On Bended Knees

“I was standing in front of a whole bunch of people, and I didn’t understand because I was very young. I didn’t see myself but somehow I felt like I was on top of a mountain, and the only impression that I had, in English words — not Samoan language — was ‘people’, just ‘people’,” Letisia Schewenke explained as she recounted a dream she had just after her grandparents sent her to New Zealand for better educational opportunities. At that time she was unaware that her dream was perhaps a glimpse into her future. Letisia eventually went on to create CultureX — a fitness program, which incorporates a medley of dance moves from a wide variety of cultures, ranging from traditional Pacific Island dances to latin and hip-hop. CultureX originated in the islands of Samoa, and has since expanded to include branches in Australia and New Zealand.

Like any other person who has leapt over hurdles to achieve success, Letisia’s journey was no different. Raised by her grandparents as their own child, she saw them as her father and mother. “I never knew my parents,” she said. While in New Zealand, Letisia was preparing herself to enter university, when her grandfather died. “My momma wanted me back, so to me I sacrificed what I dreamed of doing. I was more than willing to sacrifice everything.” In December of 1992, she returned to Samoa to take care of her grandmother, who was about seventy at the time. Returning home was not easy. “It was only her and myself. I wanted to find a good job and I wanted to take care of her but I didn’t want to leave her at home by herself. At meal time, we were more than grateful to have anything that you call meat. We were grateful with having taro, bread and tea. Just bread and tea and that was it.”

For any Samoan, the moment a parent pronounces a blessing on a child, it is equivalent to a miner discovering gold in a coal mine. For Letisia, it was something she wanted more than anything. “I wanted my momma to bless me. The only blessing that I wanted was for the words to come out of her mouth. I wanted to hear [her blessing] because that is always a sweet essence. Money cannot buy that blessing. Gold and silver in this world cannot buy that blessing, so I promised myself that I was going to do something. I was going to make my momma proud.” One Sunday afternoon, Letisia’s opportunity to leave home to make something of herself arrived unexpectedly. “On Sunday [my grandmother] told me to go to church so I went. She wanted to stay home, I didn’t really understand. I came home and I remember we had [lunch] with her sister. When everybody left the house, she came and she grabbed me, and she sat me down. That is when I looked at her and I thought, ‘Something’s not right with her.’ She sat opposite me, and was holding my hands. She said, ‘I want you to listen very carefully. I want you to go to Upolu (one of the two main islands of Samoa), find a job and then you come and see me every weekend.’ I remember I grabbed her hands and I screamed, ‘Why do you do this? Why do you want to send me away?’” Despite Letisia’s objections to being sent away, her grandmother’s mind was made up. “She believed that I had a future in Upolu. [My grandmother’s] last words [to me] were the only words that sustained me right through my whole life right up until now. She said ‘When you go through difficulties in life, whatever that you go through, you are going to face a lot of problems, and I won’t be around. Everything you go through in life, when you go through trials and tribulations the only answer to that is your knees.”

Not long after her transition to Upolu, Letisia met her future husband. However, being away from her grandmother was hard, and with most of her family overseas, the only way to numb the pain of loneliness was to drink and smoke. “I was still young, still vulnerable. I was drinking at the time, heavily. I was smoking three packs a day. I think those things alleviated my loneliness and my pain because I miss my family.” Each weekend, without fail, Letisia took the ferry to Savai’i to visit her grandmother. “I’d give her all my pay. I know with the money I had been drinking, those are my tips, I would live on my tips and give her my pay.  And I did that for almost a year and a half.”

In 1994, tragedy struck again when Letisia’s mother passed away. Her mother’s passing was the stressor that triggered her repeated attempts to commit suicide. “I wanted to commit suicide because I thought to myself, ‘What’s the point of living, when there is no one to give back to? My life is useless and hopeless. I drank more I smoked more. I just wanted to be out there getting in trouble. [I thought] ‘Somebody kill me I didn’t care.’ At the same time I was still in my relationship with my husband and nothing was going right. I didn’t have anything to live for. I didn’t know if this relationship is going to go on forever, I don’t know what I’m meant to do.”

Shortly after her mother’s passing, Letisia became pregnant. “I was six months pregnant with a baby girl and I was going through a lot of stress.” Unfortunately, she lost her baby. “For me there was no hope for happiness. I lost my baby back in ‘94. But it took a toll in my life so bad. then I got pregnant again in ’96. Another baby girl, six months again and I lost her. I had problems, I was having a lot of problems with my husband then.” In 1998, when she was three months pregnant with her first son, she found herself in conversation with a Christian friend. “[She] shared with me about the Lord and I just sat there and I listened.” As her friend spoke, Letisia was reminded of her parents and her upbringing. “My mind took me back to when I was young, how I was brought up and molded in a Christian family.” Letisia discovered, after a visit to the obstetrician that she had placenta previa (where the placenta is too close to the cervix and can detach causing the baby to die). “I cried. I was crying hysterically I couldn’t stop, I ended up on my knees and I said, ‘Please Heavenly Father, give me a way to know that you are real. Help me with my son, I went through it twice. If anything happens to this baby, this is it, I’m gonna kill myself. I know I’m a good person, I just don’t want to live like this. I’m tired of living like this please save my baby, save me. Because I know what I’m going to do if I lose this baby. I know what I’m going to do.’”

Letisia gave up smoking and drinking, after successfully reaching her seventh month of pregnancy. From then on she felt propelled to work harder on her health. On February 8th, 1998, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. “[I remember] praying, ‘Thank you Lord, wherever you are, whoever you are. If you are real or not, I thank you.’” When her son was born, she gave her boyfriend then of six years, an ultimatum. “I said to him ‘You want to marry me? You marry me now, otherwise walk out of these doors and don’t come back because I don’t want to marry you if you don’t.’” In July of 2000, Letisia was blessed again with the birth of another baby, a beautiful girl. “I started to walk with the Lord. I started to go to church, I started taking my tithing.”

After becoming a wife and a mother, Letisia had another goal in sight — to live a healthier lifestyle. “I had gained so much weight after I stopped smoking and drinking. I thought to myseslf, ‘I’m going to do something back to playing sports, I’m not just a mother, I’m not just a wife, there is me, Leti, my personality, who I am.’” The steps taken towards her weight loss journey were slow. “I started walking home from work. Then I stopped eating mutton flaps, I stopped eating butter, white bread, fizzy drinks of all kinds, ice cream and chocolate. My journey started from then on, the day that I started eliminating food, that was my journey and I didn’t realize it was healthy living.” She dropped from a size 22 to a size 14. “When I got down to that size 14 I wanted to join a gym. After consistently attending a weight class at the gym, she was asked by the owner to teach one of the classes.

However, in 2007, Letisia had another miscarriage and she decided to quit her healthy lifestyle. “After I had my miscarriage, I started gaining a lot of weight again. I was confused.” In 2009, she was blessed with the birth of another baby boy. “Straight after that I went back to the gym and started teaching barbell, I was very heavy for a teacher, people started walking out of the class criticizing saying, ‘Hey, the instructor’s all puffed up.’ I thought, ‘Well, give me a break, I just had a baby.’ I didn’t care, you know for me, I’m not here to please anybody if you want to do the class do it, if not, get out of the class and go somewhere else.” Shortly after, Zumba was introduced at the gym, and an instructor from overseas was invited to teach the class. When she left, it was left up to Letisia to take over. “I went home and it was a massive struggle. I went home and I said, I have no idea what Zumba is and I don’t know what to do. I cried, I literally cried and I said, ‘Father, God, help me.’” After several Zumba classes, and when the attendance began to decline, Letisia felt it was time for her to announce to the attendees that Zumba classes were going to be cancelled. However, on the day she was going to end the classes, there were more than the usual fifteen in attendance. Leti decided to teach what she was comfortable with. “I thought to myself, I’m not moving quite good with the Zumba music but I can move quite good with all kinds of music [like], polynesian and hip-hop.” She began to put songs together and slowly the moves started to come together. Over time, CultureX was born, and the attendance began to double, then triple. “CultureX stands for different culture. Not just culture like you have your own, like we are Samoan or Fijian or Tongans or Filipinos. Yes, it attracted different cultures of people, different walks of life, different generations and everything but a new generation, a new era of people that led them to believe in what they are doing and where they came from. CultureX drew a younger generation, an older generation. It drew not just Samoans, Palagis (Caucasians) you know beautiful people not just the female gender it also drew the gentlemen. It is during my walk with CultureX that I believe that He continues to mold me into having a serving heart. I think the birth of CultureX has everything to do with the Lord Himself and the heart. The heart is very vital, and the Lord is the heart beat of CultureX.” Originally beginning with an attendance of five women, CultureX has expanded to average around eighty people per class, four different venues, classes twice a day, and six days a week. Letisia has reached out to the community to help promote health awareness, and CultureX has also begun classes in Australia and New Zealand.

Letisia’s theme for CultureX is, “Come as you are”, a theme that delineates her commitment to reaching out to anyone and everyone. She understands that each person traverses a different path in this life, yet all have the potential to rise above their challenges to make a difference in someone else’s life. “If I’m able to make you smile, or make you work harder, my desire is that the Lord, and believing that the Lord will always meet you half way through. He did it for me, and He’s still doing it for me,” she said with a smile. Because one woman found her path, endured her trials, and came to believe in her self-worth, many others have begun to make positive lifestyle changes. Letisia has helped many people with their weight loss journeys and has inspired and motivated both men and women from all walks of life to believe that with God, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

{Watch below a short compilation of highlights from Letisia’s interview. Feel free to share her story using the share buttons below. Subscribe to the blog by entering your email (Instructions in the post How to follow this blog in the home page) to be notified whenever a new post is live, or follow the blog via Facebook page (Sounds of Silent Stories), or Instagram page (soundsofsilentstories). Check out my Youtube channel as well.)}

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24 thoughts on “On Bended Knees

  1. Thank you for sharing this awesome story… trials, if we endure them well, are given to help make us stronger people.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. So true, our challenges will make us stronger, if we only but endure them with faith and hope.

  2. Leti, you surely are a motivator to many people, even me and I can truly testify of that. You are a great believer and a doer. This will help many others who are also struggling with decisions in life. I believe no one was born to fail unless she or he fails himself/herself. Congratulations to your selfless service and faith to motivate the world of people including myself, to a healthy lifestyle!

  3. Letty you have always been an amazing person and an amazing instructor, I remember the days at health attack when all these started it is wow heads off to you to start culterex and keep it alive……as much as I love to do your classes but u fortunately one has to work for living lol!!! Timing wise….good luck toy and your lovely family…

  4. God has been good and always is.. Letty, your story is one that is particularly close to my heart. You’ve never realised the imprint that you left on others along your journey… In that short time of knowing you, growing into a young beautiful lady… I sensed that you were destined for a hard but rewarding life ahead…. only you can say if that was a true sence of feeling or not… life is still in progress thank the Lord.. However, ‘Thankyou’ for sharing your beautiful encouraging and motivating story if… ‘true faith and beliefs’ … ‘heartaches, pain and sorrow’…. God Bless to you and your family… and to Culturex ♥

  5. A beautiful write up of this tory. Reading this rejuvenates my heart. Just to know that there are others out there who are also traveling on challenging journeys, comforts me, but what is more remarkable is to know and hear of how they made it through. This woman, whoever you are, thank you for the courage to come out and share your story. It isn’t easy but it is extremely courageous and that’s what makes your heart even more beautiful. It is your desire to reach out to anyone even if it means sharing something as challenging as what you went through. I think every part of this world could use your program (CultureX), especially because the woman behind it accomplished something through sweat, blood and tears. You are indeed a heroine and please let me know when your program is open in mainland, USA. These are the stories that need to be televised, real women with real stories, not the fake junk we have to see every week. Thank you for your blog.

    Respectfully,
    An avid reader

    • Thank you for your beautiful thoughts on the blog. Leti has definitely made a great impact with CultureX and I think one of my favorite things that she said was, “The Lord is the heartbeat of CultureX.” I think that is enough to know why CultureX is so successful. I am humbled and grateful to know these stories have touched your heart. God bless!

  6. Please let me know if this is available in America. I was in tears watching her video. I don’t know what the story is behind zumba or any other exercise program but just hearing this woman’s story makes me want to be a part of the CultureX. Also is this going to be a book? You need to put these great stories in a book.

    • I think CultureX is now available in Hawaii and I’m sure it will make its way to mainland, USA. It is my hope to someday share these stories in a book, fingers crossed!

  7. It takes courage to share this story. Stumbling upon this story and this blog was a tender mercy for me this morning. CultureX needs to open everywhere. This woman (Letisia Schwenke) needs to be on Oprah, or better yet, this blogger (R.T.T.) needs to host a talk show and put this woman and others you have featured here on your show. Also if you could please put a little more information on your profile so we know who is writing these stories, that would be fantastic.

    • Oh you are very sweet, and yes maybe that will happen in dream world hehe! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the blog!

  8. This woman is Samoan and I believe the writer is Samoan. Indeed I am a proud Samoan. What a great read. Now I need to give my fish n’ chips that I just bought to the dog sitting here at my table staring at my food with hungry eyes and go to CultureX today. I knew I shouldn’t have gone on Facebook today. Other than that great story Leti. It takes a lot of courage to tell the world what you went through. It is true, when we walk with God, he will truly carry us through our trials. Thanks for making me cry, not to mention my fish n’ chips that I have to give away to the dog now. I enjoyed reading all your stories on here.

    • I am sure that dog was very grateful for your fish n’ chips haha! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the blog.

  9. When you realize this is what this woman went through to start something like CultureX, it deserves respect because it was achieved over time through hard core sweat and painful tears. It was not a dream achieved overnight. It was an achievement earned through experience and it was not an easy experience. I wish you much success in your fitness program Leti. God will continue to carry you through. I pray someday CultureX will make its way to South America. God bless you.

    • That is so true. CultureX was indeed a journey, and it was on achieved through one woman’s decision to walk with God. Yes and hopefully CultureX will make its way to South America, wouldn’t that be great?

  10. I had to look up where Samoa is. Wow this is an amazing story. CultureX needs to make its way to other countries. Beautiful soul and beautiful story. You have inspired me today. Thank you for sharing. God is merciful to all who call upon him.

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