Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rising Tides, S/V Skylight

PHOTO : S/V Skylight at the Nuapapu/Matamaka area.

I was honored to have Brian and Claudia from California to visit Matamaka GPS a couple of weeks ago. They are involved in a two year journey around the South Pacific for their non-profit organization called Rising Tides. This NGO focuses on raising awareness on the affects of rising sea levels caused by global warming in the Pacific. Countries throughout the Pacific have already begun to move towards higher ground and have made strategic plans for massive evacuations in the future.

Furthermore, Brian and Claudia are avid divers. They are involved with CORAL WATCH. It is a coral monitoring organization based in Australia. Coral health readings are performed throughout various sites in the South Pacific and the data is submitted to the CORAL WATCH organization. CORAL WATCH is one of the many environmental initiatives funded by PROJECT A.W.A.R.E, which is also based in Australia. For more information, check out their website at: Brian and Claudia were nice enough to give us one coral health chart to assist us with our coral project and give us some great advice about our different projects.

PHOTO: S/V Skylight with Brian and Claudia.

Brian and Claudia are sailing on the beautiful S/V SKYLIGHT. The ship is well equipped with many types of “green” equipment. They use an ample amount of solar and wind power to operate the ship. Their travels can be tracked on their website at In addition, the website provides more information about their NGO and ways for YOU to get involved or sign up for the newsletter. If you would like to email them and ask them any questions, go for it:

They are off to FIJI until the cyclone season is over in the South Pacific and eventually finishing off in AUSTRALIA. Best of luck and safe travels to both of them from all of us here in Matamaka. I admire their work and great enthusiasm for adventure! MALO ‘AUPITO!


* Scientists estimate that 25% of the world’s coral reefs are already dead. If current trends continue we may face the loss of this precious resource within the next 30-50 years.

* Coral reefs support 4,000 species of fish, 700 species of coral and thousands of plants and animals.

* Coral reefs are responsible for building the largest biological structure on earth—the Great Barrier Reef.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How would you like your ice cream?

PHOTO : Orange ice cream.

The “Matamaka” way to eat ice cream on the go…with bread. Love it! It is very unusual from a foreigner’s point of view, but using bread as an ice cream cone actually works. This is very common for all of the people who live in the outer-islands who do not have electricity. The ice cream will be melted by the time you arrive back to the motu (island), so you eat it en-route. ‘Ifo ‘aupito. Eat up :D

PHOTO: We’re eating ice cream on a boat, What? What? We’re on a boat.

One year done = Life update

PHOTO : ME with a boil on my knee...fml.

I’ve officially been living in the Kingdom of Tonga for over a year now. I am proud to say that I haven’t even traveled outside of Tonga! I’ve definitely taken in a ton of Tongan culture and “assimilated” to my tropical surrounding. The past year has been quite a rollercoaster ride. I’m not going to lie; there have been moments when I often wonder, “what the hell did I get myself into?” or “why am I here again?” It’s normal to think this way, trust me. It’s all part of having an adventure with the PC.

My work: Matamaka GPS. This year has been a learning experience for me. It took some time to become an “effective” teacher in Tonga. I have learned to not be so “American” when I speak. Instead, I needed to pronounce words with an Australian/New Zealand accent for my students to understand what I’m saying or saying “Zet” instead of “Z.” It’s all the little things I didn’t think about prior to coming to Tonga that has caught me by surprised. Did my class six students pass the big exam? I hope so. Will I know what to expect next year? Definitely. Will I get use to all the hitting of the students by Tongan teachers? I’m still working on that one.

My village: Matamaka. I’ve had some awkward moments, but overall I think it’s all good. Again, it’s all been a learning experience. I know what to expect with church and town fundraisers and how to hitch a boat ride to town. My PATIENCE has been amazing. I am so use to waiting for a boat for one, two, three or eight hours that it does not affect me anymore. I can’t wait to apply that skill in American.

My life: ME. This year has all been about culture, culture, culture and the endless desire to integrate to the best of my ability to the point that I forgot to take care of myself and my needs. I was constantly doing things to please everyone in my community, which included going to church for over five hours on some Sundays. Was I happy? Not entirely. I had an epiphany one day and realized this was insane. Cultural exchange is supposed to be a two way street! Part of my job is to share “American” culture (whatever that entails to each individual). Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention to disrespect the Tongan culture, but if I want to watch a movie in my house on a Sunday, I don’t want to feel guilty about it. As far as I’m concern, my house is Little America and ENGLISH is the “official” language (I was told I need to speak more Tongan in my house—HA, I think some people often don’t appreciate how much Tongan I know compared to other foreigners).

In the end, as this year comes to a close another exciting year approaches. I am super excited to get away for a month in December and reenergize. Get ready for another year of constant ups and downs. I can almost see the finish line to my PC service out in the horizon. My various projects are in play and will hopefully continue to become a success. I have a lot on my plate, but I am confident in completing as much as I can. Lastly, I need to set more time for me. Yes, ME…balance out the seesaw a bit.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Waste Awareness Campaign--VEPA

Vava'u Ko e Feitu'u Malu Mei he Veve- Making Vava'u a Refuge from Waste

VEPA Waste Clean Up in Neiafu Vava'u: October 18th- October 23rd

Monday - Fungamisi & Falaleu
Tuesday - Neiafutahi & Kameli
Wednesday - Masilamea
Thursday - Aloitalau & Lototalau
Friday - Secondary School Competition
Saturday - Celebration at the Market

Check out the VEPA commercial for the upcoming cleanup event at YOUTUBE:

A few generations ago, solid waste wasn’t a problem for the breathtakingly beautiful islands of Vava’u, Tonga. Locals didn’t produce much waste, because rubbish on the islands was limited to banana leaves, coconut husks, and fish scales that could easily be fed to pigs or broken-down naturally in the environment. However, as the world has become increasingly globalized, the residents of Vava’u have become dependent on imported goods for their livelihood. These products shipped from overseas are wrapped in non-biodegradable material that is harmful for the health and environment of the islands.

Currently the main disposal methods for solid waste in Vava’u include dumping rubbish in the bush, or burning it in the yard. Dumping and burning waste is harmful to the environment and local health for numerous reasons. Solid waste left in the bush attracts rats and flies that can spread disease, while empty tins and plastic bags collect rainwater that serves as a breeding ground for dengue mosquitoes. Also water run-off, gusts of wind, and reckless dumping can result in much of the waste leaking into the ocean where it will harm marine life by polluting mangrove and coral reef habitats. In deeper ocean, whales, turtles, and birds can be choked or strangled to death by plastic bags they mistake for jellyfish. In Vava’u, waste that isn’t left to float in the natural environment is indiscriminately put in piles and burned in local yards. The Second Vava’u Development Program estimated that 94.3% of waste is burned in Vava’u. This frequent reliance on burning rubbish is extremely concerning. The smoke produces a mixture of chemical gases that can affect people’s health and over time cause cancer and birth defects. Also poisonous particles that float from the burnt rubbish can contaminate soil and drinking water. Finally, burning rubbish contributes to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases.

The Vava’u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA) consists of a group of local leaders dedicated to conserving a healthy and natural environment in Vava’u for future generations. Members of the group include representatives from the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Natural Resources, the Vava’u Youth Congress, and Tonga Community Development Trust (a grassroots development organization) who have strong ties in the local community, and the ability to mobilize and motivate change. Other members are teachers and educators that can lead a campaign to inform locals about the health and environmental concerns Vava’u is facing because of improper waste disposal. VEPA will be collaborating with Sustainable Coastlines, a New Zealand NGO that has had great success organizing previous coastal clean-ups. Last year Sustainable Coastlines led over 3,000 volunteers on Tonga’s islands of Ha’apai to pick-up and sort through 120 truckloads of plastic, steel, aluminum, glass and other wastes. Sustainable Coastlines has a reputation for organizing efficient and effective mass clean-ups. Together VEPA and Sustainable Coastlines make an incredible team, working towards solutions for Vava’u’s waste problem.

VEPA and Sustainable Coastlines plan on mobilizing several thousand locals in Neiafu, Vava’u to clean up solid waste. Leading up to the event, they will hold waste education presentations in communities and schools. They will designate different leaders to organize community clean up zones, Monday through Thursday. On Friday, the Secondary Schools will compete in a competition to collect costal waste. Each day trucks will transport the collected and sorted rubbish from the communities to the Neiafu harbor where volunteers will load bags in giant containers. The containers will be shipped to the capital, Nuku’alofa, where Waste Authority will receive them and bring the waste to Tapuhia, a proper landfill. Gio recycling will also be ready to pick up containers and take recycled-goods to their crushing center for processing. The event will educate everyone about different types of waste, and the clean up will make a huge statement about the need for proper waste disposal infrastructure on the islands. In addition, removing tons of waste from coastal habitats will save the lives of many marine species that are important for Vava’u’s biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods, and cleaning the area will prevent the spread of disease and keep the area aesthetically pleasing. The awareness generated from the event will be used towards leveraging a continued campaign for long-term solid waste solutions in Vava’u.


VEPA website:

Exams are over! HOORAY!!!!!

PHOTO : My students taking the big exam.

All the hard work of studying has all come down to October 5th, 2010. The English Exam was the first of four tests for the big class six high school entrance exams. This test will for the most part determine the future of most of the children in Tonga. It will decide whether they will go to the government high school or one of the religious schools. At the end of the day, it is best if you can get in one of the government high schools.

PHOTO: My students and I with a visitor from Neiafu.

I was able to see a copy of the English exam and was surprised by a new “write a notice” section. Ahh! I didn’t teach the children how to do that. Grrr...damn the ministry! I hope the kids did well in the other sections to compensate. The English exam comprises of grammar, opposites, same meanings, story writing, fill in the blanks, conversation, and more. We won’t find out about the marks until the first week of December. Regardless, this year has really prepared me to do a better job next year.

Test week also is composed of Tonga feasts! For two days the parents of the class six students prepare a ton of food for the teachers, test supervisor, and members of community. It was delicious! I definitely ate well for the week. After the exams, school pretty much slows down. In the end, I'm sure the kids are glad it's over so they don't have to listen to me bicker about the difference between to, two, or too/there, their, they're and sentence writing. Malolo!

PHOTOS: Kai pola! Feast days! ‘ifo ‘aupito. Delicious.

Mormon Youth

PHOTO : Clean up of Neiafu wharf.

Youth Groups in Tonga are for the most part very popular. The word “youth” is very vague. You technically could be thirty and still be considered a “youth.” It all comes down to if you are married or not (for the most part). Long story short, I was very impressed with some of the projects that various youth groups pursue throughout Tonga to fulfill their civic duties. I was so impressed when a Mormon youth group in Vava’u conducted a major cleanup of downtown Neiafu. They cleared out rubbish from an entire section of the Neiafu waterfront. I have never seen such amazing acts of volunteerism from so many Tongan youths. Kudos to the Mormon youth group that day. I can only hope others will be inspired to take action as well.

PHOTOS: Various photos from the event.