In 2018, a cyclone hammered the Kingdom of Tonga; it was the worst weather event to hit Tonga in recent memory. The damage wrought by Cyclone Gita was incredible. Friends of Tonga was approached by the village of Ta’anga to see if we could rebuild their kindergarten that was destroyed by the cyclone; it was the only kindergarten on that side of the island.
The local kindergarten teacher, Finau Tahi, had worked for many years to start her own kindergarten and had finally got it running in 2017 only to have it destroyed a year later. From Cyclone Gita till this project was completed, the students were learning out of a UNICEF tent.
As we fundraised for this project, we were consistently blown away from the generosity of our wider community in supporting this project on an island nation few had heard of. From members hosting bake sales, local restaurants hosting fundraising events, to photography companies donating their commissions from select photo shoots, to individuals generously donating during this challenging time-we thank you. In a world where there is no shortage of worthy organizations to donate to, we want you to know how grateful we are for your support to Friends of Tonga.
For this project we partnered with Schools for the Children of the World (SCW), who plans, designs and constructs schools in mostly rural communities in developing countries. SCW has completed over 100 school projects in Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, and Tanzania, and now Tonga!
As we all know, unique challenges demand creative solutions. This was especially true in 2020; the Tongan government closed its borders indefinitely, due to Covid-19. Construction was carried out by the Tongan contracting company CTR Group Ltd, the local community provided sweat equity in the form of labor, SCW engineers in Honduras and Chicago guided the building, and everyone on the ground sent photos and videos from the job site, which the SCW team poured over to ensure fidelity to the blueprint. On many occasions, SCW and Friends of Tonga met with the contractor, over video calls, to see the progress being made and answer questions. SCWs model is one that significantly minimizes the chance of corruption by creating partnerships with local hardware stores and directly purchasing the materials needed which are then delivered to the community, who are in charge of keeping these materials safe. Early childhood specific furniture was purchased from class.net.nz in New Zealand and the Ministry of Education waived the customs fees for this furniture. Moreover, Friends of Tonga’s Program manager, in Tonga, Tu’amelie Mahe was instrumental in moving the project along and ensuring accountability and responsiveness. We believe that this model is sustainable, equitable, and successful.
With many hands and creative solutions, we are pleased to say that we have officially completed the construction of the Ta’anga kindergarten and instruction and learning is already underway! This structure is cyclone and earthquake resistant, equipped with its own bathroom and septic tank, and is furnished with furniture specifically made for early-childhood education.