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Lessons to learn from power cut death

The tragic death of Folole Muliaga should serve as a wake-up call for Pacific churches to look after the material as well as the spiritual well-being of their members, say Methodist Samoan leaders.

Folole died in June when the power was cut off to her Mangere home, shutting down her oxygen machine.

Methodist Church of NZ director of Pacifika ministry Rev Aso Samoa Saleupolu says the incident raises issues, both for Pacific people living in this country and for agencies and service providers that deal with people on the fringes of society.

On one hand, companies such as Mercury Energy must get more information and understand the economic situation of their clients, Aso says. On the other hand, Pacific people have to be aware of the requirements for living in this society.

“The incident should be investigated and ethical guidelines established so something like this does not happen again. There must be a better way for service providers to work with people who do not have enough money to pay for their needs.

“Some of the voices in the media talked about ‘the Pacific way’ and the fact that Pacific people may be ashamed to receive help and do not confront authority. This is generally true but I don’t believe we can use it as an excuse in this country.

“Pacific people have been in New Zealand long enough to know that some of our ‘Pacific ways’ don’t help us get on with life here. We have to adjust to life here. We can’t continue to hold the culture card if it means we do not look after ourselves well.”

Aso says, in Samoa people live in a more communal way, and those with little income receive help from their families and neighbours. These communal ties often break down in New Zealand, and some low income nuclear families are left to struggle alone.

Churches can actually be part of the problem. In some churches low income families are expected to give the church the same amount of money as those with high incomes. In other churches, competitive giving can bring shame to those who cannot give much and entices others to give much more than they can afford. Churches should be providing budgeting and money management skills for their members, Aso says.

MCNZ Samoan Synod superintendent Rev Tovia Aumua agrees that some Pacific people in trouble are ashamed to let others know about their situation. Interim financial support is available and church leaders should be able to tell people how to get access to it.

“Church leaders can provide help and information as part of their pastoral care but it also requires people to have the courage to participate in community meetings or council meetings and meet with service providers.”

Another concern Tovia had when this story was in the headlines was the lack of sensitivity the police and the media showed.

“I was concerned for the Muliaga family. They were grieving the loss of their mother-wife-aunt. It was insensitive for the police to search for whoever was in the wrong while the family was grieving. They could have waited a week or two after the funeral to pursue it,” Tovia says.

“I was also concerned about some of the comments in the media, especially the radio talk backs. However, it was good to see that the family received a lot of support and contributions from the Samoan community to cover the cost of the funeral.”