How to help struggling families in Tonga

Anglican Relief and Development Fund is partnering with a Tongan church in Sydney to deliver aid to people in areas most affected by the recent eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano and tsunami which destroyed many homes in Tonga’s outer islands.

With volcanic ash fall polluting water sources and destroying crops, there is a shortage of food and water supply which is affecting people not only on the main island but also from the outer islands who have moved to the main island.

“It is near impossible to send money and really challenging for the Tongan people to withdraw money.” – Lucy Lim

While sending money rather than goods has been promoted as the more practical option, a Tongan-based Christian charity linked to the Tongan Evangelical Wesleyan Church (TEWC) family in Greenacre, says the banking system has been overwhelmed with demands.

“In discussion with Ofa Ki He Masiva, our on-the-ground partner, it became clear that although sending money seems to be the practical option, it is near impossible to send money and really challenging for the Tongan people to withdraw money,” says Lucy Lim, executive director of ARDFA Australia.

“This is something that the church community can practically do with maximum effects.”

‘Ofa Ki He Masiva was set up by TEWC’s church minister, Ma’afu Palu, and his wife when they lived in Tonga. Since TEWC families already support the charity by regularly sending school fee money and annual drums containing food items to Tonga, the church community decided to use its church connections and charity networks to distribute drums of food.

“Even today, we heard that food and supplies are running out in shops. Furthermore, there is now overcrowding and additional demands in the main island, as those who live on the outer islands whose homes were affected by the tsunami have moved to the main island in order to get access to water and other supplies,” Lucy says.

“We are sending the equivalent of six 6-metre containers of long-life food and household supplies to be distributed in the areas most affected, including the poorer informal settlement areas on the main island of  Tongatapu. Some of the supplies will also be directed to the island of ‘Eua, where 28 houses were completely destroyed by the tsunami. The containers are due to go out mid-February, arriving in March. ” 

“These opportunities have opened doors to share the gospel and to speak about God’s love, particularly for those in the Tongan community.” – Elizabeth Palu

“We thank God that there has been much support towards our Tonga Volcano and Tsunami Disaster Relief. It is wonderful when Christian people and organisations can work together to help those in need,” comments Lucy.

“We are grateful to The Archbishop of Sydney’s Anglican Aid, which is running a separate appeal, but also partnering with us in the relief work and Barnabas Relief Education and Development Fund for donating two pre-filled containers of emergency supplies.”

Elizabeth Palu, who is managing the relief effort for the church, adds: “The Fellowship of Evangelical Churches (FIEC) of which TEWC is a member, ran a separate appeal and raised significant funds. These opportunities have opened doors to share the gospel and to speak about God’s love, particularly for those in the Tongan community. They are very happy to see their Christian brothers and sisters coming together to provide much-needed aid and relief to Tonga.”

To make a tax-deductible donation, please click here. To make a donation of household items such as sheets, blankets, towels to include in the containers, please email [email protected]

Meanwhile, the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (FWCT) showed the value of planning for the worst in the wake of the January 15 volcanic event.


Damage to buildings after the Jan 15 tsunami in Tonga

After experiencing the effects of Cyclone Harold and Gita, which both hit Tonga in 2018, FWCT partnered with UnitingWorld to prepare for the next natural disaster by stocking and sourcing in advance a large storage facility with building materials so they could begin repairs to buildings within days of a disaster.

The church also used an Australian government grant to supply water tanks to families without water after Cyclone Harold. With many water sources polluted by volcanic ash or destroyed by the tsunami, strong water tanks that can withstand significant weather events are helping people get access to water they desperately need.

Back in 2015, the church saw the need for a network of chaplains to support people after a disaster or crisis. They worked with experts Stephen Robinson, Nau Ahosivi and Alimoni Taumoepeau to run a series of training sessions for their ministers.

“When cyclones Gita and Harold hit, the network was deployed and additional chaplains were trained last year as part of the Tropical Cyclone Harold response, thus strengthening and expanding the existing network of those equipped to provide trauma counselling to those most affected,” says Aletia Dundas, International Project Manager for Uniting World.

“Now, they’ve been able to move quickly and efficiently into the worst-hit areas to help provide traumatised people with counselling and other support. The speed of this response makes a very big difference to people’s ability to recover.”

The church has also made use of theological resources to educate church members about God’s role in suffering and disaster, the impact of changing climate and the importance of ecological stewardship. The Bible studies and preaching guides were prepared by Pacific theologians with Uniting Church support and have been widely used.

In its current appeal, UnitingWorld stresses the need to encourage local capacity building through donations through NGOs rather than sending items directly. If you would like to make a donation click here.

“We are so thankful to God that the ash dust is clearing, and that the crops will soon be able to grown again.” – Willy Florian

The Anglican Board of Missions reports funds raised by AB Mission are being used on the ground in Tonga to distribute prepositioned supplies on Tongatapu. The next steps will be sending relief supplies that it has in Fiji (which cannot be procured in Tonga and which are requested by Tonga).

Its medium to longer-term response will address water supply solutions along with nutrition-rich food to substitute for the lost produce and garden supplies until new crops can grow in the ash-contaminated soil. “We are working with the Anglican Diocese of Polynesia in Tonga and their wider communities,” says AB Mission.

On a positive note, Willy Florian, Station Manager of Tonga Christian Radio, reported on January 30 that it had been raining in Tonga this past week.

“God has answered our prayers. It has been raining here in the Kingdom since Thursday night. All this dust and ashes from the eruption has gone away. Thank you for all your prayers out there. Glory to God,” he said.

“We are so thankful to God that the ash dust is clearing, and that the crops will soon be able to grown again.”