Student Abe King Joins with Library Co-Workers in Aftermath of Tsunami

Community Profile

“Our library was not damaged, but we lost our electricity and we cannot open without it,” King said. “To keep us busy and help in the aftermath, when the villages were declared safe, our ‘Team Tusitala’ — which means ‘storyteller’ in Samoan — went out to the shelters and the villages, gathered children, read stories, and did simple arts and crafts.”

The Feleti Barstow Public Library, which has a staff of 13, is the only public library serving a population of about 65,000 on American Samoa’s seven islands. The library hopes to collect the pictures drawn by the children and put them up on display when the library reopens.

“Hopefully this can help the healing process,” King said. But just when the library will reopen isn’t known yet — as of Oct. 17, power had yet to be restored.

King, who expects to graduate in 2011 with a focus on public librarianship, has worked at the library for nine years and currently holds the position of Public Services Coordinator. He majored in political science at California State University Fullerton and completed his undergraduate degree in public administration from the University of Phoenix. King taught high school for four years before transitioning to librarianship.

King had just finished emailing a draft for a group presentation for INFO 204 when the 8.3 earthquake hit at 6:30 a.m. on Sept 29, 2009. King and his wife grabbed their newly adopted baby Caroline and rushed up the hillside. Less than five minutes later, King saw that “all the water had been sucked out of the harbor. Immediately it rushed back in and over the land.” At least 32 people were killed in American Samoa and another 150 in nearby Samoa and Tonga.

King has since returned home with his family and has electricity and Internet service, and he’s trying to catch up on his school work. He’s also trying to organize a relief effort for Poloa, his mother’s village which is located on the western tip of Tutuila. Waves as high as 30 feet slammed into the village, obliterating all of the homes on the shoreline, the elementary school and the newly built Early Childhood Education Center. At least 50 students of Taputapu Elementary School “lost everything — their homes, their clothes, their school books and supplies,” he said.

King’s classmates in INFO 200 with instructor Cherie Givens offered to send supplies, and he’s hoping to involve other iSchool students who want to help. “I thought it would be neat if we as a class or even as SLIS students could put together 50 children’s backpacks filled with school supplies for those 50 students in Poloa who lost everything,” King said. The students also need shoes “to protect their feet from all the debris left from the tsunami. Nothing fancy, maybe slippers, sandals…something, anything.”

Anyone interested in helping the school children of Poloa can email King.