Friday, April 30, 2010

My very own YAMANEKO from JAPAN :D

Photo: Is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s a YAMANEKO!

O-hayo gozaimasu. Watashi wa Feleti desu. Watashi wa Iowa kara kimashita—Did I convince you with my Japanese skills? Lol. Well, the truth is I really do not speak Japanese, but I can sure try with a Japan Lonely Planet Guide. The JICA volunteers have been hard at work with development projects throughout the Kingdom. The JICA program is the most closely related aide organization to the US Peace Corps in Tonga. Japanese volunteers serve two years in countries around the world (in comparison with Australian volunteers who serve for a year). In Tonga, some JICA volunteers teach at secondary schools, work at medical centers, and train at teacher training colleges. Regardless, JICA volunteers work side by side with their Tongan counterparts to help train men and women of Tonga for a better and brighter future.

During the week I was in Nuku’alofa for IST, I had an opportunity to meet Toru Yamaguchi. My new friend is a JICA volunteer who works at a Tertiary Institute/Teacher Training College in the capitol city. His primary project entails training future and current teachers of Tonga the art of Solopani or Abacus. When he had first told me about Solopani, I had no clue what it was. Solopani or Abacus is rectangular device with multiple beads to help solve math problems. It is essentially a calculator without batteries; instead, you use your brain. The new Tongan syllabus for all of the government primary school will mandate the use of Solopani next year. As a result, Toru has been busy preparing teachers allover Tonga about Solopani. The Japanese government is donating hundreds of Solopani to the Ministry of Education of Tonga.

Photo: Toru and I with my YAMANEKO (which I have nicknamed—Nemo). Toru had visited Vava’u for a two day work shop at GPS Neiafu for training current teachers with Solopani. This photo was taken after some Peace Corps and JICA volunteers hiked up Mount Talau in Neiafu.

To return a favor to Toru for promoting the Matamaka GPS POSTCARD PROJECT with the people of Japan on his blog, I would like to help him out with his YAMANEKO PROJECT. What is it you may ask? It essentially is like the Travelocity Gnome travelling around the world with people taking pictures of it at famous sites. Instead of gnomes, Toru has personalized little cat clay figures called YAMANEKOs. He gives YAMANEKOs to people from around the world. People with YAMANEKOs place their little figurine in a public space where others may see it. When you spot another YAMANEKO, then you know that it was Toru who made it. As a result, you have made a connection with that new person through the YAMANEKO. Did I confuse you? The main purpose is for people to meet others through the YAMANEKO and for it to travel to as many places in the world.

Toru personalizes each YAMANEKO he makes and catalogs each figure with a serial number. I believe my YAMANEKO was in the 2000s, but I cannot remember the exact number. It is currently in Matamaka and will go wherever life may take me after Tonga. At the time of writing, YAMANEKOs are present in over forty countries from around the world. Therefore, I am bound to run into another one someday! I wish Toru the best of luck with his endeavors in Tonga and with his YAMANEKO PROJECT. If anyone else has a YAMENEKO, please let me know :D

Photo: Toru and some PCVs at Nuku’alofa after we had dinner at a local restaurant (where there was a TV with CNN!).

By the way, my Japanese in the introduction in English is “Good morning. My name is Feleti. I am from Iowa.”—at least I hope so…

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My top nine photos of my Peace Corps experience so far…

NUMBER ONE: Eva pe-ing on a Sunday”

This photo was taken during PST at Ha’apai. My group in Fangale’oulunga was great. I miss them all very much since we all moved to site. We had so much fun exploring the island with the kids that Sunday!

NUMBER TWO: “War dance, my *ss”

We were told we were doing a very brute Tongan dance, which turned out to be anything nothing close to a war dance. In addition, our Tongan host families didn’t let us know we were wearing such skimpy outfits until the day before. Oh good times at culture day.

NUMBER THREE: “Carnival Tongan style”

During the holiday seasons, traditional Tongan dances are performed throughout the Kingdom. I was lucky enough to watch some awesome performance in Neiafu during the Tourism Week. Different groups throughout Vava’u competed for the best Tongan “dance crew.”

NUMBER FOUR: “T for Tonga”

You often get some spare time living in the outer islands. What do I do to keep myself busy? Besides reading, swimming, snorkeling, I sometimes build sand castles. No complaints over here.

NUMBER FIVE: “Fakasesele”

This photo represents the personality of the students and staff of Matamaka. Everyone is very chill and happy. Every now and then we just like to be silly and take random photos.

NUMBER SIX: “Two years in this place?”

I am so lucky to be in Vava’u out of all places in Peace Corps. I remember telling my recruiter that I just needed to be near water and sun to have a successful twenty-seven months service and I was placed here! It is breathtaking.

NUMBER SEVEN: “Community Involvement”

Often times we Peace Corps Volunteers worry that no one will show up to any of our events, but this Red Cross event was a huge success. Community members from four outer islands came to Matamaka to attend a four day workshop. Peace Corps Tonga reaching out to outer-island folks.

NUMBER EIGHT: “Who parked their boat here?”

Clearly someone accidentally parked their boat at the wrong place. What odd sight eh? This photo was taken at an outer-island outside of Nuko’alofa. We had some good-old fun in the sun one Sunday afternoon after PST. Good times.


Twenty-six strangers from across the US living in different parts of Tonga to work with primary and secondary students. All of our experiences will be unique, but we can be all proud to be part of the United States Peace Corps TONGA Group 75. Best of luck to everyone! WE ARE ALL STILL HERE AFTER IST.

Life after IST...

The last couple of weeks have been very busy. I finally have time to catch up on everything and update my blog. Great news! I just came back from IST in the capitol city of Nuku’alofa and everyone from Group 75 is still here and going strong. “Ain’t no stopping us now…(good song).” It was a very nice break to get away from Vava’u and to experience the big city of Nuku’alofa (after living in Matamaka for almost four months now, Nuku’alofa can be described as a mega-city). I was surprised on how different Nuku’alofa looked liked just from three months ago. Buildings have been going up at a ridiculous rate (compliments to the rapid Chinese investments in Tonga). Nuku’alofa will someday regain its "metropolitan" status after most of the buildings burned down after the riots. Anyway, I really enjoyed catching up with the other volunteers throughout Tonga. Believe it or not, the PC meetings were not that bad either. I actually got to meet some very interesting people through the sessions.

I pretty much could not stop eating everything the entire time I was down there. You can only imagine the number of food options available compared to Vava’u. To be fair, Vava’u does have its fair share of restaurants, but the prices cannot be compared to Nuku’alofa. $12 pa’anga can get you a huge plate of beef curry with rice and a drink at Azaria’s, when you cannot even buy a simple burger for that same price in Neiafu. As a result, I definitely splurged A LOT (maybe too much), but it was SO worth it. A new Indian curry restaurant opened up near St. Andrew’s in Nuku’alofa with take away! Definitely try out the samosas if you ever get a chance to stop by (the best part is, it cost only a pa’anga for each).

The Postcard Project seems to be going very well. I have been getting emails from people around the world for their support. The project has been endorsed by local business Neiafu and a Vava'u/Tongan network website: As a result, I want to say a BIG THANK YOU for everyone’s support. My fellow PCVs from ‘Eua, Ha’apai, and Tongatapu have been kind enough to help me out by placing my advertisement for the project at popular tourist spots on their island group. In addition, I have been trying to contact prominent figures from the US from: Obama, Oprah, to Anderson Cooper. It would be sweet to get a postcard from any of them. Mail is painstaking slow here in Vava’u, so we are still waiting for the initial set of postcards to arrive. Seriously, I know there is a global recession and all, but a postcard is not going to be set you back too much. So, get involved and participate with our little project.

What a bummer! I love taking photos and I just realized I did not take any while I was in Nuku’alofa. As a result, I will post random pictures of Neiafu and Matamaka. Enjoy! I will make sure to take some photos the next time I head down to the capitol. Fakamolemole.

PHOTO: One of my students jumping off a boat by the wharf during sunset. We all had a good time taking turns with our jump shots. Good times at Matamaka.

PHOTO: "Jesus" walking with the cross in Talau. This photo captured Catholics of Vava’u with their festivities during the Easter holiday weekend. The group started from the Catholic Church in Talau to the church in the center of town.

PHOTO: Lela. This is my “adopted” mother of Talau. She is my co-teacher’s mother and she enjoys watching Filipino soap operas. She is a very kind woman.

Old Rooster and Little Rooster

PHOTO: “Cock-a-doodle DOO!” That was the big problem in our first school play at Matamaka GPS, when Little Rooster forgot how to crow the proper way.

It has been such a joy working with the children on our school play called “Old Rooster and Little Rooster.” The play came from one of the School Journal books donated from New Zealand. We have been practicing and practicing for over five weeks before the big performance in front of the entire school and PTA members at the end of Term 1. To my surprise, the students memorized their lines very quickly and really got into the play. It was the perfect play, because there were exactly ten characters including the narrator. Remember, there are only ten students in my Class 4-6.

I was going to have auditions for the play, but it turned out unnecessary. I had the students read out the play first together and their characters just fit in with each of their personality. We did not have costumes for the play, but I prepared a picture of each animal character for students to put around their neck. The various animals included: old rooster, little rooster, dog, owl, pigeon 1 and 2, cow 1 and 2, mouse, and narrator. In addition, I taught them the song “You are my sunshine” for our second act of the performance. I tried to choreograph with simple steps and the students really got into it. It reminded me of the good old days when I was in elementary school.

PHOTO: The students singing “You are my sunshine.”

With the Class 1-3 students, it was a bit more challenging to do a play in English. Technically, the English language is not introduced until Class 3 here in Tonga. As a result, we did a medley of five songs with a short dance routine. Our song list included “Row row row your boat,” “The Hokey Pokey,” “Head shoulders knees in toes—in Tongan and English,” “Pepe,” and a traditional Tongan children’s hymn. We rehearsed so many times, but some of the students still did not know where their “head shoulders knees or toes” were. It was priceless.

In the end, I was impressed with the number of parents and family members who showed up for the event. Our library was jammed pack with people excited to see the children perform. Most of the children received beautiful flower necklaces and candy for the event (as did I). Now I have to start brain storming ideas for Term 2. Any ideas?

PHOTO: Some of the students and parents after the performances. Most of the people had left already…faka ‘ofa.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A day in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Vava’u

Photo: Vava’u Peace Corps volunteers reading at the Vava’u library program on Saturdays.

On Saturday mornings at 9:30, the Neiafu Public Library has its Saturday Reading Program for elementary students throughout Vava’u. It is a great program where students come in and check-out books and do fun activities with volunteers from the community. I am part of the library committee as well as a fellow Peace Corps volunteer. We convinced other PCVs to come help out and read to the children one Saturday. The event went really well. Each PCV took turns reading a different stories such as: I Spy, The Three Goats and the Goblin, and more. Later, the children drew pictures of their favorite story which most of the drawings consisted of me as the goblin eating the three little goats. Oh, these kids have quite a sense of humor!

Photo: The kiddos working hard on their drawings.

The Neiafu Public Library is currently pursuing a WORLD MAP PROJECT. The PCV from Tailulu College is spear heading this project with the library committee. The objective of this project is to paint a mural of the entire world in front of the library building. The students from the Saturday Reading Program will be the ones painting the mural with the help of PCVs and members of the library committee. The World Map Project has been an initiative in various Peace Corps countries around the world. When completed, the World Map at the Neiafu Public Library will be the first one in Vava’u and second in the entire Kingdom after ‘Eua. I believe the project will commence very soon and it will be thrilling to see how it will turn out.

Children’s Day is also coming up here in Vava’u. It should be an exciting event as the library committee has been busy organizing fun activities for all the children. I am not sure of all the logistics, but it is scheduled at the end of May. I heard rumors that I will be working at the face painting booth. Little do they know about my artistic skills? Eeks. It should be fun though and I really look forward to it.

Photos: PCVs, Athletes for Sports Day in the Nuku’alofa competition, and high school staff from the Wesleyan, Catholic, Church of Tonga, and Vava’u High dancing in the street to help raise money to send students to Tongatapu.

On a final note, who wants to go dancing on the street? We do! Some PCVs and I stumbled upon a dance party on the main street of Neiafu after the public library event. Student-athletes and high school staff from throughout Neiafu were busy trying to raise money to send the athletes to compete in the Sports Day Competition held in Nuku’alofa. It was such a fun event with all the jamming out on the street. It was definitely a bonus to have a bunch of palangis dancing around with the crazy flour lady. I am not sure how much we helped raised, but I am sure the event organizers appreciated our participation with “shaking our bon-bons.” In the end, this is a typical day of what we PCVs encounter in Vava’u. We are more than happy to help out in any way possible, as well as have some fun. Just think, we did all this before noon! Taimi malolo was definitely scheduled later that afternoon.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I need your help! POSTCARD PROJECT

Please forward this "template email" to everyone you know from around the world: MALO!

Malo e lelei,

Greetings from the Kingdom of Tonga! I hope this email finds you well. My name is Farfum Ladroma and I am a Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga. I am writing to you today because I need your help! My students and I at GPS MATAMAKA (an outer-island Government Primary School in Vava’u) are pursuing a “POSTCARD PROJECT” and we need your assistance. We are asking everyone outside of Tonga to please send us a postcard of your hometown/city. We are trying to collect as many postcards as possible. This project will help enhance the student’s understanding of other places and cultures in the US and the world. As a result, I will highlight a short lesson from every place we receive a postcard. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if the postcard is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Istanbul, Turkey. We will take them all!

I will keep a running list of all the postcards received with their origin on my blog at: Everyone may check to see if their postcard successfully makes it to Matamaka and learn more about my life in Peace Corps Tonga. Furthermore, my blog highlights other exciting projects that are currently underway in GPS Matamaka such as: solar power for clean energy and our coral gardens. GPS Matamaka is at this time establishing the first coral garden/rehabilitation project in Tonga. It is a collaborative effort between the village of Matamaka, the GPS School, and both local and international donors to regenerate and protect the coral reefs surrounding Matamaka.

The “POSTCARD PROJECT” will be a great cultural exchange for everyone involved. The project begins now and will continue until the end of my Peace Corps service in December 2011. Please help out if you can and tell everyone you know! In addition, feel free to forward this email to everyone on your email list if necessary. If you have any questions/comments or want to know more information about my work at GPS Matamaka, please do not hesitate on contacting me at Thank you very much and malo ‘aupito.

Please send postcards to:

c/o Peace Corps
P.O. BOX 136
Neiafu, VAVA’U

-Farfum (Feleti) Ladroma