Community Insider Land & Sea Newsroom

Behind the scenes of Samoa’s Border Security #FrontlineStories

In mid-March this year, Samoa took another dramatic turn in its Covid-19 journey when the country recorded its first confirmed case by community transmission.

As expected there were moments of chaos and confusion as the country transitioned into the new reality of living with Covid-19. However, while life for most house bound people came to a standstill, the work for the country’s front-line essential workers had just begun.

From retail workers, police officers, to health personnel and border security – the unsung heroes of the Covid pandemic put themselves in immediate danger to ensure the nation was fed and protected while keeping the wheels of our economy turning.

While it was easy to spot most of these essential workers during opening hours when locals hit the shops for supplies, some were less visible such as the bio-security officials who were perilously positioned at Samoa’s border where they worked to clear cargo, mail parcels, plants and animal products.

Ready for work: Quarantine Division

No-one knows this more than the woman leading the Quarantine and Bio-security Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, during one of the most unprecedented times in history. For the last two years of her term, ACEO Segialii Marie Malaki-Fa’aofo has been working behind the scenes with her team to identify bio-security risks and take action to eliminate them.

ACEO Quarantine: Segialii Marie Malaki Fa’aofo

“We are island people, we are self-reliant, and we rely heavily on our environment to support our livelihoods. Attempts to eradicate or control established invasive species, pests and diseases are usually expensive, take a lot of effort, and are often unsuccessful” said Segialii.

“Spending a relatively small amount of resources on prevention is always better than the large amount of resources required for a cure. Preventing the passage of species across borders, and especially across the natural boundaries between islands isolated by ocean, is the most cost-effective way of managing the threat they pose.”

According to Segialli, observing how COVID-19 spread around the globe in the last two years has helped her division understand biosecurity better.

“The principles of barrier gestures, isolation, quarantine, and prevention to slow the spread of a virus are similar to the measures used to prevent, slow down, and eradiate an invasive species. Just as we wash our hands to avoid passing on a virus, we can clean our hiking boots, car tyres, and cargo containers to avoid passing on invasive species, diseases and pests,” she said.

“Part of my vision is to educate the community in an engaging, interactive and relevant way to help spread the message that biosecurity is a shared responsibility and we all have a role to play in protecting our economy, environment and community from pests, diseases, weeds and contaminants.”

Despite the current health crisis in Samoa, Segialii is still striving towards her career goal of initiating developments to support biosecurity works within the country to help prevent or mitigate health crises in the future,

“Quarantine has been advocating the safety measures to protect Samoa from the introduction of many diseases and pests for so many years but the pandemic has highlighted just how much biosecurity is a top priority. I have never been so inspired with my work and the role that it plays in food-security and protecting our fragile livestock, plant health and environment that we all depend on heavily,” Segialii said.

“If we don’t protect our border, all the hard work of our farmers, the agriculture production and farm developments will be destroyed. The interference to our exports will result in increased unemployment, loss of income and higher cost of living.”

One of the most difficult aspects of being on the front line is navigating the uncertainty that comes with managing an unprecedented health crisis or natural disaster while also taking care of family.

At the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, government officials at the front line had to quickly accept isolation mandates and many have not seen their loved ones or close family members in the last few weeks,

The most difficult challenge there is I could think of, when positive cases were detected in MIQ and frontline staff were called in for isolation. It was all new to us, that you will leave your children and spouses behind for 3 weeks and you are not sure of what’s going to happen next “she said.

As a devoted wife and mother of 5 children Segialii believes wearing multiple hats and managing the different challenges that come with them as well as the support she receives from family and community only empowers her to rise to challenge of leading her team through unprecedented times.

“As an essential worker, I always work hard to the best of my abilities to supervise the border operations but at the same time attend to my mother duties to my children, contribute to the churches that my husband and I both serve, including our family, culture and social obligations.”

“It takes a whole village to support my role, I’m so grateful to my family and my in-laws for always taking good care of my children while I attend to all the emergencies associated with Biosecurity.”

Hailing from the villages of Vaiala, Lalovaea, Vaivase-uta, and Magiagi, Segialii is a former student of St. Mary’s Primary school and college. She gained a Bachelor Degree in Agriculture Science from the University of the South Pacific and a Master’s Degree in Science majoring in Animal Science and management from the University of Queensland. Segialii was one of the first Samoans to undertake this area majoring in breeding technologies during her time.

“I’m very passionate in my area of expertise as there is a limited pool of animal scientist and or animal breeders, veterinarians, agriculturists and researchers in Samoa and the Pacific region,” she said.

The opportunity to study overseas is what she calls a blessing as she was able to work with qualified experts, have access to well-equipped facilities to do her research and study in what she described as one of the best universities in the world.

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn from experts or students of other countries who were taking higher studies. With their support I was able to fulfill my Master’s degree and return to serve my country by utilizing all the knowledge and skills to further develop the Agriculture. I have attended workshops, meetings and trainings overseas that have built my confidence and capacity to interact and engage with other countries on many areas on food-security, sustainable agriculture, livestock development, biosecurity border controls and many other aspects associated with Agriculture.”

Segialii is the daughter of Leatuavao Ioane Malaki and Lusia Seleta Malaki. Leatuavao was a lecturer at the University of the South Pacific where he taught Agriculture Engineering for more than 30 years and has played an instrumental role in shaping his daughter’s life and career path.

As a teenager she dreamed of becoming an astronaut or a mechanical engineer but in the end her father’s love for agriculture inspired her to pursue a career in a mostly male dominated field of Agriculture Science.

“At the time, I saw a lack of qualified agriculture scientists within Samoa to meet the growing demands of agriculture development. Improving food security and sustainable development in which agriculture plays a critical role is a priority area of the Government of Samoa” she said.

“Through years of studying and working in agriculture, I have come to realize that no matter what you become; all human beings have to eat. Whether you are an engineer or doctor or IT – you need food, food comes from farming.”

“I will live through the rest of my life to advocate agriculture as a lifetime profession, because when you retire, you can still continue farming and your children will follow through as well. Agriculture is everything! It involves your family, you can do it to exercise, grow for your health, and basically gives peace of mind.”

As Samoa enters another realm of unchartered waters owing to the spread of Covid-19 within her communities after 2 years of being Covid-free, Segialii knows the mammoth task ahead of the front-liners, working around the clock to contain the virus at the border and she’s grateful to her team who put their trust in her to lead them through this next chapter in Samoa’s history.

“I’m so grateful to all the biosecurity front liners for their sacrifices, whether its 11pm or 2am or 5am in the morning they receive a call – they leave their family and everything behind to serve our nation. My team is the biggest investment of the Government to protect our borders. Hats off to them for having faith and trust in my leadership” she said. “We all come together as a team (beginning of every month) at our prayer devotion which gives us the opportunity to encourage, enlighten and inspire by the word of God to keep going and that we are not alone in this fight.”

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