In 2009, Oshima Laumatia shopped around the idea of starting a loan business to a couple of her close friends but most were hesitant on investing in something that seemed doubtful. A close friend, Lani Iulio reached out that a co-worker had asked to borrow money. The idea was once again ignited, and both agreed to split the loan 50/50 and thatʻs where it all began.
Soon, word of mouth spread around the islands, and Lima Fesoasoani (Helping Hands) was born. Oshima became one of the few, and currently one of the most successful fa’afafine business owner in American Samoa.
Oshima, more commonly known as Shima, was born in Hawaiʻi in 1975. When she was five years old her parents relocated back to Samoa. Her mom is from Apia, Samoa, and in the early years of Shima’s childhood, life was back and forth between Independent Samoa and American Samoa before eventually settling in Leone, American Samoa.
Her dad was a carpenter and began a small construction business while her mom handled all the office work. Work sometimes didn’t come as often, and they struggled. Shima’s mom worked odd jobs in between to make ends meet to put her and her younger sibling, Shawn in private school.
In the fourth grade, Shima realized she was a fa’afafine. “Kids began calling me names because I gravitated more to hanging out with girls,” she recalled. “I didn’t realize what a fa’afafine was at the time, but I knew I was different.” In high school, Shima attended Marist Brothers, an all-boys private school, and although the bullying subsided, it continued.
By chance, there were three other fa’afafine students who all found support in each other which helped Shima find her own identity. “It’s part of life and growing up,” she said. “I’m fortunate to have loving parents who accepted me as long as I kept my head in school, but also made sure I didn’t get out of hand, too far. They never made me feel unwanted or different for being who I am.”
At one point, Shima felt pressure from the people outside of her family that being a fa’afafine was never enough and unacceptable. “Having kids or being married was something I knew I did not want.” she said. “In some ways, I felt I was disappointing them in that way because I won’t be able to fulfill that for them. But that also motivated me more to become someone to make them proud.”
She enrolled at the local American Samoa Community College and received a scholarship to attend the University of Hawaiʻi, Hilo where she graduated with her bachelor’s in political science in 1998.
In 2000, she moved home and was hired as one of the original workers during the launch of the now successful, Bluesky Communications, and later, she was a Collections Manager for the government-owned communications authority, ASTCA. Both occupations did not relate to her college degree, but she took whatever job she could to help support her family.
During her time with the phone companies, Shima saw how many of the customers struggled financially. Most working-class families in Samoa live paycheck to paycheck and are tied to family fa’alavelave (cultural donation/gifting).
Through this, the idea to start a loan service business came about. Shima also knew that pitching the idea around would be difficult because there were many similar local businesses, in the past, that failed. Despite this, she was determined to move ahead on her own when her friend Lani stepped in, and everything started to come to fruition.
Lani and Shima attended the University of Hawaiʻi together and both returned after earning their degrees to care for their parents. Together they became the power duo behind Lima Fesoasoani. The Business initially operated out of their homes. Shima would take the calls herself and deliver the money on the way home from work. Soon, word got around, and it reached the point where she began to receive a constant flow of calls from folks asking for loans.
With the rapid growth, they both knew it was time to open a place of operation. Securing a loan, however, was impossible. Shima eventually borrowed money from her dad’s construction company to help launch their business. In less than a year they opened their first office space with one chair, a desk, a filing cabinet, a phone line, and hired a single customer service representative.
Within 5 years, Lima Fesoasoani grew to open two more locations around the island and both Shima and Lani left their jobs to fully commit to the business. Though successful, it also came with its challenges. Loan services are notorious for customers who are unable to pay back their debts. How do you deal with those situations, I asked Shima. “It’s very costly to take it to the courts,” she said. “So, we have no other choice than to print the names on the local paper. It always works out for us but there are very few of them, you know. Which is fine as well because it helps us weed out the bad apples. Some who owed us years back eventually do come back but we say, thank you for opening our eyes but we are sorry, you don’t qualify anymore because you already burned that bridge.”
With her success, Shima was able to accomplish her dream of buying her parents a home and gifting them both cars as well. How did that make you feel? I asked. “Just being able to provide for what we never had is fulfilling,” she said. “When I graduated college, there was never any other option for me. What I wanted in life didn’t matter because my plan was always to return home and take care of my mom and dad. My parents are very Samoan they are not really the kind to show affection. It’s all tough love. I know they really do love me and are proud of me because I’ll hear it from my relatives, but they will never say it. But I am glad they are that way because I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
Fascinated by how educated and successful she is, I often wonder what a woman like Shima has not accomplished yet. Curiously, I asked, “Are you in a romantic relationship? “Not at the moment”, she said. “Not that I’m not looking but relationships are difficult for women like us, especially in today’s technological world. I’ve had my share in the past. Perhaps when the right one comes along, I’ll be ready.”
What advice would you give to young fa’afafine hoping to succeed in the business world?
“If you have a dream, go for it. If it doesn’t hurt anyone. Just go for it. It doesn’t matter who you are but if you believe in yourself, you’ll achieve anything you wish for in life and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Just do it!”