Tonga’s Diaspora Community Faces Daunting’s Disaster Response Challenge

Whether seasonal workers or international athletes, tens of thousands of Tongans – more Tongans than Tongans actually live in Tonga – have resettled around the world, a vast expatriate community always hold on to pride and passion for his distant South Pacific homeland.

So when a violent volcanic eruption and tsunami attacked Tonga almost two weeks ago, these overseas Tongans were also arrested, first out of concern for the health of their loved ones when disaster struck. cut off communication linesthen there is the difficult challenge of providing support.

Connectivity has slowly returned in some parts of the country. Many, if not most, compatriots abroad have been able to reconnect with loved ones, hear stories of mothers carrying their babies and running to safety when the waves hit, or about a layer of ashes on lovely family homes. There was an overwhelming sense of gratitude that somehow the death toll was limited to just three.

But the country faces a long recovery, especially in terms of Outer islands are hit hardand the Tongan community are facing an ongoing pandemic, a difficult global supply chain, and limited internet access as they try to help.

Overseas compatriots, who often have greater earning potential than their domestic counterparts, have a long history of sending money back home. In 2019, remittances to Tonga were worth 37% of the country’s gross domestic product, the highest number of any country in the world, according to data from the World Bank. Tonga’s GDP per capita is about $4,600 in 2020, less than a third of that of the United States.

These economic ties have long helped overseas Tongans maintain their ties to the country and its culture, whether as workers in New Zealand or Australia or as workers. are athletes at the upper echelons of professional sports such as rugby.

“Remittances are not just about money,” said Andrew Grainger, a researcher on sports culture in the Pacific at Massey University in New Zealand. “It also has emotional, psychological, social, cultural aspects – it expresses a person’s obligation and passion for the community, despite the fact that they may be living in another country. is different”.

Some of those relationships have now been disrupted, as most banks and remittance services have been forced to go offline in Tonga. The country’s global athletes are among those working to raise money and find a way to bring it back to their homeland.

“Sports stars all over the world come from Tonga, whether it’s rugby or all other sports – at heart, they’re still Tongan,” said the Tongan athlete. Pita Taufatofuawho first captured the world’s attention as the country’s flag bearer at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, where he walked into the Olympic stadium, breasts sparkling, wearing a skirt Traditional taʻovala.

“Growing up they still climb coconut trees, they still go to church, nobody tells them what to do except their mother,” he added. “They have a strong connection back to their roots, back to who they are.”

Throwing their weights after online fundraising for the country’s recovery, Mr. Taufatofua and other Tongan athletes, like international rugby players Hosea Saumaki and Malakai Fekitoaboth play in England, using their star power to focus the world’s attention on an island nation that rarely gets media attention.

Just over 100,000 people live in Tonga, with an estimated 150,000 being its diaspora.

“We ended up at all different angles,” said Taufatofua, who has competed in both taekwondo and more incidentally, cross-country skiing at the Olympics. the first since 1924 to participate in three consecutive Games. “We’re travelers, aren’t we?”

Between them, New Zealand and Australia, where Mr. Taufatofua lives, are home to about 120,000 Tongans. While they maintain a strong sense of community, the pandemic has made it difficult to collect and give away.

Church services have been held on Zoom for so long that, at a Tongan church in Melbourne, Australia, spiders took up residence in the padlock on the front door.

Mele Malekesi Facci, a Tongan community leader living in Melbourne, said: “Because of the pandemic and because of the restrictions, we knew we couldn’t get together.

Instead of a massive fundraising event, such as a traditional dance, Ms. Facci and other members of the community turned to virtual solutions like radio events to raise money and be aware of the situation. of Tonga.

In the short term, people there need cash, clean water and food, to replace contaminated supplies and crops damaged by the ash cover. They will then need supplies to replace damaged buildings, tractors to shovel and boats to connect Tonga’s more remote islands to its mainland.

Earning those funds and goods across the Pacific is now an incredibly complicated endeavor. In addition to challenges in remittances, the pandemic has disrupted complex and interconnected global supply chains, creating shortages in shipping containers, as well as space on boats carrying them. they.

Auckland, New Zealand, home to 60,000 Tongans, has become a hub for people’s shipments to Tonga. Jenny Salesa, a member of the New Zealand Parliament who is originally from Tongan, said more than 20 shipping containers, many water containers and groceries with messages of love, will soon arrive in Tonga.

While most of those goods are direct deposits from New Zealanders to family members in Tonga, many others have gone to the stadium where efforts are being organized simply to send items to anyone. anyone who needs them, Salesa said.

“Faced with a great tragedy like this, a double disaster of a volcanic eruption and a tsunami, the Tongans have come together, drawn together, to send ‘ofa, their aroha,’” she said, use Tongan and Aborigines New Zealand words of love.

Mr. Taufatofua, the Tongan Olympic athlete, has raised more than $750,000 so far to reach his million-dollar goal. He hopes to fund the rebuilding of at least one school, he said.

Donations have come from Tongans and others interested in them. Mr. Taufatofua said he has received messages from all over the world, including from the parents of a boy in Japan, who have raised subsidies to send bread to people in the Ha’ region. apai, where his father Taufatofua lived.

Mr. Taufatofua said: “The tongue has such great personalities and hearts that it seems to everyone. “The quantity is small, but the personality and giving is great.” Tonga’s Diaspora Community Faces Daunting’s Disaster Response Challenge

Fry Electronics Team

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