strengthening leadership capacity of young emerging leaders in the community and enhancing the leadership pathways for young women as well as young men in the communities.  It also includes identifying the challenges that hinders women’s leadership and working together to create initiatives to break through these barriers to recognize women’s contribution to leadership at the community level as well as strengthening gender equality in Samoa.

As part of the training, Sulu and 32 other young women and men in Poutasi are also working on a ‘Break Through Initiative’ that will essentially help break through the barriers they are facing as young women and men – whether related to governance and leadership, gender-based violence, climate change and disaster resilience, or economic empowerment. The Break Through Initiative (BTI) is a post training group activity that is implemented by the group of young people as a follow-up of the training they had attended.

“We as participants are grateful for the programme this week, it has been an amazing experience for me and my fellow participants.  To not give up and we can make a change in our lives, even when it seems impossible,” said Sulu.

The training also helped Sulu and her fellow participants realize that they have the power to make changes with the support from their leaders and families. It also strengthened their relationship together as they learned how to respect each other. They are also fortunate to have the support of their community leader and high chief Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale and faletua Tammy Tuatagaloa who were present at the training and will be the mentors for these young participants who will lead Poutasi in the future.

“Building the capacity of young women and men is essential, through transformational leadership training they become aware of their own strengths and the challenges they need to overcome to become great leaders. Advancing young women and men into leadership positions is one of the key objectives of UN Women’s Gender Programme in Samoa through the Women in Leadership in Samoa (WILS) Project.  It is anticipated that this programme will help boost the capacity of young women and men, as well as recent figures of only 5% of women who are able to participate in village council meetings, to meet the overall objectives of the WILS Project “, said UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Representative, Sandra Bernklau.

The VLDI training programme is scheduled to be implemented in the villages of Siutu Salailua, Siufaga Falelatai, Saleaula, Sa’asa’ai, Siumu, Nofoalii, Salelologa from June – August 2021.  The training is supported by the Women in Leadership in Samoa (WILS) Project, a three-year project jointly implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, with funding from the Australian Government in partnership with the Government of Samoa.