Read about the work and travel of VSA's staff.
Published on 22nd January 2016
VSA’s Programme Officer for Polynesia, Mattie Geary Nichol, has recently returned from a busy field trip to Tonga with Programme Manager Ryan Brown. Mattie writes about their experience…
One of the highlights of our trip to Tonga was meeting up with Community Education Advocate Lesila Lokotui To’ia (right) and VSA volunteer Lesley Young (left) at the Women and Children Crisis Centre. The Centre works toward the elimination of violence against women and children. Lesley’s role focuses on the provision of best practice health services to victims of domestic violence, but she is involved in a whole range of activities, such as the kid's chanting competition to celebrate International Day of Ending Violence Against Women.
Lesila and Lesley talked to us about their safe house and the need for a co-ordinator to work with carers to meet the needs of women and children residents. If this is an area that you have skills in, you can check out the assignment opportunity here.
We also caught up with the amazing Una Taumoepeau (left, Programme Manager Ryan Brown on right) from Scope Global. Una and her colleague Dave welcome our volunteers to Tonga, provide a comprehensive orientation, right down to where to get the best pizza (Marco’s if you’re curious!) and offer emergency support.
Una updated us on logistical issues, made recommendations for improving processes and later, over dinner, gave me a lesson on the Tongan social structure. Did you know that the Tongan class system includes kings, nobles and commoners and you have to speak a different dialect when addressing each group?
Bruce Johnson (middle) has just started in his role as Horticulture Adviser with the Nishi Foundation. Together with the foundation, he is working with Tongan Farmers to improve agricultural supply chains and value-added agricultural produce. In the photo, you can see Nishi’s Managing Director Minoru Nishi Jnr (right) talking us through the complexities of exporting agricultural products from Tonga.
Volunteer Steve Hales, Marketing and Business Development Adviser with the Ministry of Commerce and Labour, outlined the work the ministry is undertaking with the Department of Fisheries to develop a sustainable pearl industry in Tonga. We were even lucky enough to get a tour of the pearl farm in Tongatapu where oysters are seeded. Check out Steve’s blog for more on what he’s up to.
Kerry Kilorn volunteers for VSA as a Veterinarian with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forestry and Fisheries. Many Tongans we met commended the work that he and Ana Pifeleti, the Head of Livestock Division, are doing, including the establishment of a clinic to treat small domestic animals. The Tindall Foundation has been generous in supporting their work by providing a grant for clinic supplies.
Like Bruce, Steffen Gnatzy was in his first few weeks of assignment as a Business Adviser for the Tonga Business Enterprise Centre (TBEC). He was already getting stuck in, looking at how TBEC could improve its service to Tongan businesses by upgrading its online registration form. Steffen’s colleagues wear the kiekie which is formal work attire for Tongan women and distinguishes Tongan dress from that of other Pacific Islands.
We also met up with Steffen and his wife Dagmar at their home to check out their accommodation. We were treated to coffee and cakes as the two shared with us the differences between Tonga and their last volunteer assignment where Steffen was a Business Adviser in Malakula, Vanuatu.
My last “meeting” was a trip around Tongatapu to get a feel for the island. Here I am at Ha'amonga 'a Maui which is said to be built by the demigod Maui. Having grown up reading the legends around Maui in Aotearoa, it was cool to see some of his work in Tonga too. Malo ‘aupito for reading.