Australian Foreign Affairs case study on our Tongan Adventure


Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID)

 

Kotoni and I happy in Tonga

Kotoni and I happy in Tonga

Here is the link : http://aid.dfat.gov.au/countries/pacific/tonga/Pages/volunteers.aspx

Case study
Gordon and Sonia Muir

Left to right: Sonia Muir, with college colleagues Kina and Sister Kieoma and Gordon Muir on graduation day 2013. Source: Sonia and Gordon Muir.
In 2013, Gordon and Sonia Muir rented out their house, sold their car, and took leave from their jobs – all to help train Tongans and improve health outcomes.
For a year the couple from Orange in central west New South Wales, were volunteer teachers at the TAFE-style college, ‘Ahopanilolo Technical Institute, in Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa. Gordon was a cookery teacher/mentor, while Sonia taught communication classes and assisted with a range of administration tasks.
The College has about 120 students aged from 17 into their 30s, and 18 staff.
Graduating from an accredited course significantly improves the students’ employment opportunities. Gordon said that of the 52 students that graduated last year, 47 are now employed in what is a high youth unemployment country.
Gordon also used his expertise to initiate evening cookery classes and encourage a healthier diet. This is vitally important in a country like Tonga, currently facing serious health challenges. Non-communicable diseases including heart conditions, diabetes and obesity have been occurring there in epidemic proportions over the last 20 years. This has not only cut life expectancy, it also puts a significant burden on the country’s health system.
Gordon also helped students run the Pot Luck Training Restaurant where he helped to refine and implement hospitality efficiencies.
Both Gordon and Sonia encourage anyone who wants an amazing chapter in their lives to join the program and help build the capacity of people in developing countries.
Sonia said, it was a year of living more simply and described the unique experience of being immersed in another culture as a privilege. She plans to return to Tonga in December for the college’s graduation.

 

Case study
Fiona Webster, Fisheries Statistics Officer, Department of Fisheries, Kingdom of Tonga

In a bid for better management of local fishing stocks, Australian volunteer Fiona Webster has been placed on assignment with the Department of Fisheries, Tonga. Part of her role is to analyse data collected by fishing communities to build sustainable fishing practices.
Fishing communities in Tonga are returning to traditional methods of management, whereby local villages have exclusive fishing rights to the nearby reefs and are responsible for the management of the area. The Tongan Government is formally re-introducing these locally managed areas in response to declining fish resources, concerns about food security, and environmental and economic stability.
For five years, local fishing communities have gathered fish catch data. Until now, the staff at the Department of Fisheries lacked the skills and staff to analyse this data. Fiona’s assignment is focussing on data analysis, and training staff in data management, analysis and interpretation.
Fiona has been able to determine that community managed areas are currently still overfished. This has resulted in the Department of Fisheries seeking funding from international donors to reduce fishing pressure within the reef areas, by developing alternative livelihoods such offshore fishing and intensive agriculture.
Fiona is also working with fishing villages sharing information from the data analysis and raising awareness of environmental sustainability. This has resulted in local communities having a greater understanding of the impact of their fishing activities and also encouraged them to continue collecting data.
‘It has been an incredible experience, especially visiting and working with the remote fishing communities. The people in these villages live in the same way as they did a hundred years ago. I feel that through my assignment I have helped communities to manage their fishing practices more sustainably,’ Fiona said.
There are now six islands in Tonga with community-managed fisheries, legislated under the Fisheries Management Act 2002.
As part of the data collection initiative, Fiona developed key questions to better understand fishing practices: including, the species of fish being caught; whether catches are increasing, decreasing or remaining stable; and if fishing is occurring at a sustainable rate.
Fiona is now eight months into her twelve-month AVID assignment, and she can happily report solid and positive progress. She has finished analysing all of the data and written a report summarising the information, along with some management recommendations for the future, and is in the process of presenting the information to the local fishing communities.
‘I am sure my friends and family think I am in a dugout canoe somewhere, saving turtles, but no; I am typically in the office all day every day with an excel spread sheet,’ Fiona said.

 

Case study
Sarah Smith, Pharmacist Educator with the Ministry of Health

Sarah working with Assistant Pharmacists on stock management at the Tongan Central Pharmacy and Medical store. Photo: Austraining International

Australian Sarah Smith has been volunteering her skills in the pharmacy section of Tonga’s Ministry of Health, focussing on improving quality use of medicines and their management across Tonga.
The pharmacy section controls all the drugs and medical supplies used in the public sector in Tonga. This is a huge responsibility, especially as it involves trying to ensure availability and optimal management of medicines at 18 health facilities scattered across 52 islands.
Ensuring that there is adequate access to medical supplies is fundamental to achieving better health outcomes especially in the prevention of preventable disease.
As part of her assignment, Sarah had the opportunity to travel to the outer islands of Tonga to conduct a Medicines Use Survey and a review of Tonga’s Standard Treatment Guidelines. These surveys will be used to assess and then promote the appropriate use of medicines in Tonga.
As a pharmacist, Sarah rarely gets to see the medicines she dispenses in use. In Tonga she was offered the opportunity to observe a caesarean section and see the results of her hard work ensuring there are adequate medical supplies even on Tonga’s more remote islands.
Sarah says, ‘It was an amazing experience; even more so knowing that the hard work of the pharmacy section to ensure medicines and medical supplies are available makes this sort of surgery possible.’

Tsunami rock


imageAncient Tsunami Carried Giant Boulders to Tonga
news.nationalgeographic.com.au

This huge coral boulder is on Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu over in the west coast. Scientists reckon it was possibly tossed hundreds of feet inland by one of the largest tsunamis ever triggered by a volcano. Glad we are back home after seeing this!!!

A nice media wrap up on the Aussie home front


Our wonderful Central Western Daily did a two page spread on our return to Orange!!!

Our wonderful Central Western Daily did a two page spread on our return to Orange!!!

And the ABC radio did our final Tonga Time interview. We did these monthly while in Tonga (well tried to anyway)

Thanks Kia and Ange for your support… Here is the radio program link for those who wish to listen

… also a few shots from Tevita as a little memory side trip of our amazingly moving and often terribly funny ‘Ahopanilolo teachers farewell party on our last night in Tonga… Just because it was so special…

Lani hugs

Lani hugs

More Lani hugs

More Lani hugs

Another very funny moment

Another very funny moment

Atu

Atu

Sulia hug

Sulia hug

Such beautiful gifts

Such beautiful gifts

Saimone sweet Carolining...

Saimone sweet Carolining…

Pick the nun or chef

Pick the nun or chef

Harry the artist...

Harri the artist…

Harri, Kotoni, Lani and Cecile

Harri, Kotoni, Lani and Cecile

Gordon, Lani and Cecile

Gordon, Lani and Cecile

The royal farewell from Tonga… in pictures


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Maletina and Lani… We miss you already

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Bye bye Malakai

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Who to hug first???!!!

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Moni hug

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The ‘Ahopanilolo farewell crew

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Kotoni and Moni

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Having a last laugh with the wonderful Sister Kieoma

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Lani, Kotoni and Maletina

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Bye bye Tonga see you when I come back in December!!!

Bye bye Tonga see you when I come back in December!!!

A big goodbye at airport and a funny greeting at Orange


All the ‘Ahopanilolo staff came to the airport to say farewell (along with Kotoni’s ‘girlfriends’ from the convent).

Nuku'alofa airport farewell party

Nuku’alofa airport farewell party

A lovely trip home via a night in Sydney where our thoughtful friend Mary met us for dinner. She had jumpers waiting with Tim tam choccy biscuits and vegemite as well. We were able to hand over a 20kg bag to her as the little plane to Orange wouldn’t have got off the ground with all our Tongan gifts.

Nice work Melissa!

Nice work Melissa we were very touched!

Back in Orange we were greeted at the front door by a lovely welcome home constructed by Melissa… it was weird to be home but so many friends dropping in to say hello over the weekend made it feel OK…

At work two days later my lovely DPI colleagues had my new desk all set up and had even presented me with flowers and downloaded a Tongan photo screen saver… so very thoughtful and much appreciated….

Thank you Orange you have softened the blow of leaving out beloved island home.

Flowers from Anita, Coffee from Liz who looked after our house

Flowers from Anita and coffee from Liz who looked after our house

Some blog stats: As at today (21 April 2014) we had 25,682 views of the blog over the year and 887 comments. Tracey Taylor my beautiful friend from Hobart gets the prize for the most comments – 160!

365th sleep in Tonga & sadly time to go home


A little belated but better than never!

12 March

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Harri presented us with a tapa drawing of the Pot Luck

Harri presented us with a tapa drawing of the Pot Luck

Malakai in his Tongan style 'kilt' borrowed from Sister Kieoma

Malakai in his Tongan style ‘kilt’ borrowed from Sister Kieoma

We woke this morning knowing we have only one last sleep on our little dot in the middle of the ocean. After running around doing jobs including me having two teeth filled we frocked up for our very special farewell party with the staff at ‘Ahopanilolo.

What a wonderful evening it was.

Sister Kieoma, Kotoni and Sister Anunsia

Sister Kieoma, Kotoni and Sister Anunsia

There was of course lots of yummy food washed down with fresh coconut juice and a “we all stand together blessing” before the action began…

Sulia in her Aussie gear

Sulia in her Aussie gear

the Blessing

the Blessing

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We were treated to a little kava ceremony by a group of students… As the honoured guests it was only we two who partook in this muddy delicacy.

Kava looks and tastes like the Thames in flood

Kava looks and tastes like the Thames in flood

The Pot Luck restaurant was transformed into a series of ‘memory lands’…

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Fafa land

Fafa land

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There was the moped corner under the banana tree outside. Inside we had the Keep Tonga beautiful rubbish campaign along from the Fafa island corner complete with sandy beach and hammock. Across the floor was a ‘Kotoni’ mannequin dressed in his chef’s gear.

Sister Kieoma 'being' Kotoni

Sister Kieoma ‘being’ Kotoni

Everyone wore green, gold, white or blue… Aussie/Scotland colours… jewellery was a must… I think that was definitely about me??!!
The program included lots of heart-felt speeches as well as skits about us!!!

Rabi (aka Atu) and Sister Anunsia (aka Kotoni) acting out a CPR first-aid scene (you had to be there)

Rabi (aka Atu) and Sister Anunsia (aka Kotoni) acting out a CPR first-aid scene (you had to be there)

Kotoni doubling the singing lip-syncing geisha Rabi on the moped Bas, was cleverly acted out by Sister Anunsia and Atu. A very side-splitting rendition which also included a re-enactment of a very funny episode that occurred in the staff room where Rabi cut his/her finger and dramatically fell to the floor demanding CPR from Kotoni. You probably needed to know Rabi to understand the true hilarity of this scenario.

Another funny item was Malakai (being Kotoni) and Moni (frocked and wigged up as moi) taking a trip on the ferry to Fafa where they were met by Heleni (dressed as islander staff).

Malakai and Moni 'being' Kotoni and Sonia on their way to Fafa skit

Malakai and Moni ‘being’ Kotoni and Sonia on their way to Fafa skit

... and so they arrive on Fafa to be greeted by Princess Leni

… and so they arrive on Fafa to be greeted by Princess Leni

Princess Leni on the ukelele

Princess Leni on the ukulele

Malakai had Kotoni down to a tee… the voice, the actions and the quips like “stop that!” … which we often hear Kotoni utter.
Ricky, the Aussie volunteer did a little jig with a ukulele and Maletina and Lani conducted a fantastic mock skype link up using a computer made out of a cardboard box and paper. It was so creative and moving.

Maletina and Lani sky ping from Tonga... it was like they were just n the room with us rather than talking through a cardboard computer...!

Maletina and Lani sky ping from Tonga… it was like they were just n the room with us rather than talking through a cardboard computer…!

Malakai and Lani 'skyping' Tonga-style

Malakai and Lani ‘skyping’ Tonga-style

There were also a couple of dancing items by students and teachers which were fabulous… taking the time to get dressed in traditional costumes just for us was again so special.

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Atu

Atu

Sister Anuncia deconstructed a hat of hanging banners of virtues to describe us which was humbling… Especially as she had lost her voice to laryngitis so delivered it Marcel Marceau style.

Sister Anunsia sharing her thoughts on Sonia and Kotoni

Sister Anunsia sharing her thoughts on Sonia and Kotoni

A Kotoni and Sonia quiz competition run by Maletina was seriously amusing with yes/no questions like “Sonia’s favourite colour is yellow” Kotoni was born in Australia… You get the drift!

Sonia/Kotoni quiz

Sonia/Kotoni quiz

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Three contestants were also asked to “be” Kotoni. Malakai again stole the show.
Kotoni presented the prizes – coffee lollies from a jar… Just like he did every other day in the staff room with his secret stash! We were amazed at just how observant everyone was of our little traits!

Maletina presents Kotoni with a huge carved hook

Maletina presents Kotoni with a huge carved hook

The Director of Catholic Education Soane Vahe was a special guest and in his speech commented that even though he’d known us for the last year he only just discovered that we were not Catholic.

Sulia, Leni, Malakai, Arki, Langi ma'a, Ricky

Sulia, Leni, Malakai, Arki, Langi ma’a, Ricky

Each teacher was involved in an item on the program and there were many tears as the emotions ran along a fragile path to say the least.
Having given away most of our stuff we were quite overwhelmed with the huge generosity of everyone as the beautiful Tongan handicrafts, arts and handmade gifts just kept coming. we were also honoured to have Litiola and her daughter come and join us.

Unwrapping the many wonderful gifts

Unwrapping the many wonderful gifts

The huge array of beautiful gifts... made with love.

The huge array of beautiful gifts… made with love.

I don’t think we got to sleep until well after midnight debriefing on how amazing and unique the evening had been.

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‘Ahopanilolo students give us a ‘royal’ farewell


11 Ma’asi Tuesite

And now… for the afternoon student extravaganza

Building the royal command performance space

Building the royal command performance space

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before…

Lord and Lady Muir

Lord and Lady Muir… well for the afternoon anyway

Being garlanded with kahoas...please note my lady in waiting to my left!

Being garlanded with kahoas…please note my lady in waiting to my left!

Mats, tapas, drum kits, gifts wrapped in colourful paper, costume bits and pieces, leaves and flowers were ferried all morning into the assembly area as the students transformed the assembly rooms into a ‘royal command performance space’ for our very special farewell concert.

choir

The 'island' hatted choir punching out their Kotoni Sonia songchoir

The ‘island’ hatted choir punching out their Kotoni Sonia song

Tau'olunga traditional Tongan dance

Tau’olunga traditional Tongan dance

It was like having your own exclusive Oscars party, being part of a Glee episode or sitting in a Box at the Royal Albert Hall but all with a Tongan twist. I am still not sure which it was but it was so fantastic.

The ‘show’ kicked off at 1.00pm with a rousing hymn and a prayer. I had tears trickling down my cheeks and we hadn’t even had the first welcome speech.

alexio and cecile

Ceclie (with her Lion makeup) with Alexsio (head student)

The student’s farewell program was diverse, hilarious, serious, colourful, creative and moving… all packaged into an afternoon of pure delight.

We were garlanded with perfumed floral kahoas as we were seated on a ‘royal’ ‘stage’ surrounded by tapas and mats brought in by the students. In front of us were drinks and munchies and napkins (thank goodness as I needed them to mop my tears).

boy students dressed as girls for fun item

boy students dressed as girls for fun item

Fashion students doing a group dance in beautiful tapa costumes made that morning

Fashion students doing a group dance in beautiful tapa costumes made that morning

Loni does the hula shake shake shake

Loni does the hula shake shake shake

so many wonderful handmade gifts

so many wonderful handmade gifts

thanks

malo aupito ~ thanks you with an uma (kiss)

malo aupito ~ thanks you with an uma (kiss)

We spent the next two hours being serenaded with songs, listening to original poems specially written for and about us and being entertained. Each class prepared an item as a prelude to presenting us with gifts . Each student then came to personally say goodbye and rub cheeks or give us a peck and a hug. It was so moving and now I have a little insight into the life of a revered royal.

Saimone ‘Diamond’ also sang my favourite song in his repertoire “Sweet Caroline” it was electric.

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Dancers performed the elegant traditional tau’olunga and more upbeat hula. Some of the guys even dressed up as girls for a humorous ‘royal’ audience participation number. Loni did a guest appearance with the fashion students and shook his booty beautifully!

boogieing with the 'girls'

boogieing with the ‘girls’

a hula about to happen

a hula about to happen

Cecile, the French volunteer had her group dressed in their chef’s gear draped in greenery as ‘jungles’ to perform The Lion Sleeps Tonight in French… c’est magnifique!

cecelie jungle 2

It was a unique and emotional afternoon and I lost it a little when Kotoni and I gave our little speeches. Tonga we will never forget this year and ‘Ahonapilolo you are etched on our memories like tattoos on a sailor… there for life.

hugs of thanks and farewell

hugs of thanks and farewell

Kotoni speaking from the heart

Kotoni speaking from the heart

Watch this space for the teacher’s farewell tomorrow night (our last sleep in Tonga as we go home Thursday).

A I am giving away our friend Timm’s last gifted computer today to ‘Ahopanilolo it may be sometime until you get to see what happened… stay tuned I know it is going to be awesome! I can’t wait!

So many beautiful gifts, flowers and words

So many beautiful gifts, flowers and words… we are overwhelmed with gratitude for what Tonga and ‘Ahopanilolo has given us.