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Nick Errico: Working in Samoa

Nick Errico from San Francisco, California, graduated with a degree in International Business in 2004 and joined the US Peace Corps in the spring of same year.

When I joined the Peace Corps, I was assigned to the Independent State of Western Samoa where I was involved with the Future Farmers of Samoa project, which received technical and financial support from FAO. My main reasons for joining the Peace Corps was the desire to see another part of the world, experience a new culture and use some of the knowledge I gained in college to help people who requested my assistance. After graduating college I felt it was the best time in my life to volunteer, as I had few responsibilities, was in good health and very motivated.

My role in the Future Farmers of Samoa (FFS) project was one of a co-facilitator. I was responsible for the day to day operations of the project which included running meetings, setting up training for village based farmers, editing and creating informational pamphlets, brochures, and manuals about various farming, management, and marketing techniques. In addition, I worked closely with the youth of the villages in creating business plans for their enterprises and helping them acquire all the necessary materials needed to run their projects successfully. All the while monitoring the various youth enterprises, making sure activities went to schedule and often inventing new ways to keep them motivated to continue with these new ventures.

The FFS project is collaboration between the Ministry of Agriculture of Samoa (MAF), the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa (MWCSD), and FAO.

The main goal of the project is to introduce a business-like approach to farming of which rural farmers in Samoa were previously unaware. The majority of farming in Samoa is done on a subsistence level, which makes the increasing urban area of Samoa and the growing tourism industry dependent on agricultural imports from overseas, i.e. New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S.A. This in turn has negatively affected the country's trade balance and seen the issue of national food security become a hot topic for debate.

In response to these growing problems, the FFS project has targeted youth in the rural villages of Samoa, and conducts farm management and marketing workshops to educate the youth on the numerous agricultural business opportunities available to them; hopefully conveying the idea that agriculture is a viable career option.

Once training is complete each village youth group is required to produce a business plan for their chosen enterprise and then through the assistance of FAO they are funded up to US$3,000 to begin their agricultural enterprise. During this time, the MAF, MWCSD, the US Peace Corps and FAO provide technical assistance.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience living and working in the Samoan community. The Samoan people reminded me daily why they are legendary for their hospitality. I always felt welcome and safe, and this made my working environment a pleasure to enter into every day. However, this is not to say there were no challenges for me during my service. The biggest obstacle I faced was keeping the participating young farmers motivated to continue their hard work. Although most youth liked the idea of running their own enterprise, few had the experience to understand what it takes to keep a business enterprise afloat. This required frequent meetings, training and site visits to the various projects to educate, motivate and encourage the youth to keep moving forward.

My daily life in the community
A typical day for me would include arriving at my office at the crops research compound at 8:00AM. Usually we would have a daily meeting with the project staff to update the progress of the project and to discuss our work plan. I would usually have a few hours of computer work to do in the morning where I would either be setting an agenda for a meeting, creating a pamphlet or brochure, or writing a project report to submit to the government or FAO. My afternoons and early evening were spent out in the villages working with the youth and their enterprises. This included conducting training or simply just dropping in for a site visit to see if we could be of any assistance.

My best memory
My best memory would have to be working with one particular village youth group on the Samoan island of Savaii. This youth group had progressed nicely during the initial phase of the project, successfully building a vegetable garden and continually making a sizeable profit month to month. During one of my site visits I informed the youth that they had exhausted their budget and would have to start considering how to continue their vegetable garden enterprise. I was thrilled to learn that the youth had already set aside their profits from previous month's sales to purchase additional seeds and were planning on diversifying their crop. Additionally, they had chosen to look into starting a poultry farm with the money made from the vegetable garden. This showed me they had taken a valuable lesson away from the management workshop, and understood it was important to diversify, making sure not to leave all their eggs in one basket. They explained if their vegetable garden were to somehow become infected with pests, they could then count on their poultry farm to hedge their garden and vice versa. This was a very poignant moment in my service because it showed that the youth were beginning to think independently and had grasped some of the concepts we had tried so hard to convey.

An eye-opening experience
There were countless lessons I took away from this experience but what I will treasure the most is the confidence I gained in myself and in other people. I am much more aware of what I am capable of now, and in turn I have learned to be much more trusting of others. Working in another culture and in another language constantly tests your patience and faith in other people. It was very important for me let go of the things I could not handle and learn to rely on the people around me. It can be very tempting in these situations to push everyone away and attempt to accomplish everything on your own, but by doing this you fail at the most essential aspects of international development, which are sustainability and the transfer of knowledge. I am grateful I had the opportunity to learn this valuable lesson and I plan on incorporating it into my life not only abroad but also in my future studies and work here in the U.S.

This experience has directly affected my future, as I have chosen to further my studies in graduate school, studying international law and business. In addition, I would love to either volunteer again in the future or work in a profession that allows me to travel and do development work on the international level.

Nick Errico has been a US Peace Corps Volunteer in 2004
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