Sunday, May 30, 2010

Coral Project Take ONE

PHOTO: One of the clam circles with the students placing corals within and around the circle.

The Matamaka Coral Gardens have officially started! We have had several talks about this trial project for awhile now, but we have stopped talking about it and just did it. Matamaka GPS has been blessed with a location that is surrounded by water on three sides. The views are amazing and the sunsets are beautiful, but the truth is hidden underneath the water. The corals around Matamaka have mostly been damaged due to years of overfishing. As a result, we are attempting to regenerate and protect the corals surrounding the school.

We have placed giant clam shells in various shapes within the open gaps of the existing corals in our protected zone. The shells were generously donated from various families of Matamaka who wanted to help contribute to our project. As a result, the entire project cost ZERO dollars, but the benefits will be unimaginable. The students, staff, and members of Matamaka gathered the clam shells one afternoon and made a stock pile in our school. During high tide the next day, we pushed all the clams onto the water. Later that same afternoon, we placed all the clams in their “designated” areas. We started where the corals are the most abundant. Our plan is to strengthen the existing corals and expand towards the “dead” zones.

PHOTO: The students collecting the giant clam shells.

The kids were all very helpful with placing the clams carefully on the sea floor. My co-teacher Ma’asi and I coordinated the design of the clams. Next, we searched for little baby corals from the area and strategically placed them within and around the clam circles. We had to explain to the children to not just pull out any corals they find. At first they were so proud of collecting random corals and then I had to explain to them to NOT destroy the corals and to be very careful around them. Tongan children have all grown up living from the sea, so educating them all to not walk on the corals has been a headache.

PHOTO: Students and Ma’asi strategically placing the clams within the no-fish zone and children walking with the clams to the school.

At the time of writing, we have completed three areas of clam circles. In addition to the preservation of corals, we want to protect all living things within the protection zone. Since sea cucumber season has just started here in Tonga (which is a whole other environmental problem on its own) we tried to gather as much sea cucumbers from outside the protection zone and placed them with the protected area. The purpose is guarantee that they do not get collected from people who harvest them. Sea cucumbers are essential for healthy reefs as they keep reefs clean. Recently, Pacific Island nations have been overfishing sea cucumbers for exports to China who pay big bucks for them. One night of sea cucumber fishing can be worth up to $2000 pa’anga! As a result, we need to protect as many sea cucumbers to ensure the success of our coral gardens.

The Matamaka Coral gardens have been fully supported by important figures of Matamaka. We have held workshops to members of the community about the importance of coral reefs and the benefits of ECO-TOURISM. I am pushing for an initiative to make Matamaka one of the first eco-tourism projects on the outer-island villages of Vava’u. There are so many benefits if eco-tourism becomes successful in the outer-islands. The town officer has announced that the area surrounding the school and another reef just outside of Matamaka to become a no fish zone. This is a HUGE progress in our attempt to preserve and regenerate the damaged corals. My goal before my Peace Corps service ends is to register the protected area with the Ministry of Fisheries of Tonga and turn it into an official marine reserve.

PHOTO: Matamaka GPS Coral Garden. Pretty eh?

As tourist season kicks off here in Tonga, we hope to attract palangis and Tongans to help support our conservation movement so that other villages may consider starting similar projects. There is a dire need to preserve the fragile eco-systems of Tonga and throughout the South Pacific. The South Pacific is one of the last healthy oceans in the world. As a result of overfishing and limited environmental conservation, these islands of paradise may one day disappear. The time to act is now. I am proud Matamaka has taken some initiative. Only time will tell if our conservation efforts will regenerate the corals and the return of more fish.

Postcard Project Update and more SHOUT OUTS :D

PHOTO: Students checking out the new books from the States.

Hello Matamaka GPS blog readers. I just wanted to give a quick update on how our postcard project is doing.'s going really GREAT! I have been getting a stack of postcards every week from the post office here in Neiafu. The ladies who work at the post office have been surprised at the amount of mail Matamaka GPS receives every week. In addition, we have been getting packages from awesome people from around the world who wants to help out with the school.

What do I do with the postcards? Every time I bring the new postcards to school, I usually have them all laid out by the blackboard in the library. All the students have an opportunity to view all of them. “Tika atu,” most of them would say which means “cool” in English. Some of the more interesting postcards, they would ask me, “Feleti, ko ia oku mo’oni?”--“Feleti, is this real?” Yep, it is real. Most of the children have only seen photos and some movies about cities and places around the world. As a result, when they see a postcard of the city of Seattle and Pittsburgh it seems surreal to see all the tall buildings.

After all the students walk through and see all the postcards, I then divide all the cards evenly to the students. Their next job is to walk over to the world map and US map in the library and identify where the postcard came from. To make it easier, I already marked all the location with sticky tabs. They just have to match their card to the “right” sticky tab. For the most part, they do a good job finding the place. It has been more of a race to see who can find their cards first. Tongan children are very competitive remember.

PHOTO: Where are all the cards come from? Our maps and postcards from around the world.

Once everyone finds their location, they all take turn presenting their postcards in front of all the students and pinpoint it on the map. Soon after, I place a little sticker on the sticky tabs that are current Peace Corps countries. I have been grateful that so many PCVs from around the world have participated with our little project. In the end, students can now identify which countries in the world map are places where Peace Corps volunteers work. In the future, as the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps approaches, I will highlight different projects of PCVs on the map (especially those PCVs who have sent postcards). It will be a great way to present the wide array of projects volunteers pursues around the world to the students as well as the people of Matamaka and its visitors.

Lastly, the library at Matamaka GPS has been more beautiful than ever with all of the new books we have received from the States. I have been busy creating little arts and crafts for the children to decorate room. See for yourself how cool our library has become!


PHOTO: Earth Day and our library in January compared to May 2010.


- A huge fakamalo to Brian and Jan Harvey of Iowa City, Iowa for donating a box of children’s books and goodies for the school.

- Mrs. DeCarlo’s second grade class of IKM-Manning Community School District, Iowa for donating over one hundred books and materials.

- Miraneta and the SPREP office out of Samoa for sending a box of environmental resources, posters, books, cards, and more for our library.

- Ann Blum of Harlan, Iowa for sending a variety of seeds for our school garden.

- To all of the others who have sent letters and cards of support as well as postcards from AROUND THE WORLD. Thank you for taking the time and helping us out here at Matamaka GPS. YOU have made an impact to the current success of my Peace Corps service as well as all as everyone in Matamaka and TONGA. THANK YOU and MALO ‘AUPITO.

Pen pals!

My class four to six students prepared postcards and pictures to their pen pals to Mrs. DeCarlo’s second grade class from the IKM-Manning Community Schools. We sent them our letters from Matamaka about a month ago and we just received their letters in return. The children were all very excited to see a photo of their pen pals and also to receive a letter from them. Although the school year is about to be over in the US, I just wanted to give an opportunity for the students of Mrs. DeCarlo to see my students in Tonga prepare their messages. We hope to stay in touch when the school year starts again in the Northern hemisphere. Ofa ‘atu :D

PHOTO: Matamaka students preparing their postcards and pictures about their life in Tonga and photos of our American pen pals in our library.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My attempt to teach kickball in Tonga

PHOTO: I love my job in Tonga and this is why…

Everyone loves a good game of kickball right? As part of my cultural exchange (and PE class) with the children at my school, I tried to teach them the classic sport. First, I attempted to explain the rules in Tongan at the library by drawing bases on the board and little stick figures running to each base before finally making it home. “Mahino kotoa?” “Everyone understand?” I said. “IO—Yes, Feleti,” all the children replied. I then divided the class 4-6 students into teams. I was lucky we had an even amount of students that day. As a result, the teams were divided up evenly. One team called themselves “Team Lion” and the other “Team Dragon.”

We all go outside to the schoolyard the kickball game commenced. I decided to be the pitcher to make the game fair, since I knew the children loves to cheat. At first, I thought they understood the game, but it turned out not. After the first person kicked the ball, everyone in the outfield ran to the ball leaving all the bases open. In addition, the person who just kicked the ball was running towards the ball also. OAIUE! Timeout! I tried to explain that they must touch each base and not get hit by the ball or else you are out. “IO, Feleti!” all the children told me.

PHOTO: A photo of me as a pitcher and students attempting to play kickball.

We started the game over and I thought they were getting the concept of the game, but it turned out the students have found out a perfect way to cheat. In order to successfully touch all the bases and make it home, each person purposely kicked the ball towards the ocean. As a result, utter chaos and panick struck the kids on outfield. “Kaka, Feleti—they are cheating Feleti!” yelled all the students on the field. This happened on both sides as the games progressed.

After awhile the classic game of kickball turned into soccer. LOL. Field goals showed up on both sides of the field and the students have abandoned the kickball game. Most of them were still pretty flustered about the other team cheating from kickball, so the soccer game was really intense with students fighting to win. Note to self, Tongan children are VERY competitive and REFUSE to lose. I decided to referee the game. Every time I try to play, I always end up kicking the ball to one of the class 1 students head. It was best that I just referee for the children's safety.

PHOTO: The soccer game and the little barbarians.

The soccer game turned out to be a blast. I had to tell the students that school was technically over and that they should go home, but none of them wanted to leave. We ended up playing for awhile and took some fun shots with everyone. Ma’asi took some “barbarian” photos of the boys who insisted on showing off their “muscles” to the camera. These kids are silly. A day like this is why I love working at my school and being a part of Peace Corps. Seriously, it was a priceless. In the end, I was pooped by the time I got home as the game wore me out. Then I realized I still have night school with the class 6 kids. It was just another busy and successful day at Matamaka GPS.

PHOTO: The photo of the girls.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Fake me—Children’s White Sunday and Alex’s HOMESTAY FAMILY EXPERIENCE at Matamaka

Photo: Faka me service at the Wesleyan Church of Matamaka.

The first weekend of May in Tonga is dedicated to a celebration called Faka me or Children’s White Sunday. I found out that this holiday is primarily celebrated by the Wesleyans and not so much by the other churches in Tonga. Basically, it is a day to celebrate being a child? In my opinion, the definition of “child” and “youth” is very vague here. It appears that you are considered a youth until you marry someone. As a result, you’re technically still a youth even if you are 35 year old man? In Tonga, it appears so.

My new friend Alex from Germany stayed at Matamaka for a week with a traditional Tongan homestay family. Alex is an intern for VEPA (Vava’u Environmental Protection Agency) working here in Vava’u for the last two and half months. He wanted to experience outer-island life before he returns to Germany. I asked my neighbors if they would like to have a palangi guest for a week. Tankina and Loui were more than happy to welcome Alex for a homestay experience at Matamaka.

Photo: Tongan feast for Faka me.

Alex and I went to the Wesleyan church to celebrate Faka me. It all started out with the 6 AM church service and lasted until about 3 PM (I left early). It was definitely a new cultural experience even for me, even after living here for seven months now. There were different types of religious “performances” which consisted of children making speeches and singing. It was really long, but I enjoyed watching all the different presentations. Furthermore, we were invited to the kai pola or Tongan feast. As the Peace Corps of the village with another palangi, we were obviously seated upfront with the village chief and important people of the village. We attempted to sit with children, which did not last very long because they made us move. All of the food was amazing of course and I felt that Alex had a good experience with the Tongan feast. In addition, we drank kava with the men. It was Alex’s first time and I was not quite sure if he really liked the taste of kava or not.

For the rest of the week, Alex observed at the school and taught a short German language class to all of the children. Guten Tag! We also did a long hike around the island of Nuapapu to the “haunted” beach according to Ma’asi. The beach is located on the northern part of the island near an ancient cemetery. To be honest, the cemetery was a bit creepy and reminded me of a real life Disney haunted house ride. Regardless, the beach was beautiful and the corals were absolutely amazing.

Photo: Alex and I pretending to fall in the water at the hidden beach near Nuapapu.

The week ended with a Tongan feast that Alex’s family put together for him. I was honored to be invited to eat with them all at their Tongan fale. It was very nice and I could tell that everyone was really happy with the entire set-up of the homestay. I hope to look into possible future Tongan homestays at Matamaka for visitors in Vava’u. It will be a great way for families in Matamaka to have access to extra money and also be a great cultural exchange for everyone involved. We could look into volunteer project opportunities around the village or the school for the visitors? It is all on the table and we will look into it for a possible future endeavor for the village to pursue. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions about Tongan homestays or volunteering at the outer-island, I am more than happy to hear them all. MALO :D

Photo: Alex and the whole family after the Tongan feast.

Shout out to...

A BIG MALO 'AUPITO to SIOSIFA ISAMAU of East Palo Alto, California for his generous gifts to Matamaka GPS. We received pencils, pens, a pencil sharpener, scotch tapes, hi-liters, glue sticks, seeds, chocolates, beef jerky, and postcards. Every little item makes a difference to all of us at Matamaka GPS. THANK YOU!