COVID-19: Nuanua O Le Alofa (NOLA)

When Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi declared a national state of emergency last month due to COVID-19, Nuanua O Le Alofa (NOLA) sprung into action to make sure his daily briefings about the coronavirus were accessible to everyone. Thanks to their lobbying efforts, the Prime Minister was accompanied for the first time by a Sign Language Interpreter - a woman named Noue Mavaega, NOLA’s policy and research coordinator - on March 23. The Prime Minister was so pleased with Mavaega’s work that his government now includes her in most of its press conferences and she has gained notoriety through the country as “Samoa’s silent communicator.”

The National Advocacy Organization for Persons with Disabilities in Samoa

“I can gladly say that we are leading the way in terms of inclusive coverage of the coronavirus to our members and to those who need our services,” says Mata’afa Fa’atino Utumapu, NOLA’s general manager and president of the Samoa Blind Persons Association, a sub-group of NOLA and 2019 DRF grantee.

Mata’afa Fa’atino Utumapu from Nuanua O Le Alofa (Samoa)

she has gained notoriety through the country as “Samoa’s silent communicator.”

“I can understand what is happening in the world with coronavirus from all the press releases that the Prime Minister releases on TV provided that there are interpreters,” adds Maselina Iuta, vice president of the Deaf Association of Samoa, another sub-group of NOLA and 2019 DRF grantee.

NOLA has used Mavega’s appearances with the Prime Minister to educate the public about the critical role interpreters play in conveying information to those who are deaf and hard of hearing. When some people began ridiculing Mavaega online last month, Utumapu used the opportunity to remind people of the importance of inclusion. “Without sign language, those who have impaired hearing or [are deaf] will continue to be put down and the minority in societies,” she told the Samoa Observer

After their success with the Prime Minister, NOLA began advocating for sign language interpretation at other events and, as a result, experienced an increase in requests from entities like the Ministry of Health and TV stations. Now NOLA is pushing on another front – working to ensure that Ministries send their information materials to Samoa Blind Persons Association’s Braille Translation Unit. “We played a critical part in reminding our government partners of the significance of making sure that their preparedness services need to be inclusive of persons with disabilities,” says Utumapu. “At the moment, we have a COVID-19 response plan, which we distributed to our donor partners for supports.”

NOLA also has a spot on a regional Pacific World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 sub-working group on risk communication, which has allowed them to advocate for and support an inclusive response to the virus on a regional level as well. Despite these recent victories, NOLA’s General Manager says her organization won’t be letting up anytime soon: “The work is still moving, and as they say, the show must go on in terms of whatever we’re doing at the moment is not going to stop because of the many things we have done. Even though we represent two percent of our population, it doesn’t mean that this population can be ignored.”A