Teen steps up after tsunami strikes homeland[/url]
STOCKTON, California- The Samoan island of Savai'i is an earthly paradise whose sights and smells are etched indelibly in the memory of Liugalua Dellafosse. The 17-year-old senior at Edison High School visited her homeland for her first and only time during her winter break five years ago.
"It's so serene," Dellafosse recently recalled. "There's a certain smell, if you smell it, that you'll never forget, sort of like mint in the air. There's a sense of pride and love in the culture. You can feel it as soon as you get off the plane."
It's not surprising, then, that Dellafosse was shaken Sept. 29 when a tsunami struck Samoa, killing more than 150 people and destroying some of the places she had visited.
Dellafosse is president of the Interact Club at Edison High School, a service organization with ties to the Rotary Club of Stockton.
Interact members in the past have raised funds to fight diseases and help the homeless, and they periodically clean the Edison campus. During spring break in April 2010, some Interact members are scheduled to help set up playground equipment for poor children in Mexicali, Mexico.
So it seemed natural to Dellafosse that she would try to help those affected by the crisis in Samoa. Dellafosse said the relatives she visited in 2004 all survived the tsunami, but the village was deluged.
On behalf of the Interact club, Dellafosse spoke with her Rotary adviser, Nick Curtin, not long after the disaster. The next thing she knew, she was addressing about 100 of the Rotary's members at their monthly meeting.
"Her interest in providing some relief to the people of the South Pacific was that she had personal contact," Curtin said. "That personal contact opens people's hearts and makes them generous."
Dellafosse said she was stunned at how generous the Rotarians were. Some wrote checks. Some gave cash. Many dug deep, and Dellafosse wound up raising about $3,000.
"Even though we're in a recession, a lot of people gave openheartedly," she said.
Dellafosse's ethnic ties to her homeland were only part of the story. By raising the money, she also was honoring her grandfather, Pita Tuliau.
It was Tuliau who had brought Dellafosse's mother, Evai, to the United States from Samoa when Evai was a young girl.
Tuliau, who lived in the Bay Area, instilled in Dellafosse a pride in her heritage.
But two years ago, Tuliau died at 67. When Dellafosse heard the news of the tsunami, she felt a powerful personal connection to the tragedy.
"It was very devastating," she said. "I felt it was the last thing I had left of him."