Volunteering in Samoa
At the heart of Polynesia, Samoa is a beautiful and traditional natural paradise.
Fa’a Samoa, or the 'Samoan way', is the enduring guiding principle of Samoan cultural tradition. Despite centuries of European colonial influence, Samoa maintains a strong connection to its cultural heritage. Samoa gained independence in 1962 – the first Polynesian country to achieve this political status.
Situated about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, Samoa is made up of two main volcanic islands - Upolu and Savai’i - and eight smaller islets, with a total population of 200,000. Samoa’s economy is driven by services, agriculture, and tourism. One in five Samoans find it difficult to meet their basic needs, with the rural poor and people with disabilities particularly vulnerable. Low rates of high school completion and the burden of non-communicable diseases are significant challenges to development.
Samoa’s oldest known site of human occupation is Mulifanua on the island of Upolu, which dates to approximately 1000 BC.
Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of Samoan partner organisations to achieve their development goals since 1972.
Volunteering opportunities in Samoa support communities across a range of development priorities, including:
- Economic growth
- Health and education
- Private sector development
- Gender equality
- Climate change
- Disaster management
Through photo blogging, more than 30 volunteers have helped us bust the biggest myths about international volunteering.
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Life as a volunteer in Samoa
Culture and religion
Western missionaries converted Samoans from a belief in gods of the sun, earth, heavens and sea, to one God. Although there are Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu communities around Upolu, the majority identify as Christian.
When visiting a Samoan family, you will experience that Sunday is a very sacred day, and most Samoans will attend church. Supermarkets and many local businesses will be closed until late afternoon.
At work women will be expected to wear a Puletasi, and men an Ie faitaga. Volunteers will be supported to purchase these items by the in-country team before starting work. Most government ministries have uniforms that are worn throughout the week. Sarongs can be worn anywhere, and due to the hot and humid climate, wearing natural fibres is recommended.
In rural areas, villages govern strictly over village members. When visiting rural villages, all visitors including locals must dress modestly as you may be fined if not. Most young people are accustomed to wearing an ‘ie lavalava’ which is a sarong that is worn on the lower torso and reaches the ankles.
Samoa is a bilingual country. Samoan is the main language and English is the second official language. Most government bodies and institutions work primarily in English. However, it is still recommended for volunteers to learn basic phrases in Samoan as it may be necessary in rural areas. Having an understanding of the local dialect or language will provide better understanding, and be a sign of respect to your colleagues.
As an island state close to the equator Samoa experiences a warm and humid climate all year round, with wet and dry seasons. Dry season is from May to October and usually brings in large number of visitors from across the globe. The wet season is from November to April. In recent years due to the impacts of climate change December and January have become the most flood-prone months.
Digicel and Vodafone are the two main internet and mobile services providers across all islands. Volunteers can purchase a mobile handset, mobile package, and Wi-Fi on arrival. There are also free Digicel and Vodafone sim cards that are distributed at the International Airport. Wi-Fi and phone service are quite reliable.
Polynesians love their food. In recent years as a result of increased tourism and to offer a more diverse variety, the availability of international foods at restaurants has increased. This has led to more healthy options, as well as options for people with different dietary needs.
Fast food chains and and cafes are spread across the central business district and found across resorts on the islands of Savaii and Upolu. Options for eating out are typically limited near beach accommodation.
Food markets are available on both islands. Fugalei market is the most popular market for fresh produce. If trying market food stalls, try taking a local with you who can recommend the best and safest stalls.
The in-country team will support you find a safe and affordable place to live during your assignment.
The traditional Samoan fale is an open thatched hut which provides fresh air. Although most Samoans tend to live in a papalagi, or western styled house, there are still families that live in Samoan fales around town and rural areas. If you get the chance to stay in a fale, remember to bring a mosquito net.
Public transport is very safe in Samoa. Volunteers are asked to be cautious when traveling alone in a taxi. Many volunteers get a local drivers license and purchase a second hand vehicle.
Local buses are a very Samoan custom of travel, and a good experience.
Although Samoa is a safe place to live and work, there has been an increase in petty crimes where vehicles and homes are being robbed. Volunteers are cautioned to travel in pairs andstay away from dark places in and around the Central Business District.
There have been deaths due to strong ocean currents. Safety at the beach is important, and volunteers are also asked to advise the in country team, a local counterpart or a friend if going to the beach.
Volunteers may come across children selling products, and are asked not to make purchases. The Government of Samoa as well as the International Labour Organisation and UNICEF are working towards passing a new Child Protection and Care Policy that will enable the police and locals to work together to address this practice.
We’re committed to ensuring that international volunteering is inclusive and accessible to Australians from a range of backgrounds, with diverse perspectives, identities and abilities.
To support this, access and inclusion plans are available for volunteers with disabilities to assess their needs and ensure their living and working requirements are fully considered. Indigenous Pathways is an Indigenous-led program that focuses on providing culturally safe, flexible and tailored support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers.
Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Samoa, please do some further research on living in Samoa and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.
This Samoan Fa’ausi is a combination of two recipes: coconut bread and coconut caramel sauce. Lauina, part of our team in Samoa, says this combination is like the perfect volunteer assignment.
Download the recipe for Fa'ausi