Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lights, Camera, Action!

Saulo, Milo and Neueli made thier first
appearance on TV
This past weekend Saulo, Milo and Neueli traveled to the capital for an interview at Samoa’s TV 3 station! We were very fortunate to get TV 3’s support for the Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative, and they have agreed to cover the program from now until it’s completion, which will be next January when the boys return to Samoa to share their experiences of America to the youth of their villages.

When I told the boys they were going to be on TV, I got mixed reactions. Saulo was very hesitant and didn’t seem too thrilled about the idea. Neueli pretended to act as Saulo did, but told me later that he was excited. Milo seemed indifferent.

Regardless, it was the first time on TV for any of them, so I was surprised they weren’t more excited. When I was growing up in Michigan and the local TV station was at the Friday night football games, I would force myself to stay up until 11:20p.m. just to watch to see if there was a glimpse of me from the stands. But for these three kids, they were either holding it all inside or just really didn’t realize it was a great opportunity for our program to be recognized here in Samoa, as well as in American Samoa, some 60 miles away.

As I said, Neueli seemed to be the most excited about the TV interview, so I wasn’t too shocked when I saw him the night before with a brand new haircut. Milo also had gotten a trim for the big occasion. I tried to get them more excited by telling them all of their teachers and friends from school would see them, but then I realized that might be what was tempering some of their excitements down.

On Saturday morning we all made it onto the bus and got to Apia in plenty of time. We were scheduled to meet at TV 3 at 10:30 although we didn’t get started until 11:00. The week before I had met Fuapepe, the women who was going to interview us. She invited us back to the studio and I think the boys got a little more excited when they saw the cameras and set.

I hadn’t gotten all that much sleep the nights leading up to the interview and it had been a rainy and humid morning in Apia so I felt a little sluggish, but still wanted to put my best foot forward for the program so that the public would know more about what we are trying to accomplish, getting these three students back to the United Sates in December for a one month cross cultural experience!

After getting a brief introduction from me about the program (luckily I wasn’t forced to use my Samoan) Fuapepe asked each of the boys a question in Samoan. As I sat there and listened to their answers, I thought about how far they had come from those first days we had met. They really seemed to have a sense of confidence that had grown to be a part of them. I was even especially pleased when Milo called me by my name during his answer, as opposed to “palagi” the Samoan word for “white person” which they still to this day sometimes use to refer to me when talking amongst themselves!
The Samoan language is unique in that it has a less formal spoken language that people use on an everyday basis. This is where all the t’s become k’s, thus being called the k language. But in formal situations, such as during church or village meetings among chiefs, the t language is used as the formal and appropriate, or educated language. Most of the time I only hear the boys speak the k language, so as I sat there listening to them answer their questions, it was interesting to hear them speak in the formal t language with such poise.

One recurring concern that most people have about this program is the timing, in that the boys will most likely be arriving to a snowy and cold Michigan! Even if it’s a balmy 50 degrees on Christmas Day, those kids will still be freezing to death, since they get “cold” when it dips to 70 in their village!! But I tell people we’ll help the boys stay warm by having them shovel the snow!

After about 15 minutes the interview was over and we took a picture together on the set before heading out. I think it’s a day that Saulo, Milo and Neueli will remember for a while; the day they became television stars! We hope to be back again, as TV 3 wants to continue covering the program. We are so grateful for TV 3’s willingness to help us get the word out about our project to the Samoan islands, and hopefully more youth around the region will feel motivated to do something bold, work hard and dream for a goal as Saulo, Milo and Neueli are learning to do.

Editor’s Note: If you want to help sponsor The Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative, I invite you to make a donation through, where you can send money to my account using the email: For more information about the program and how to navigate paypal, please read the previous blog posted on September 4, 2012. Many thanks for your prayers, support and contributions! Soifua!

The boys were ready for the interview the night before.

Saulo, Milo and Neueli talking to Fuapepe before the interview began.

After the interview had finished.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

You’re Invited to Change These Lives!

Saulo, Neueli and Milo with me earlier this year.
Thank you for reading! This is a very special blog, unlike any I’ve written in the past. This is because it has the potential to change the lives of three Samoan boys, and you can be a part of this change.

Many of you are aware that I first arrived in Samoa back in 2009 as a Peace Corps Volunteer, where I taught English at a rural primary school until last December. I then returned to Samoa this year to volunteer for the Catholic Church, assisting with their Catholic youth bands.

During my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was fortunate to see each of my students develop and mature to become better students and better kids. Despite not having enough desks, chairs, or even a set of text books, they always tried hard; they came to school with smiles on their faces and eager to learn. When we first met, their views of the world were very narrow, their understanding about other places not as great. They had grown up on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, never having traveled. However, through our conversations I tried to spark their interests in this world, to ask questions, to dream for something bigger!

This past June, I felt God calling me to help them in a new way, to help them realize some of their new dreams! I was sitting in church when I started thinking about taking the three of them back to the United States for a one month visit when I return to there this December. In the days that followed, I worked on forming a program which would inspire, motivate and empower them. I know that their traveling to the United States would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for them, and one that could help shape their futures.

However, from the beginning I have told God that if this is meant to be, He will have to help lead us through it. I am unable to provide for such a trip financially, yet I have faith that the money will come if it is meant to be.

Therefore, I am asking each of you to take a few minutes to read over my full project proposal, the Samoa Youth Empowerment Initiative, which I have copied below and consider making a donation to help make this trip possible for my three former students. If you are only able to give a little, please do so and know that it will make a difference. For those who can give more, your generosity is just as meaningful. With the application for the U.S. visas quickly approaching in October, I am asking that you make your donations as soon as possible. The visas will have a much better chance of being approved if sufficient funds are secured prior to the application being filed.

I have set up an online Paypal account where you can make a donation using your debit or credit card. When you send the gift, there is a space for you to type a message. I ask that in that space you provide me with your name and mailing address so that the boys can send you a card of thanks for your helping them on this project. It is your generosity which can make this program a reality for these three Samoans!

If for some unfortunate reason, the visas are denied, I want you to know that the money will instead be invested in the boys’ village on meaningful and sustainable projects, either in the school or on youth empowerment projects which I would help oversee.

Again, I thank you for your time, for your gifts and for your support! Please visit the blog in the weeks ahead to learn about our progress on this program.

1. Go to
2. Select the tab titled, “personal” and click on “send payment online.”
3. In the box titled, “To” put my email,
In the box titled “from,” put your email. Select an amount you wish to donate and a currency. The bubble titled “Goods” should be selected, leave that and click the yellow box, “continue.”
4. You will then be prompted to create a paypal account. (Don’t worry, it’s not hard). Fill in your information, creating a password and entering your credit card or debit card information. Check the box at the bottom that you agree to the terms of use and then click the yellow bar that says “Agree and Create Account.”
5. You will then get a confirmation page that your paypal account has been created! Review the amount you are donating and then scroll down to the second portion of the page, under the blue bar where it says “Email to Recipient.” In the box titled, “message” type your name and address so that the boys can send you a thank you note! Under the message box click the yellow box titled, “send money.”
6. You will then get a page that should say “money has been sent.” Click on the yellow box titled, “Go to my Account” and at the top of that page, click on “Log Out” to safely log out of your new paypal account.

That’s all there is to it, it should take less than 5 minutes! If you have questions, email me and I can help you through it. Thanks again!

Project Proposal
Project Title: Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative (SYEI)
Project Coordinator & Contact Info:
• Kyle Kincaid
• Email:

Total Amount Requested: $7,265.62 USD
Project Timeline: December 15, 2012 – January 12, 2013

Project Summary:
As a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Samoa, having taught English at a rural primary school, I am now making an effort to promote a youth empowerment initiative for underprivileged, rural, Samoans. I intend to have three of my former male students, ages 14 to 15, travel back to the United States this December. There, they will live with my family and me in Michigan for one month, while taking part in several cross-cultural and volunteer activities which otherwise would not be available to them in Samoa.

In addition to the Samoan students learning about American culture and the importance of volunteerism, the Americans they meet and associate with will learn about Samoan culture and customs, thus allowing both parties to develop a more global perspective.

The Samoan students will be very active: visiting a local elementary school to make presentations to their American counterparts, volunteering their time at a community center for students with physical and mental disabilities, and assisting local churches with volunteer programs within the community. I am also hoping for them to have the opportunity to meet with local business people and trained professionals such as doctors and nurses, in an effort to broaden their outlook on possible career opportunities for their futures. Students will also participate in a culture night where community members will be invited and both Samoan an American culture will be on display. The evening will include dances, foods, games and presentations including pictures and videos.

Project Rationale:

Samoa’s national languages are Samoan and English, with most of the National Exams in the upper grade levels being administered solely in English. The government in recent years has placed great emphasis on students becoming proficient in English, as they recognize it as the global language which will help its citizens to better compete for jobs in this competitive global economy.

My three former students, live in a rural village, and attend public schools that lack proper resources, such as text books, technology and even sufficient desks and chairs. They have faced several educational challenges which seem to compete against their own natural, God given talents. Nation-wide test results also show that students living in rural villages perform at a much lower level academically than their counterparts living in or near the capital city.

Each of these three young men have made significant progress in the past couple of years: two of them earning awards for most improved student of the year within their class, and the other receiving the highest test scores at his school on the National Examination. This cross cultural, youth empowerment opportunity will allow them to build on those talents they already have begun to develop.

By exposing them to a new culture, introducing them to new career possibilities and teaching them the importance of volunteerism, they will return to Samoa with a more focused outlook for their futures and thus allow them to become better leaders within their families, villages, churches, and ultimately their country.

Project Goals and Objectives:

The Goal of the project is for three Samoan youth to take part in cross-cultural experiences and volunteer initiatives in the United States. As a result, this will help them to broaden their English skills, develop sensitivities towards another culture, inspire them towards higher academic learning, and lead them to better professions within the workplace.

The Objectives are:

1. 3 Samoan students will return to Samoa in January of 2013 from the United States and show an increased awareness to those of another culture, by conducting a 1 day seminar and presentation for the youth of their village, to be assisted in preparation by their pastors.
2. 3 Samoan students and the youth participants of their seminar, will together, with assistance from their pastors, develop, design and conduct a 1 day community outreach activity which will promote community engagement and civic responsibility.
3. 3 Samoan students will demonstrate higher English proficiencies on an oral exam to be given by a trained language professional from the U.S. Peace Corps office in Samoa, both prior to and after the students’ program in the United States.

Project Beneficiaries:

There are 4 primary beneficiaries of the project, as follows:
• The 3 rural Samoan students who will travel to the United States for the cross-cultural and volunteer opportunities, thus allowing them to build a series of transferable skills which they will be able to utilize throughout the rest of their education as well as throughout their future careers.
• The youth participants from the village, who will engage in the community project and seminar, following the students’ program in the United States.
• The pastors who will assist in leading the youth seminar and outreach village program, thus making them a sustainable partner for more youth empowerment initiatives within their community.
• The Americans who will learn from the Samoans about a new culture and develop new ways of thinking and acting to be better members of their local and global communities.

Project Budget:

At present, funds need to be raised to support the financial obligations of the project. Following, is a spreadsheet which highlights the expenses we will need to provide for the program.

Expense Total (USD)
U.S. Visas $480.00
Airfare $4,907.62
Traveling money (en route) $120.00
Transportation (gasoline) $300.00
Toll Road Fees $50.00
Health Insurance $108.00
Food $700
Warm clothes & shoes $300.00
Museums/extra- curricular events $300.00
Total Amount: $7,265.62

Project Timeline:

September 2012
• 3: Begin distributing project proposal for Samoan Youth Empowerment Initiative.
• 6-30: Prepare U.S. Visa applications and meet with students and their parents to secure proper paperwork and prepare for visa interviews.
October 2012
• 1: Await announcement of visa interview date for this month.
• 8-30: Wait on word from the U.S. Embassy about visas and then purchase airplane tickets once visas are secured. Also organize with partners of the program in the United States to prepare for students’ arrival in December.
November 2012
• 1-15: Meet with pastors in students’ village to train them in possible community projects they will conduct with the students following their program in the United States.
• 1-30: Continue to work with program partners in the United States to develop details of the program.
• 30: Students take first oral English exam from language teacher.
December 2012
• 15: Depart with students from Samoa and travel to Constantine, Michigan.
• 15-31: Samoa Youth Empowerment Initiative is in progress.
January 2013
• 1-9: Samoa Youth Empowerment Initiative in progress.
• 10: Students depart from Chicago, Illinois for Samoa.
• 20: Students take for the second time, the oral English exam.
February 2013
• Students partner with their local pastors in Samoa to prepare for presentation of their experiences in the States to deliver to the youth of their community. Together with that same group and the pastors, they implement a youth outreach program for the community addressing a local community need or issue.

Neueli, Saulo and Milo climbing the mountain near their house in 2011.


Read the blog below if you'd like to know more about how I know each of these young men. The blog was originally posted on February 16, 2012.

The Brothers

During my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I gained three friends who I now call brothers. Although I gained friendships with many throughout my village, these three individuals each played a unique role in helping me through my toughest days, and then supporting me through my best. Looking back now, I see how each of us grew to become stronger people during those days we faced together, both the good and the bad. I invite you to read about how we became friends and what we learned from each other.

Milo and I met on one of my hardest days as a Peace Corps Volunteer—my first day. I had just been picked up in a van from the capital, and ridden out to my village to start my new life. When the van came to a stop on the road near my house, there he was, eager to help with my heavy bags and looking at me with much curiosity. From that first day, when I needed him the most, when I needed a friend like I had never needed one before, he was there.

From that day on, there were very few that passed where Milo and I didn’t see each other, or talk to one another. He lived right next to my house, and I quickly became like an adopted son to his entire family. Milo and I spent so many days together, that on the rare occasions we didn’t see each other, I felt like something was missing.

As the months went by, our friendship continued to grow. At school he was my student, and during my first year, he was one of the weakest students from his grade level. He lacked confidence, and relied heavily on his mom to complete basic homework assignments. But as we spent more time together, both inside and outside of school, I began to challenge him more, and he began to succeed, recognizing his own abilities and strengths. By the time my second year arrived, he was one of the strongest students in his grade level, answering questions with confidence and a smile, the same questions which kids use to laugh at him for not knowing the answer to, just the year before.

Samoans are very competitive, and this certainly holds true at school. Teachers often post publicly, the class test results and end-of- the-term rankings of students. Therefore, I didn’t feel at all out of place when I posed the question to Milo about if he would like to gain the number one ranking in his grade level and be at the top of his class. He certainly said yes, but I told him he was going to have to work hard if he wanted to get it.

Milo did work hard, and on the last day of school, he had earned himself that 1st place ranking over his fellow classmates. I’m so thankful he learned how to dream for something, and then follow through to the end to accomplish that goal. I think he also served as a great example to other kids who took notice at how he had grown, and perhaps they are asking themselves now if they have what it takes to do the same.

I remember the first time I met Saulo. It was very early on in my arrival to the village, perhaps my second or third day. I was walking down the street with Milo, and beside me was this skinny little kid talking a hundred miles an hour and then laughing at everything he said. I remember feeling a bit annoyed at the time, not understanding what he was saying, and thinking he might be talking about me. He probably was!

As a student of mine, I quickly began to realize he was one gifted person. His English was one of the highest of any of the kids at school, and his energy day after day was infectious. This kid didn’t slow down, but just kept on charging ahead. He often enjoyed reading a book at school, titled, “Keep on Trying.” In this book, a boy had to keep learning how to do new things, such as riding a bike, or playing a game and thus was forced to “keep on trying.” I’ll never forget the time when Saulo and I were walking through the village one evening and he told me he was going to “keep on trying,” to do his best at school, and learn English. It was moments like that which made me smile.

Last June, when I decided I wanted to build on my Samoan language skills more, it was Saulo whom I turned to for help to act as my tutor! Yes, there were some adults I could have asked instead, but I knew that in asking Saulo, I would be placing a trust and responsibility on him that many hadn’t challenged him with before. It ended up being a win/win situation for both of us: my Samoan, and his English.

Many afternoons, it became routine to walk over to Saulo’s house to watch him prepare his family’s evening meal. I could just sit there for 15 or 20 minutes and watch him peel the green bananas, or cut up the chicken and toss it in the boiling water, cooking over a fire he had just made minutes before. I think it was a way of me simplifying my day, and appreciating some of the hard work that goes into preparing a meal for a Samoan family.

My first memory of Neueli was during one of my classes at school. It was a time when I was still very much homesick, and doubting myself as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He helped lift my spirits that particular day, just by his saying thank you to me, and from that point on, I began to look at my time in Samoa in a completely different light.

I also can remember the days when I use to pronounce his name wrong. Just by your reading it, I’m sure you can tell it is challenging, although it now seems like second nature. However, I had been saying it wrong for the first couple weeks of school, until one day, he and Saulo came up to me one morning and said that they were staying inside at recess to teach me the proper pronunciation. They did, in fact, take the time to come in, and I think they drilled me for 10 minutes before leaving. From that point on, I had it down!

Neueli was always smiles. He came in to the room each morning with a cheer that other students just couldn’t quite match; he must be a morning person! Neueli, like Milo, had struggles with his school work early on, not being able to read basic sentences. His favorite book was “Little Car,” and over time he began to master not only that book, but several others I would place before him. During our second year together, it was so rewarding to be reading with a student from a younger year, and have Neueli come strolling into the room over to the side of my desk where he would start helping the students on words they didn’t know. He always got this excited look on his face, after realizing that he once was the struggling reader, but over time had learned to achieve and move to a higher level!

These kids, like most Samoans, have grown up in a very large family with many other siblings. Although Samoan parents love their children, it is still hard, and not completely a part of their culture, to spend individual time with the children as they are growing up. However, when Milo, Saulo or Neueli visited my house, I think they were able to find some of that personal attention which they didn’t always receive at home. In my house, I treated them as equals, as kids with ideas, challenges and successes. Perhaps at my house, more than in any other place, they were able to be kids—they weren’t required to do a bunch of chores, look after a younger sibling, or run an errand to the local store. They could just be themselves.

As not only their friend, but their teacher, I was left in a difficult position at school when I had to discipline them for one reason or another. I struggled until the very end to get them to understand that when we were at school I was their teacher and as a result, couldn’t goof around like we would after school. Although this was a challenge, it was one I was willing to take on, because our friendship meant so much to each of us.

We have so many memories together, both happy and sad. On the afternoon that the Peace Corps delivered word to me that my grandma had passed away, it was the three of them that came to my house to be with me, give me a hug, and then ask if there was anything they could do. We also shared so many happy times together: climbing the mountain near my house, going to the river or ocean for a swim, and dancing to music in my house.

There were also countless cooking classes, in which I taught them how to make “American foods” such as chocolate pudding, tapioca, popcorn or oatmeal. They were never shy about asking for a ripe banana or a cold glass of water from my fridge. They even were able to eat M&Ms and Peeps for the first time in their lives. When I cooked oatmeal before my Peace Corps experience, it was just oatmeal, but now when I cook it, it’s a memory of my time with Milo, Saulo and Neueli.

When I left Samoa, I left knowing that not only had I helped change the lives of these kids, but that they had certainly changed mine. I know they have bright futures ahead of them; I saw each overcome their own challenges and become better people in the process. I hope I never forget the things they taught me, like how to face new and unfamiliar obstacles, how to be accepting of new ideas, people and cultures, and most of all, how to love a dear friend.