Sene & child

SENENTE!!!  I first met Sene in Los Angeles!  I used to go up to the US at least 2 or 3 times a year for work and at the time Sene was volunteering at a ministry called the Dream Centre – We’d been given each others contact details by my cousins sister-in-law Molee who had also volunteered there …. and so began the start of a beautiful friendship.


Sene and I with another NZ volunteer – Joyce Veniale – at the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles after spending the day with her at the Dream Centre when we first met (those super thin eyebrows days lol).

For the last 2 years I’ve been harassing Sene to let me share her story. I’m hoping her story and what she shares will inspire people who may have the same calling on their life to go and help or volunteer too OR to support the work that Lina Chang (president of SVSG in Samoa) and the volunteers do over there in practical ways – maybe financially or by donating clothes, supplies etc for the kids.

Here is Sene’s story, how she came to work with the Samoa Victim Support Group in Samoa and the work that Lina, her daughters, Sene and the other volunteers are doing in Samoa …


Sene: In 2010, my church – Hillsong (in Sydney) sent their 1st Missions trip to Samoa about a year after the devastating tsunami in Samoa. There were 3 of us young Samoan women who attended Hillsong and who had had a desire to make a difference, to see justice served and really had a heart to see women both young and mature flourish and be all they could be. Needless to say the 3 of us jumped on board. We prayed that we wouldn’t be a group of missionaries that went into a country once, then left but that it would be one where we built relationships and gave back to our people. We also prayed that we would connect with the right people.

3 young women SVSG Launch

The 3 young women (L-R Cecilia Theodor, Lyn Robertson & Sene Lima)  who went with the Hillsong Outreach to Samoa and then came back to establish SVSG in Sydney, Australia.

Looking back now you could say that us connecting with the Samoa Victim Support Group -SVSG – was a divine connection. While we were in Sydney we had no or little communication with organisations that were already doing great work in Samoa so we were still prayerful as to who we were going to connect with. We were referred to Samoa Victim Support Group and our first meeting was held to hear and see what they were going in Samoa.  We did our homework in the sense of ‘are these guys legit’ because you don’t want to put your name to something that ends up being corrupt and at that time a lot of the NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organisations) were getting busted for things like the CEO would run off with the organisations money. So we really wanted to do our homework first because we were getting a lot of people onboard supporting them.

We learned that SVSG had been started because victims of sexual crimes were being mistreated, & disowned because it brought shame to the ‘family name’ and it was taboo to speak about such things. Victims as young as 3 years old were housed in the shelters – 3 years old!! 12 year olds were pregnant as a result of rape and because most cases were incest, they had become children of the state, due to being disowned/exiled from villages or it was not safe for them to return to their homes/families.

We sat and cried and then cried some more. Cried listening to the stories, different cases, and also how justice was being served for victims of such horrible crimes. Then hearing the success, passion and heart of the organisation – we walked out, ruined for the cause and with a revelation of how this could be our “FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS” hour J

We left asking “How can we help?” “What do you need?” and this is where our journey and relationship began. Tears and more tears, hearts broken for the cause, hoping that justice would be served and with the questions “If not us then who?” “If not now then when?”

Our Journey had begun …

early days SVSG Sydney

SVSG Sydney early days 

After being in Samoa and seeing firsthand how everything was run, we went back to Sydney, continued to pray as to how and what we could do and there birthed SVSG Sydney.  The 3 of us who had searched and then jumped on board not knowing what we could do but just willing to be used,  were asked to start SVSG Sydney.  Now there’s a team that we had taken back for Independence and some more have been added to that.

Our whole aim was to raise awareness for SVSG Samoa, never knowing it would grow to starting services that would assist our own Pacific Island people in Sydney.  Unfortunately sexual crime raises its ugly head all around the world.  Our heart was to firstly sustain the work of SVSG Samoa as we continued to raise awareness in Samoa and help fundraise, as SVSG is a Non Profit Organisation and relies solely on donations and then to assist the community & our Pacific Islanders in Sydney by referring them to appropriate services needed ie counselling, community services etc …

For 2 years after the first trip, we went back and forth at least twice a year to Samoa to visit and help out where we could.  In the shelters, in the office ….. just to be with the kids.  Every time I left, I cried!  I cried for the kids and so I almost think God said well maybe stop crying and do something about it (laughs) so I moved over to Samoa just to help where ever I could!



Sene: SVSG was set up in 2005 as a professional service to all survivors of crime. The organisation was set up by a team of young lawyers who had returned to Samoa and identified the difficulties faced by victims who did not have support from family members.  The lawyers still fight the cases for our children in the shelters.

SVSG Samoa, President Lina Chang definitely has a heart to rescue the most vulnerable, and also make their voices heard. The shelters have been set up for this very reason. The children await their cases and at the same time are educated, ensuring they don’t miss out on their education.   A couple of years ago she was awarded the Hillary Clinton Woman of the Year award but she’s not one who’s big on status and she doesn’t care if she’s recognised for what she’s done or not – her heart is solely just for the kids and making sure that justice is done.


Sene & volunteers

The 3 young women from Sydney with SVSG president Lina Chang

SVSG Samoa provides many services.

There are 3 shelters …. we have 3 shelters – one is for our babies. We have over 15 babies in one shelter. They’re mostly abandoned or there because of neglect & abuse – parents can’t look after them. Then there are the babies who have been born to the girls who come in to the shelter.   Sometimes the abandoned babies have been found & bought to us, maybe from hospital or families or a mother may just have a baby and give her baby in.   What we’ve been talking about recently is that it’s great that there’s an actual place for them to go. We have a ‘no questions asked’ policy because in the past we’ve actually found babies abandoned in the bushes so we feel that it’s better if they know they can just bring them in to the shelter. It’s actually been awesome because this has then brought down the rate obviously of dead babies found abandoned on the side of the road or where ever. So this rate has decreased in Samoa – its better to have a safe place for them.

The 2nd shelter is for children with disabilities. I think in Samoa there’s a high rate of abandoned or neglected or abused disabled kids because …. I don’t know what it is but what I’ve heard in some cases is that the family think it’s a curse and they think it’s a curse on the family. For example the boy that we’ve had the longest in there was just abandoned, like he was neglected. He was found by another organisation and she reported it because they found him up the back of his house just left to die basically so we went and picked him up and brought him back to the shelter. He was this real scrawny little skinny boy but now he’s chubby as and full of life – he smiles when you call out his name. I’m looking forward to the day that he walks because he’s getting stronger.

The main shelter where most of the kids are – we have between 60 & 70 children. The building they’re in was only meant to hold 20, hence the reason we’re trying to build more buildings so that we can accommodate all the kids. Most of the kids in this shelter are there due to neglect, domestic abuse or sexual abuse. Most of them that are in there now are under the State so they’re children of the State. They’re referred to us by the police or by lawyers. We have kids there from 3yrs old up.

Sene & babies

Sene with some of the babies at the SVSG shelter.

Sometimes in the shelter they’ll have families who really just can’t afford to look after the kids and so they have to be put in the shelter because a lot of them live kua (back villages) and so are not educated or just don’t have the means to keep the kids. A lot of them have a lot of kids and so they’ll try and put some in the shelter.

There’s a story of a man called Lafaele and he has no arms, like no limbs or legs up to his knees so he crawls but he still tends the grass and he’ll use the machete, cuts the branch of like the pulu, sticks it to his hand and then does that for some food. He has kids and he’s got to the point where he just can’t keep doing that anymore and so his kids are going into the shelter as well so a lot of the time it’s on a case by case basis. But just hearing his story you’ll just be inspired because you’ll be like OMG! What am I complaining about? Here’s this man who tends 7 acres of land for his family and he’ll take food into SVSG all the time just to help them out and you know he’s got nothing but yet he’s still giving! So yeah, you hear a lot of stories like that.

We have one matron and then most of the girls can actually cook and help out as well. Then we have the volunteers who come in and help.

We also have the School of Hope which was launched in Sept 2013 so that the kids can go to school while they’re there. We tried to put them back into mainstream schools but it just didn’t work out.

Then there are Services for women of Domestic Violence – Counseling & Empowerment Programs.

Mens Advocacy – engaging in the community, empowering men to rise up, stop abusing their wives and children, making right choices ie. not drinking – most domestic violence occurs after alcohol and drug use.

A helpline has also been launched, its been quite successful however it has definitely increased the workload of SVSG, and donations are well needed to not only assist with feeding our children, but to pay staff/volunteers as there are only 5 paid staff at the moment.

Other services, Counseling, Welfare assistance, Home School, Medical Evacuation, SVSG Juniors (Youth Empowerment), Giving back to the Community etc ….



Sene: The child is referred to SVSG either by the court, police or family members (99% its not the mothers) it’s the aunties that refer or a distant relative, or the neighbor. The children are then in SVSG’s care until their cases are heard.  Sometimes the kids have run away because the more they get the word out there now, people actually have the boldness to come. Kids are finally hearing that there’s a place they can go. Generations before us haven’t done a good job and they haven’t fought for this generation so we’re just like flippen heck man! So we’re finding more and more girls standing up and more and more women rising up knowing that they have a voice now and no longer need to stay in abusive relationships.  

The majority of the time the child tells the mother but the mother tells the child to shut up and just take it and no doubt the mothers have experienced the same thing too and the cycle just continues and there’s emotional abuse too.

No matter how brutal it is these girls have gone through, there’s still a longing for family you know? So to be sheltered, even though it’s great for them and it’s safe, a lot of them are still young and are trying to make sense of whats happened and you’re just like ‘What do you do?’ and the cases they have are just so hard and the majority of the time the aunty will bring them or the neighbour because the neighbour has seen or a teacher but now I think they should do mandatory reporting man, seriously! BUT what happens is when a girl confesses, she gets kicked out of the family and then she gets kicked out of the school! And it’s because they’ve never known what to do so they just kick the child out and it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, the poor kid – the one getting abused gets kicked out of their home because they’ve said something and then they get kicked out of school!



Sene:  Yes definitely. So they’re taken into custody (if found) and the Police and Attorney Generals (lawyers) take over.  Linas daughter is the lawyer who is fighting all these cases and her daughter is only 33! Her daughters name is Precious. She’s this little saiga (chinese) girl – it’s so funny because you see her stature and she’s tiny. She’s lovely but when she fights for these kids man! She’s now the Attorney Generals Assistant in Samoa and yeah, she’s just worked her way up.. 



Sene: Sometimes they do and sometimes a relative or the neighbour can notice a change in their behaviour, they’ll bring them in so that the child can be assessed. The last time we were there we had a women’s meeting and one of the doctors who actually assesses a lot of the cases was there and she could vouch for everything that was said. Then she talked about her experiences with it all and how when the victims are brought in they’re just ruined and she said she just didn’t understand and couldn’t fathom how a 3 year old can be sexually violated..

All the children are assessed by a doctor when they are brought into the shelter and reported to the police if they are cases brought directly to the office.



Sene: It depends on the cases, they’ll probably have 1 a week at least. When we were there visiting we had a girl walk into the office and she’d just been bashed by her boyfriend, she was wearing sunglasses but her eye was seriously black as and her aunty had brought her in. Half of us decided to walk her through the whole case and see how they ran stuff and so we walked her over to the police and we’re just thinking man! And the SVSG office is so ugly it’s disgusting, it’s like a tiny shed and people walk in and everyone can hear everyone’s business – there’s no privacy whatsoever because they don’t have the facility to do what they’re doing. What they’re doing now is they’re extending the office, which is really good, and that way we can get like private rooms and stuff.

Little girl


Sene: If a child can return to the family, (after assessment) if its safe to do so then they will return, if not they will remain in the shelter.

Obviously most of our children will not be able to return to their families so there are many programs and empowerment programs that will be initiated to be able to empower and enable the children with life skills so when it comes time to leave they will be independent as opposed to being vulnerable again and dependent.

Our heart is to be able to build a transition home where our older girls will be able to live and at the same time taught life skills, independent living, employment skills, but also live in a safe environment.

Our babies have been fortunate enough to be adopted to amazing families, who have approached SVSG.



Sene:  Yeah, each case is different, so we take it on a case-by-case basis. Obviously the safety of the child is first priority, and we look at whether the environment they are returning to is safe for them to go back to. Extended families/relatives are also considered and if they can prove that the child will be safe and they will flourish in their care then they are released to them



Sene: At the moment there is only 1 paid caseworker and altogether 5 paid staff. Therefore we rely solely on volunteers to be able to assist in the office. The Caseworker definitely has his work cut out for him but the President (Lina Chang) assists with all the major cases.



Sene: They have SVSG Juniors which is raising the youth and one of the things I think they do really well is getting the churches to come in and help. It’s genius because a church has never been able to do that – getting all the different churches to help but because Lina and SVSG don’t choose to be a certain denomination then they get the help from all of them so they have the Mormons, the catholics, the SDA’s all coming together and helping out so it’s really well done and it’s something I have to take my hat off to her for.  Some of the churches come after they’ve screened the kids and have been assessed and church members will come and take the kids away for the weekend and things like that just to give them an outing away from the shelter type thing. Yeah, and on Sundays they’ll come and take the kids to have toonai (Sunday feast) with them.  Lina is very protective of the kids obviously so she’ll choose certain villages that don’t have any ties to the kids.  In Samoa it’s hard though because a lot of the time you’re related to everyone.

Sene - clothes

Sene & a helper with clothes donated

They have stake holders meetings every year and throughout the year just different events.

They’ve done the Village Reps (more info in the videos below) and SVSG Juniors focuses on the youth and it’s really well done because they have youth from different churches all come together and help out whatever events they have and then they run events themselves and it’s just to give back to the community. Sometimes they’ll get all the youth together and they’ll go out and do ma’umagas (helping out in the taro plantation) and stuff like that and it’s good because it gives the youth something to do and gives them some purpose other than just hanging out on the side of the road all day.

They’ve also started a home school and the home school isn’t just for the kids in the shelter it’s also for kids on the street. The kids who are on the streets selling stuff instead of going to school. The police are trying to help monitor this but word on the street (and this isn’t even from Lina this is from women I’ve talked to) is that in Samoa there’s a law that prevents foreigners from buying land so what the saigas (chinese) have been doing is coming in and finding a local to marry and obviously she has to have 51% ownership and he only gets 49% or whatever but yeah, uses that as an avenue to get land and most of the time these girls will have kids and then they’ll send these kids out selling all the crap that they brought over. So the police have been targeting the kids but the real issue or the root of it is these people coming in. I’m just praying that it never gets to trafficking or child prostitution but it looks like it could go that way if they keep doing what they’re doing and no-one stands up for these kids.


I think what gets me the angriest is that there’s churches going up for like 2 – 4 million dollars and it’s like “Whats the point?” when your village is struggling, your kids have no shoes, no education, no schools!  There’s this one village that we’re helping pilot and the kids walk for hours to get to school in the morning.  They come through the bushes, they come through the back where there’s no roads and it’s easy prey right there and if they walk back at night you can’t even find them! They’ve had some kids who have heard what they do at SVSG, so they hop on the bus and go to the shelter and no-one even comes looking for them! I don’t know what it’s come to aye?

What they’re finding is a lot of the kids who are old enough and OK to go back to their families go back with this staunch victim mentality and so they’re hoping to do programmes where they go through the whole healing process while they’re in there and that doesn’t waste their time because sometimes they just come in and sit and wait but I’m hoping to do a programme with them that will stimulate them so yeah, we’ll have our work cut out for us but I think Lina’s always open for people to come over and just tour because Laughing with Samoans came over and visited the kids and got on board. We were actually there the same time and so got to meet them and I think it was July they did a show in Wellington and all the proceeds went to Lina and SVSG. They flew her over and she got to share a little and at the end of this year they’re going to Sydney and one of the churches are putting on a fundraiser and the proceeds are going to SVSG as well.


What we’re trying to do now is working to see how we can transition the older ones because obviously most of them can’t get adopted out.  In Samoa we talk about ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ but we’re finding that the girls will come into the shelter and then a lot can’t go back to their families and they can’t stay at the shelter because it’s not meant to be permanent so it’s now trying to transition them out where they can actually stand on their own 2 feet.  It’s really hard because I think in our culture we’re raised to rely on family, so you take that whole support system out and they’re ruined – they don’t know how to fend for themselves.  They’re not independent, they’re dependent.  So you find even 20 year olds that you  know that if you put them out into society you know they won’t survive and more than likely, because they’ve been abused … that is probably the way that they’ll go.  So it’s trying to teach them life skills, basic life skills.  We teach them sewing and we have volunteers who come in and teach them how to sew and now we’re trying to sell off what they make.  Like lavalavas etc so now if visitors come and they want to donate they can also buy some of the things that the girls have made.  It’s good because it accumulates more revenue to buy more stuff.  

Now we’ve also got partnership with some of the supermarkets so the girls can go in and volunteer for a while and then after 2 weeks if they want to employ the girls then they can.  It gives them 2 weeks to prove that they’re trustworthy and can actually do their jobs.  It’s good because when we need a hand in the office we take some of the older girls and teach them basic computer skills and how to answer the phone properly (laughs) and yeah, so thats in progress now.  


If you look up on their website you’ll see they hold a lot of events through the year to get funding and they have this thing called Mass Campaign which they do a week or 2 before the start of every Independence Day and it’s a call out to Samoa and everyone just gives whatever – either monetary donations or people bring like shoes for the kids …. All that kind of stuff. Sometimes they hold whatever they get so whenever people come for welfare or whatever – they don’t have much so then they’ll give out food and stuff.



Sene: Not really but I don’t think that we realise as islanders we’re really good at building relationship and building community. Whereas some cultures don’t have that – they’re isolated, whereas islanders just do it naturally.



Sene: Totally different because when I was at the Dream Centre we lived in a home – it was in a residential home setting and with the kids at Dream Centre they were delinquent kids where they were way past the mentoring stage they were on their last chance before jail type thing. But what we’re finding in the system even in Sydney is that there hasn’t been a follow up programme. So there’s no follow up after they’ve been in jail or after they’ve been in these rehab programmes or centres and there’s often a 90% re-offending rate because there’s no-one to follow through so we’re praying that we’ll be able to target that this year as well and being able to walk them through even if they need someone by their side because they’ve gone through the rehabilitation process and they’re under supervision so they’ve got the comfort of that but when you put them back out it’s like you’re feeding them to the lions again because there’s no-one there who follows that up and no-one walks them through being out there practically. So a lot of them re-offend to get back in and it’s like jail – a lot of them re-offend so they can go back to jail.

We found that it was good to buddy up sometimes and because there was a Boys and a Girls home, if you worked in the Girls home it was best to buddy up with one of the boys because then you didn’t have that familiarity like you did with the girls and it worked! One of our boys at the Dream Centre has gone through and he’s made it to the army and just seeing him you’re like it was so worth it after all the crap that you went through it was just worth it seeing this one soul because I never thought he would make it to be honest but he’s now the one who’s made it out of all of them and he was one of the worst. And it’s great to see that he’s married, he’s going to church and he’s just done a whole lifestyle change and you’re like farout! But one of our friends kept in touch with him the whole time. So even after the process of going through rehabilitation, going through the course, she kept a relationship with him and I think that’s the key like going back now and sometimes the success is that they’re still alive! And really it’s years later before you’ll see the fruit of what you were doing but yeah, we found that it’s really important to be consistent with your follow up post rehabilitation and I think that’s something that the government in Australia are now looking into because there’s such a high re-offending rate there as well. In LA they’ve got that 3 strikes you’re out law but once they have a record it’s really hard for them to get a job and then they sit and they’re just bored because there’s nothing for them to do and then that’s when they get in trouble.



YES!  The first fundraising concert was the one that Stan Walker headlined and the promoters who set the concert up – MH Events – gave 5% of the proceeds to SVSG.  The concert was for the community and then SVSG is always the charity that they support every time they run a concert.  

The last one they ran was called ‘Ray of Hope’ and it was specifically to fundraise and raise funds for the Maternity House …. for the pregnant girls that are brought into the shelter.  So that has happened and I think they managed to raise $300k!  I’m not sure when the building will start but it’ll hopefully be soon.  It was called Ray of Hope after Ray Fruean who had passed away. His daughter Cherelle put the event together and I think it was the first one she’d organised since her Dad had died.  Tagata Pasifika covered it.  It featured artists like Aaradhna, Sammy J, Monsta G, Pieter T, Vince Harder, Scribe & Savage.   They did such a good job on it.  (Video footage of the concert and Ray of Hope after the jump).  It also really helped get SVSG more publicity.  The artists that came talked about it a lot on their Social Media and stuff too.  

Ray of Hope

Rads, Sammy J, Julie

Artists from the Ray of Hope Concert visiting the SVSG Samoa shelter earlier this year – Julie Taale, Monsta, Aaradhna & Sammy J



Sene:  Our heart is to address the current issues, see the need and meet it. We hope that in 10 years time, the number of sexual crimes will have decreased, the number of children in the shelters will have decreased and there wouldn’t be a shelter, because society and people would have clicked onto the fact that any type of indecent assault and sexual crime is wrong.   We hope to see the number of offenders decrease, our next generation making a stand, and gearing towards the future, taking responsibility for their own actions and making right choices.

We hope to have raised enough awareness, counselled, rehabilitated and intitiated prevention programs, so that the next generation would not have to suffer as this one has. I believe our generation and those that have gone before us have a lot to answer for. We have the opportunity to make a difference, why not get involved with an organsation that is making a difference, changing history & moving and shaking a nation.

We are breaking ground, what we are doing has never been done in the history of Samoa or the Pacific Islands. Lets cry out for freedom from the oppressors and be the voice for the voiceless.

Also our heart is, that as much as obviously it’s our nation to start with – Samo – but no doubt it’s happening everywhere and I reckon this is something we’ll be able to take to other Pacific Island nations and have like a ripple effect that way.  The Prime Minister of Samoa has said this too – there was a global meeting in Rarotonga a year or so ago – at the Pacific Forum and Hillary Clinton was there.  They heard what SVSG were doing and now the Prime Minister in Rarotonga wants the same thing so they’re looking at even changing the name because at the moment it’s just Samoa in the name and it needs to be global.  So yeah, well see where it goes but Lina’s done well – nearly 10 years she’s been working at this and finally people are starting to hear what she’s doing.

Sene - Global meeting

I look back and know that I have been blessed to have been in the presence of great men and women of God who are not only passionate about seeing justice here on earth but be all about influencing the next generation to dream big and be all they can be . This has stirred me to do what I can, with what has been placed in my hand.

I may be crazy but I dare to believe that God can do the impossible, that He is the giver of HOPE in the hopeless situations & that we are His vessels to be used to do good in this world and help the vulnerable, and if we are willing we can influence and change the next generation –for the good. I believe that if you can influence and change the next generation you can change a nation.

If you want to support a great cause please feel free to donate 

  1. (online giving) 100% of the donation is given to SVSG – reference or click on SVSG.

OR to become a SVSG volunteer


  1. Volunteer email
  2. Visit our website for more info
  3. Like us on facebook SVSG Samoa


** Update – while they were here Lani Says interviewed both Sene & Lina for Radio NZ as well as Jamie Su’a who is one of the SVSG Auckland volunteers.  Links to interviews below **

Support for abuse victims improving

Aucklanders back Samoa Victim Support Group 

Funds raised to help Samoan children 






 All photo credits (except the photo of us in LA) from Sene herself or off the SVSG Samoa facebook page






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