Life in Vava'u

The following was written by Joey 'Afitu Manfredo, who is the longest serving volunteer currently in Tonga. He is also our Volunteer leader. He agreed to allow me to post this article about his recent visit to Vava'u.

Life in Vava'u
by Joey Manfredo

“My Friday afternoon shopping excursions to Neiafu are the equivalent of me riding the train two hours from Connecticut to New York City to buy a roll of toilet paper.”
-Sarah Kate Weaver

They are creative, inquisitive, welcoming and patriotic. They demonstrate perseverance in their work and support one another in their projects. After mixing in regular hilarity, the Peace Corps Volunteers of Vava’u fully encapsulate their island’s motto: Fatafata mafana.

Creative: Since the inception of foreign products to Tonga, PCVs have been facilitating trash pick-ups in Vava’u. Trash is always collected, but typically done half-heartedly and oftentimes the important messaging of proper disposal and recycling is lost. This was not the case at the Vava’u Faka’ofo’ofa Neiafu Clean-Up last month. PCVs Jessie Shepherd, Alex Crabtree, Jessica Bonthius and Sarah LaRosa developed a trash scavenger hunt in which individuals were given a certain number of points, depending on the type of trash they turned in, and were awarded prizes ranging from candy to Chinese cabbage seedlings. Cans that were collected were reused to pot the seedlings. Literature was distributed to parents. The Vava’u officers of the Ministries of Health, Environment, Labor and Tourism spoke to the crowd at the busy Saturday morning market. It was the most complete event of its nature that I’ve seen. Standing there that Saturday taking in the program, I was proud to be a PCV.

Inquisitive: It’s easy to read and ask questions about culture—but it takes a little more to get knee-deep in the stuff…especially in the dark, at 6 am, off the coast of ‘Utungake. Jessica Bonthius is learning how to kupenga—net fish! Sorry to just burst forth with that, but it’s too exciting to waste time with cutesy language. It’s even more impressive because—except for fingota—fishing is a male-dominated field. It’s a testament to Jessica’s integration into her community, language skills, and overall Faka-Tonganess that she was taken under the Kupenga fisherman’s wings, er, fins.

Welcoming: Oftentimes, a PCV’s house is his/her sanctuary. I enjoy conversing and visiting with neighbors, but freely admit that I have always tried to keep my actual home a fortress of solitude. So, I have great respect for volunteers who open their homes to neighbors. Sarah Kate Weaver goes beyond this and essentially has converted her living room into a playroom. During my visit to Hunga, kids were in and out, playing Go Fish, Uno and participating in Skate’s Great Candy Exchange. Skate offers candy in return for fresh Hungan fruit. She even has a little resource library full of kids books and educational materials.

Patriotic: Instead of just eating hot dogs and lighting firecrackers to celebrate the fourth, the Vava’u PCVs acted on the word's of Peace Corps’ founding father, President John F. Kennedy—“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."—and raised the flag on an uninhabited island, claiming it for America.

Perseverance: With Environment Week looming a few days on the horizon, the local Ministry of Environment rep reached out to PCVs Jessica Bonthius, James Barbour and Jessie Shepherd to help him put together a last minute program, with no budget and no direction from the Ministry in Tongatapu. Instead of telling the rep he was too late, they cleared their schedules and planned environment-focused events that included the introduction of a recycling bin to Vava’u Side School, along with a demo on its use.

Support: Senior PCV Alex Crabtree remarked to me how supportive the Vava’u volunteers are of one another. Without request, PCVs offer help to facilitate or just drop by nearly all events their fellow islanders are involved in. Regarding support, I have been most impressed with a simple happening at their monthly All-Vol. meeting. As the meeting came to a close, VAC-rep LaRosa asked if anyone had anything to add. Senoni took the opportunity to ask the more senior CE PCVs for advice on what activities she could do with her students during lulls in the school day. Around the meeting circle, people shared creative suggestions. It was so nice to see PCVs talking work with one another, sharing ideas and experiences.

Hilarity: Rose found herself in kid overload. In addition to teaching at Toula GPS, she runs the town library and helps kids with school work from her house. At some point, everyone needs a break—but at this particular moment, tired from a long school day and longing for alone time, Rose couldn’t think of a way out. Then it happened: DING…DING…DING. Rose politely asked the kids to leave her house so she could change for the weekday evening church service. To the delight of the Toula villagers, she found her respite in the halls of a village church.

All of the Vava’u PCVs are doing exceptional work. Here are just a few more tid bits:
· Amanda Strickler’s morning exercise routine has inspired her neighbor, Lucy, to begin daily fakamalohisino and inspired local Internet guy Sione 4 to exclaim to partner Justin Smith that “Amanda is fitness.”
· Stan Luker has turned the Vava’u Youth Congress Computer Lab free-for-all into an actual, functioning Internet café that is sustaining itself.
· I feel as though I should write this line about Amy in Tongan. She’s already speaking more fluent Tongan than I speak English!
· Though Steve was the last of g.73 to arrive, he’s already become the most well-known by advising nearly every business in town. He’s also stumbled upon a seemingly inherent skill at fixing cash registers. Next time you’re at Bounty in Vava’u, admire his work before checking out the view of the tahi.
· Justin continues to manage his time between IT advising at TCC with grassroots work maintaining the CPUs at the Leimatu’a computer center.

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