PHOTO: USS CLEVELAND outside of the Port of Refuge in Vava'u
The US Navy Pacific Partnership stopped by in the past week to do some humanitarian work throughout Vava'u. Overall, it was success implementing medical work to thousands of Tongans throughout Vava'u and repairing schools and a town hall. The USS Cleveland arrived in Vava'u last Wednesday? The ship had about six hundred people primarily from the US with representatives from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Singapore, and a couple of NGOs helping with the various projects throughout Vava'u.
PHOTOS: The scores of people waiting to see the medical staff at Prince Ngu Hospital, a puppet show at the Neiafu public library, and Captain Jess Wilson addressing the Neiafu crowd at the FIEFIA DAY at the market harbour.
All the festivities started with an official opening ceremony in Vava'u High School on Thursday, April 14. The Governor of Vava'u as well well as representatives from the respective countries were present for the official opening. VHS students performed traditional Tongan dances and US Navy helicopters made an appearance. We Peace Corps Volunteers in Vava'u were pretty lucky to have been invited to tour the ship and ride the helicopters. The tour of the ship really made me miss home with all the delicious food and satellite flat screen TVs inside! It was the first time I have ever ridden a helicopter and it was awesome!
PHOTOS: Some highlights from the helicopter ride and a group photo on the flight deck of the USS Cleveland.
The Pacific Partnership primarily focused on a lot health initiatives throughout Vava'u. The last time they were in Tonga, they were in the Ha'apai island group in 2009. The Prince Ngu Hospitals were filled with doctors and nurses from the ship. Health Clinic "satellite" offices were set up in Falevai, Hunga, and Tu'anikivale to reach out to those far away from Neiafu. The group gave out prescription glasses, performed oral surgery, veterinary work, and more. Furthermore, the group repaired the roofs of some government primary school like GPS Makave and the town hall in Talihau.
PHOTOS: The feast at the closing ceremony, the official closing photo with Dr. Ana the Minister of Education, Women Affairs, and Culture, and the US Navy band at the Neiafu wharf for a Saturday morning concert.
It was quite a sight in Neiafu with all of the palangis in town. There were so many people everywhere! It definitely helped out all the local businesses with all of the money coming in. It also addressed issue of tourism vs. culture. The closing ceremony was held on Thursday since Good Friday is a national holiday (which was the last day of the mission). A lot of the businesses were shut down Friday leaving the sailors a limited amount of options for their long deserved "free day" in Vava'u. Regardless, it definitely is something to think about as Tonga hopes to become more active in the tourism sector in the future. In the end, their presence was much appreciated, but things are starting to go back to normal as the ship sailed off to Vanuatu this morning. Bon voyage!
PHOTO: Group photo at the Neiafu International Airport after the helicopter ride.