Vaiala Beach School Rises

Through Cyclones Ofa and Val and near constant expansion, Lorraine Williams has nurtured Vaiala Beach School- which has time and again risen from the ashes and debris of disaster- from one tutored pupil in 1984 to the 260-strong students who populate the school in 2018.



New Zealand-Born Samoan, Lorraine Williams, who has ties to Le’auva’a and Savaia in Lefaga, initially went to Samoa for a year in the 1980s to figure out her next move in life.


Born to Samoan parents in Aotearoa, Lorraine is part of the third generation of Samoans whose grandparents had migrated from the islands.


“My grandmother migrated to Auckland from Rarotonga, with her six children because my grandfather had been killed in the cyclone.


My mother Eileen was the eldest of the six. They settled in Grey Lynn and went to Richmond Rd Primary School, where years later, my siblings as well as my siblings’ children and I went ... Grey Lynn-Ponsonby was our hub.”


Lorraine’s enjoyment at school made her decide to become a teacher and worked at Freemans Bay and Richmond Rd Primary Schools. She then decided to go to Samoa ... initially intending to stay for a year.


“I didn’t have a job, so when I arrived in Samoa, I managed to get one teaching at the Church College of Western Samoa, then later at Avele College.”


Lorraine flatted with Repeka Lelaulu and Marcella Greene and was sure she would leave Samoa before her flatmates. But both Repeka and Marcella left while Lorraine remained.


A family approached her to tutor their son. It was to become the start of Vaiala Beach School.


“I began at Vaiala Beach, in the flats owned by Aggie Greys,” Lorraine recalls.


“I have a very strong affection towards the school ... it’s a part of me and I’ve seen it progress from strength to strength and I want to see it continue.”


“We lived in one flat, then eventually rented the other two flats for the school. It was an ideal location with Vaiala Beach as our playground.”


But in 1990 Cyclone Ofa struck Samoa, by which stage she had 80 pupils and had employed another teacher. The school was completely destroyed.


“It was a pretty tough time, I must admit I had second thoughts about whether to relocate and start again,” Lorraine recalls.”


She managed to secure new premises at Apia Park, only to be struck by Cyclone Val the following year. It was the worst tropical cyclone to hit Samoa since the 1889 Apia. Cyclone Val left an estimated $200 million worth of destruction to electrical, water and telephone connections and many government buildings, schools and houses.


Her students were at the forefront of her mind in deciding to continue.



“We had children that didn’t fit in at other schools, or didn’t want to go for various reasons. We had a real diverse range of children and also a vast range of abilities,” she recalls.


“The good part about it is that the School was was mine, so the decision making was quick”


She pushed on and restored the school. Soon enough, she needed to expand once again.


Lorraine found a site Apia Park, which was a dream for someone who revelled in the unconventional.


“I enjoyed Apia Park immensely, we had nice big grounds with lovely big mango trees outside, we also had a core middle room with lots of little rooms coming off it,” she recalls with fondness.


“It wasn’t your normal type of school setting and I liked that.”


But certain facilities were lacking and they needed room and better amenities.


“If I wanted to carry on, I would have to go down the path of building a conventional school.”


Despite the boys’ club nature of business in Samoa at the time, where Lorraine felt women were treated inferior to men, Lorraine was able to secure a loan from the Development Bank to build Vaiala Beach School in Vailima. In 1994 they moved in and she hasn’t looked back since. The school now boasts 22 nationalities among the 260 students who attend from preschool up to year 8.


After almost four decades running the school, Lorraine describes it as “a fabulous journey.”


There’s no masking the pride the 66-year-old owner/principal, who is also a mother and grandmother, has for her school.


“I’m proud of all my students, many of whom have gone on to do really great things,” she says.


“I want to see the continuity and growth for our future generations.”