08.06.2020 - Sabine was one of the first participants in the VSA Partnering for Good programme. VSA developed this programme in 2019 to recognise that accompanying partners often voluntarily give their time to organisations within the community. The Partnering for Good Programme recognises this valuable contribution by developing a suitable VSA assignment for the accompanying partner. Read about Sabine’s assignment below. Sabine and Rolf are now back in Aotearoa due to COVID-19. 

Rolf and I came to Tonga last July, with Rolf having been appointed for an 18-months assignment as Business Mentor, and I went as the supporting partner. It had been ‘on the cards’ right from the beginning that I might also choose to take on a suitable assignment once we were settled. I am a teacher in both primary and early childhood education, and my last position was as a Play Therapist at Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland. Little did I know how well this job had prepared me for the work I was to do in Tonga! 

About a month into our time here I felt more than ready to find a place where I could be useful, apply my skills and my passion. Our Programme Manager Tina had already contacted several organisations for me to meet with. In Tonga, job interviews for educated Palangi volunteers are very short. They go like this: “We want you, when can you start?”   

I immediately ‘connected’ with the people and the work of an NGO called Ma’a Fafine Moe Famili , an organisation offering an Early Intervention service for 0-5 year olds, where I was to take on the role of Play Therapist / staff training facilitator within a small team. 

After extensive discussions with Tina and the VSA team in Wellington, the idea of a part-time assignment for partners (minimum of three days per week) was considered and pursued and eventually offered to me. It felt like the perfect job – and it was 

From day one, I was involved hands-on, at grass-roots level with the client children and families of our service. The work was done via weekly home visits, with a driver taking a team of two or three in the company van to see the families all over the island. It was such a joy and privilege to be welcomed and accepted into people’s own homes, the majority of them living in low socio-economic areas, some of them quite remote. The diagnosis for many of our clients was failure to thrive and or global developmental delay (GDD), and a large percentage of the children have disabilities (it’s not politically incorrect to use this term in Tonga…) 

Our play therapy sessions took place on a mat (some mums are proud to bring out their BEST mat) on the floor/ground, frequently outside under a tree. It is so special to work not only with the child, but the parent/ caregiver as well, chatting to them, explaining why I do what I do, and how they can work with the child during the week to keep the therapy going. 

Sabine in Tonga

It is extremely humbling, wonderful and rewarding to work with these families. I feel like I brought them HOPE. Every smile, every little hand reaching out is worth it.  

It was also part of my job to do staff training / professional development and give presentations to a variety of audiences on a variety of topics. Part of the PD sessions was a ‘pact’ with my team to teach me the language. learned lots of little words and phrases in Tongan in order to communicate with the children (most of the adults speak some or good English), to name objects, speak words of encouragement, and sing simple songs and rhymes – I’ve even been known to translate some English ones into Tongan. “’Ulu, umatui moe va’e moe va’e” – “Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…” And of course, we did lots of clapping – pas-pasi. 

We loved working with such an amazing organisation as the VSA. They have a great support system, great people and – of course – great volunteers! Thank you for enabling us to have this life-changing experience. 

Sabine in Tonga