Samoa leads the way in sport for development

By Edwina Ricci (OSF): Organisation of Sports Federations of Oceania and director of The Reporters’ Academy

Samoan NFL star Richard Brown and local businessman Greg Meredith have reason to be proud this week as another of their protégé’s, Cardiff Mamea, heads to the US on an athlete scholarship. Through their organization ‘Reach Out Samoa Student Scholarships Association’ (ROSSSA) Brown and Meredith have been working with Mamea for two years and finally the fruits of all their labour have been realized. “Our selection criteria is simple,” says Meredith. “Our young people have to possess three things; academic aptitude, a willingness to train hard to become a great athlete and Christian values.” Meredith stressed the last one enables their young people to maximize their opportunities. “Their Christian values give them the right attitude and discipline to succeed with their education, anything they achieve beyond that is a bonus.” Brown spoke of his desire to open the eyes of these young people to a better life, a life that they would intrinsically work hard for. The 100% success rate for ROSSSA’s students in gaining entry into US colleges is a testament to both the program and its students. The program addresses 3 areas of development, the physical, the mental and the spiritual. “We are producing young men and women who will not only take control of their own lives, but we hope will ‘Pay it Forward’, and when they have achieved their success, be part of the process in helping other young Samoans to achieve their goals.”

Cardiff follows in the footsteps of Meredith’s own children Stephen, Leleaga and Aileen. Stephen, also an American football player, after a short time at a US high school in his senior year, gained a scholarship to New Mexico State where he will finish in 2015 and continue his education and hopefully secure a professional contract. His sisters and Olive Auvaa, are representing Samoa in the Samoan Open and tee off today. Aileen is currently studying at new Mexico State, Leleaga is a freshman starting September and Olive will join them in 2014. Brown spotted Stephen in the family bakery in Apia and asked if he would be interested in studying in the US and using sport as the vehicle to do that. Brown put him through his paces, using the knowledge he gained as a professional player in the NFL. Brown’s innovative training practices are no secret here in Samoa, as he was responsible for preparing the successful Under 19 Rugby team who qualified for the World Cup in 1999; all had successful rugby careers.

Cardiff Mamea was first discovered walking with his father in the fish market, and the rest is history. He graduated from Leone High School in American Samoa, before that he attended St. Joseph College in Apia. His physical appearance is a testament to his hard work, but his focus is clear when asked what he is looking forward to the most. “Studying Maths and Physics. I want to get a degree. I also want to be an NFL player,” Mamea said. When asked what he is nervous about he said it was “flying the long distance.” He has never been further than Americ an Samoa, so there will be much to learn for this young man as he ventures off to create a better life for himself and his future family.

With Non Communicable Diseases, including the rise of mental health issues in young people, featuring on the agenda of the Tenth Pacific Health Minister’s Meeting, currently being held at the Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi (TATTE) Building, it is clear that sport holds some answers. Using sport as a tool for physical and social development is not new, however, using it as a preventative strategy for mental illness is. Old theories of psychology focused only on the disease model, Positive Psychology is the new way of using psychology to make normal people lead happier and more fulfilling lives. Brown and Meredith have applied these theories and produced not only physically capable young people to succeed in their sporting career, but more importantly resilient ones who see that hard work is the road to true fulfillment of all their God-given potential.

Brown and Meredith return now to the villages of Samoa to find more young people wanting an opportunity. They will also be investigating avenues of funding to support their program, now that it has demonstrated its potential in developing lives not just great sports people.

Article written for the Samoa Observer during the 10th Health Minister’s Conference