It was a trip back to Samoa during the height of the measles epidemic, that inspired Psychology student Shaqaila Uelese to take matters into her own hands.
“My grandparents were coming to the end of their temple mission and we went over to surprise them.
But the measles epidemic was so bad that the temple was shut, there was no church on Sunday and we had to wear masks.
My initial thoughts were, ‘oh that’s sad, but I can’t do anything about it.’ And yet I knew I had to do something.”
The 25-year-old has strong roots back to Samoa. Her father is from the Fasito’o uta village and mother is from the Salamumu village.
“You don't have to look far to see there's a lot of suffering, but serving each other and being aware of what's happening outside our own lives is important,” she said.
“I’ve played the piano since I was five and I thought, I can’t run a marathon, I can’t do anything else. But I can play the piano.”
Shaqaila began a 10-day piano marathon right up until Christmas Eve, playing the piano for elderly people at multiple rest homes and hospitals around the North Island.
“It just happened to be around Christmas time and I knew I wanted to go to the people.
I think of the Saviour and what He does. He always went to the people. I wanted to bring joy to the elderly. To me, that’s priceless.”
Shaqaila used social media to ask people to donate, raising $6000 or $9000 tala. All funds going to the Helping Hands charity, a nonprofit organization that describe themselves as ‘a group of hands that have come together to help our community and Samoan families affected by the measles epidemic’.
“It is a lot of money,” Shaqaila says. “It will go towards care packages, food, medical supplies to help families in Samoa.”
This was Shaqaila’s second piano marathon. Her first marathon was in 2012 after her father died from cancer.
More than 5,600 measles cases have been recorded in Samoa and at least 83 people have died, many of them younger than four years old.
“I think of my Hands and what was made possible because I was able to play the piano.
He guided me note to note. The Saviour helped me to have the energy, the strength and the time to do it. I have no doubt the Savior lights the world every day, every season, whenever we decide to do something good.”