VSA has had a programme in the Kingdom of Tonga since 1965. Our volunteers have worked in education, health, economic development and agriculture. We completed our education work in 2005. In 2012 VSA started to place volunteers in assignments with a focus on economic development. Our Tonga programme is managed from our Wellington office.
The Kingdom of Tonga is unique in the South Pacific in being the only country never colonised by a foreign power. It is also the only surviving monarchy in the Pacific with a royal family whose lineage dates back as far as 875AD. The population of 106,000 is over 95% Polynesian with 70% living on the main island of Tongatapu.
Tongans are ardent church-goers and religion plays a very large part in day-to-day life. For the largely Christian population, Sunday is celebrated as a strict Sabbath, enshrined so in the constitution. There is a Sunday trading ban with only essential services exempt.
What we are doing in Tonga
A number of challenges face Tonga’s economic development, including its small domestic market, skills shortages, high cost of power and variable domestic transport services, low savings rates, high costs of doing business and high youth unemployment. Through assignments working on banking, small business enterprises, agriculture and tourism/hospitality, VSA volunteers are helping to diversify and sustain incomes.
Agriculture is the primary industry with coconut products, vanilla, squash, kava, peppers, tomatoes, watermelons and limes being significant exports. Families often supplement their incomes through fishing, tourism and overseas family remittances. Tonga is heavily dependent on aid programmes. VSA volunteers are working to support a sustainable and robust agricultural sector.
Tonga’s geographical location also makes it very vulnerable to natural disasters, including frequent cyclone activity. Disaster preparedness is a priority for development.