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Tongan Volunteer Programme Will Continue

Since the arrival of COVID-19, Volunteer Service Abroad’s (VSA) has continued to operate its volunteer programme in Tonga through remote volunteers from Aotearoa New Zealand. At the time of this week’s tragic volcanic activity and tsunami on 15 January 2022, the charity has five Tongan partner organisations that were working with volunteers remotely from New Zealand and many other partners that have either completed work with volunteers in 2021 or were about to begin.

Among those is the Tonga Animal Welfare Society, which was owned by Angela Drover, whose life was sadly taken during the disaster. Angela was a friend and colleague of many VSA people, and her loss is felt heavily within the organisation.

VSA has been working closely with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to understand the position for their partner organisations in Tonga. All volunteer assignments are on hold until the charity understands the landscape for each partner in Tonga. VSA Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Goodman says "I have no doubt that assistance in various forms will be needed, and as an organisation we stand by to do what we realistically can. We are also supporting staff and volunteers during this difficult time."

VSA’s Programme Manager for the Tongan programme is currently located in the Cook Islands and is hoping to be able to contact with the partner organisations VSA works with as soon as possible.

VSA representative, Meleoni Uera, is a resident of Tonga but has been stranded since 2020 in Nauru when the Tongan borders were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meleoni’s daughter, Vynka was assisting VSA on the ground in Tonga and has been located, along with her whānau.

VSA is New Zealand’s largest volunteer for development agency and has volunteers who work in 11 countries across the Pacific, plus Cambodia and Timor-Leste. Its volunteers were repatriated back to Aotearoa New Zealand in 2020 in response to COVID-19, since then many now connect through online video and email to support business, government and communities meet their development goals. This model of remote volunteering was extended to new volunteers from New Zealand during 2020-2021. It anticipates that moving forward Tonga will need volunteers with expertise in business recovery and re-establishment of agriculture and horticultural practices to provide safe food. VSA volunteer assignments are based on the needs and goals of local partners and the individual voice of the Tongan people will remain paramount.

VSA’s association with Tonga began 55-years ago. Most recently volunteer emergency doctor, Dr Adrian Kerner worked with Vaiola Hospital in Nuku ‘alofa to assist the emergency department in developing good processes to support better healthcare. . Dr Kerner returned to New Zealand in December just two weeks prior to the recent devastating eruption and tsunami.

Volunteer David Cramp has also been working with OHAI Incorporated in Tonga to establish and maintain a bee colony to increase crop yield.

"It is unlikely the bees will survive breathing the ash, and crops will be inedible, removing the food supply for locals and bees. Therefore there is a lot to consider to bring local farmers and this new enterprise back to where we were before 15 January 2022" says Stephen Goodman.

VSA is collecting donations at vsa.org.nz. The funds will go to their partners to help rebuild, reestablish sustainable food sources and to specific local community needs.

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