Posted by: monsonmadness | July 20, 2011


Before the rest of the family joined Michael in American Samoa, he told me of a gender unidentifiable child in our neighborhood who would run up to his car every day when he left the house saying “dolla, dolla”. Michael called this child the “he-she-it”.

Since I come and go more often than Michael during the day, I see this child and others just like him on a regular basis (yes, after three weeks I figured out it was a him).  They wander the dirt roads in ragged clothes, with dirty long hair. It really is almost impossible to tell whether they are boys are girls. These children do not speak any English, but have been taught by someone how to ask for money, so they call out “Dolla, dolla” to every palagi they see. I wonder what my role is in helping them. I too have been accosted with the “dolla, dolla” and I have been unsure of whether to dole out money without reservation and whether or not it would become a daily ritual.

Giving to those in need has always been a hard question because there is a balance between helping and being taken advantage of. As a Christian, I should be more willing to follow the example of Jesus who taught us that if someone asks for our coat, we should also give them our cloak. But there are also human reluntancies about how much you can give, that you can always give more, and how much should you give without taking away from your own family’s needs etc.  In different cities that I have lived in, I have come across beggars and panhandlers, and although needs are different in different places, questions like this inevitably cross my mind. “Are they going to use my money for food or for drug or alcohol?”

As a members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Michael and I voluntarily (and with great joy) pay 10% of our income as tithing to our church. This money is used to build churches and temples, send missionaries around the world to preach the gospel, and to relieve hunger and suffering around the world. We also donate a portion of each paycheck to humanitarian causes, and to help with local poverty in our area. The blessings that we have received from our “sacrifice” are way greater than anything that we could have spent our money on had we chosen to use it for something else. There have been times in our lives when it was easier to pay than others, but even when times have been hard, we have never questioned whether we were going to pay to our tithing. We believe that there are immeasurable blessings that come from paying tithing, and we have witnessed these blessings first hand.

I share this with you because we feel like we contribute quite a lot towards the welfare of others. (At least that’s what the IRS tells us each year when they look at our charitable contributions compared to the rest of the United States). Having said that, and considering that all we have comes as blessings from a loving Father in Heaven, only giving 10% or a little more back still leaves us with a very hefty 90% that we are accountable for. Michael and I have tried to be wise stewards of our money over the years, investing money in our children’s missions, college and savings funds when we can, and trying to save for our own missions and retirements as well.

Still, ever since we have been here, I have had a nagging feeling that we have so much and there are so many around us that have so little. While I want to help others, I have a strong belief in the importance of self-reliance, and of people doing all they can to help themselves before depending on others for help. The evils of the dole and getting things for free are prevalent in our society. People would rather sit back and be handed things than work hard to take care of their families, and it is hard to give when people expect it for free, like they’re entitled to help even though they’re not doing anything to help themselves. It’s not very practical to go to the grocery store for my family and then give away all my food to the people on the street on the way home. I’m not Mother Teresa, I’m just trying to be aware,  improve a little and taking very small steps.

“Where is this all leading?” you are undoubtedly asking by now. Well, I want to start helping, but I feel it’s important that people work for what they get if they can. I’d like to start making a difference here, however small it may be, so here is what I did today.

“Hesheit” was wandering around in our front yard. I shouted “Dolla” and beckoned him over. I asked him “Do you want to earn a dollar?” He looked confused. I pointed to my car. “If you help me, I will give you a dollar.” He motioned towards a man standing by our wall. “Is that your Dad?” I asked. He couldn’t understand me. I walked over to the man and asked him if he spoke English. He shook his head. I said, “Your son has asked me for a dollar. I would like to give him a dollar for helping me. Is that ok?” He shrugged his shoulders, he didn’t understand what I was saying. I walked back over to the boy, opened up the trunk to reveal a ton of sand from our trp to the beach today. I plugged in the vacuum and showed him how to turn it on. He looked surprised, like he had never seen one before. I showed him how to vacuum, and then handed it over to him and said “Dolla”. He understood and started cleaning. His work lasted about 30 seconds and he turned the vacuum off and handed it back to me. I shook my head and pointed to all of the sand still in the trunk, I cleaned a little up and handed it back to him to show him to keep working. He did another 30 seconds, and then decided he was done and held his hand out for the dollar. I shook my head again. I was trying to teach a lesson, not give out free money. All the while his Dad was watching from the end of the driveway. I showed him again how to clean the sand in the trunk and he got back to work. When he had been working for about 15 minutes, I realised I was going to burn my dinner and he’d probably learned a little about work. I gave him the thumbs up sign and handed him the four quarters that has come out in the laundry that day. His face lit up and he ran over to his Dad to show him.

Now that just took a small bit of time out of my day, but I’m hoping I made a small difference. I am sure that now I will be the palagi that gives out money, and if all the neighborhood kids come running, I will be in trouble, but at least they know not to chase my car down and shout “Dolla, dolla” at me. Now they know that if they want a dollar, I will be giving them a job first. It was neat to be able to explain why I did this to my kids. Some of my kids were mad that I had done that, because they would have loved to have been able to earn a dollar, but I think they got it, and they are beginning to see how blessed we really are.

I heard from a friend today about a family from Tonga whose husband is out of work. She suggested that the wife might be willing to work for me 1/2 a day a week to help me with my cleaning. YES PLEASE! Win-win situation! I can’t even begin to describe to you how gross the floors are here, and how hard it is to work and clean in this heat that we are not yet used to, so to help me out and to help out this family, I would love to see if this can work. I will continue to try to open my eyes to those around us that we can help. Not in huge life changing ways, but in small and simple ways that help me feel grateful for a loving Father in Heaven who put us down here on earth to learn from and serve our brothers and sisters.



  1. Many Samoans know English but may not like to speak it. I love your work first then the dolla approach. Just remember your dollar is assumed by them to be endless and in their eyes you are extremely wealthy and able to to give much and freely. Give for awhile and it will become expected. Just be sure you insist on getting your dollar value of work first and don’t give it away to soon. You could always give can foods away instead of money for bigger jobs done.

  2. Awesome! That would be so hard. I think you’ve found a perfect balance. And I’m sure you’ll be teaching him a lesson that will affect his whole life.

  3. That is great! No preaching, just a simple lesson, maybe it’ll stick 🙂

    My brother Josh served his mission in Samoa – he’s quite interested in your whole story!

  4. You are awesome, Helen! I think many times of how spoiled we are here.

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