headquartersHeadquarters of the Peace Corps in Tonga
is located in the capital city of Nuku'alofa
on the northern coast of Tongatapu Island
.

 

Peace Corps training in Tonga

 

Rebecca and Justin were among 16 volunteers who started training in Oct. 2002 for the Peace Corps in Tonga that culminated on Dec. 12 with a swearing-in ceremony to formally begin their two years of service. They were posted to Nomuka, a small island far from Nuku'alofa (see map).

The following is excerpted from a speech given by John Parsell, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Peace Corps in Tonga, explaining the six weeks of training:

 

Pre-Service Training for Tonga Group 64 was held principally in Tongatapu and the Island Group of Ha'apai for ten weeks, beginning on October 5th when the Trainees arrived in the Kingdom and ending today, the 12 of December with 16 Trainees. The project was managed and executed by a training staff consisting of a Training Manager, two coordinators, one technical trainer, four Language Cultural Technical Facilitators, known as LCTFs, a training secretary, and one support staff.

The content was divided among four major subject areas: Language, Cross-Cultural, Technical and Health/Safety/Security. These components were developed throughout different phases of training with each phase designed to articulate specific content and focus areas.

PHASE ONE: Bridge to Training
Beginning on October 5th and ending on October 15th, the primary focus of this ten-day period was general orientation to the Peace Corps Tonga Post, its projects and operations, the Kingdom of Tonga with regards to Language and Culture, and to the goals, objectives and expectations of this Pre-Service Training.

PHASE TWO: Homestay, Center and School Observations
This phase of training was held in Ha'apai for five and a half weeks from October 16th to November 22nd . The main purpose was to provide the Trainees with general community experiences by living and interacting with Tongan families. In these families, the Trainees were exposed to Tongan family life in the villages of Pangai, Ha'ato'u, and Hihifo. The Homestay families helped the trainees in many ways: from sharing traditions, legends, and culturally appropriate behaviors for a variety of settings to blending them into daily routines and preparing local food for them.
During this time the four subject areas of this training were highlighted. Language classes were held at least once a day to provide a sound basis for understanding not only Tongan Language, but also the culture. Technical Education, Cross-Cultural and Health/Safety/Security sessions were held at the Ha'apai Youth Center once a week after an initial two-week half-day schedule. The Trainees designed, organized and facilitated a Community day in Pangai as an exercise in community involvement and activity. Trainees also participated in six-day school observation periods at primary and secondary schools throughout Ha'apai. At the conclusion of the Homestay Phase of Training, the Trainees demonstrated and presented aspects of Tongan Culture they had learned from their Homestay families for a celebration called 'Aho Faka Tonga ("Day of Tongan Way").

PHASE THREE: Attachment
From November 22nd until December 5th the Trainees were matched with Volunteers currently serving at sites in 'Eua, Tongatapu, Nomkua, Vava'u, Niuatoputapu and Niuafo'ou. The main purpose for this phase was to provide Trainees with an opportunity to experience Volunteer life firsthand. LCTFs traveled to each Island group and continued to provide language instruction.

PHASE FOUR: Bridge to service
After Attachment, the Trainees moved back to Nuku'alofa for the final phase of Pre-Service Training from December 6th to December 11th. These days were designed to prepare the Trainees for the transition from training to service. During this time, Trainees completed all training, administrative and medical requirements. On the final day of Bridge to Service, Trainees met with and facilitated a workshop with supervisors and counterparts from their sites. This workshop provided a valuable first connection for Volunteers and their supervisors or counterparts. Finally, they have made the decision and commitment to take the Peace Corps Oath to serve as volunteers in Tonga.

The overall goal of this training was TO PREPARE THE TRAINEES TO BECOME SAFE, CULTURALLY-SENSITIVE, SELF-RELIANT AND PRODUCTIVE VOLUNTEERS.

The objectives that were set for the Trainees to be able to do by today are:
1) attain a comfortable level using survival and basic Tongan language skills, technical and cross cultural skills, and health and safety maintenance skills necessary to allow them to serve effectively,
2) model the following skills of proficient development workers-critical thinking, creative problem solving, information gathering and analysis, flexibility, patience and self-reliance,
3) describe Peace Corps/Tonga' development strategy,
4) acquire the skills and information to function effectively as a facilitator assisting organizations and communities in defining problems, identifying assets and finding solutions.
5) Establish a support network across borders and at all levels of Tongan society-individual, professional, organizational, community, district, and national.
6) identify strategies to build counterpart relationships,
7) effectively manage the communication process utilizing listening and questioning skills, giving/receiving feedback, and interpreting non-verbal communication,
8) manage loneliness, isolation and stress, utilizing an understanding of basic nutrition, hygiene, and personal health and safety skills in the context of the Tongan community,
9) familiarize themselves with their assignments and acquire the necessary skills to complete assignments successfully,
10) clarify their understanding of what is expected of them as a Volunteer in order to set professional and personal goals and to measure their progress,
11) incorporate their understanding of the PC's mission and the Post's specific mission into activities and projects.

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Journal: October 2002

Via email from Justin:

We have now been in Tonga for a week. General observations of Nuku 'Alofa, the capital: There is a surprising amount of traffic here. Many cars and vans driving on the wrong side of the street. The capital is on Tongatapu, which is the largest island. You get the sense in Nuku 'Alofa that there is a lot of western influence compared to the rest of the country . Men wear pants and shorts in the street (not while working or in school, where they wear tapenu and ta'avala, which are skirts and a mat-like belt) and women wear pants and sometimes tank tops. There are a lot of stray dogs, pigs and roosters. There is a lot of trash in the streets.

Besides our training classes, which take place in the Peace Corps office all day and are pretty intensive, we have been to church twice, had a traditional Tongan feast and partaken in kava. We also had a tour of the island, where we saw a couple of beaches and some ancient ruins. We have been hitting some palangi (westerner) bars, and this past weekend went to Pheonix, the biggest local nightclub. It was very fun -- mostly Tongans dancing to Nelly and Eminem, which is very popular here.

Tuesday we take off for Ha'apai for our family stays. Ha'apai is another island group where things have not been so influenced by western culture. It is supposedly like going back in time, and all the training we have had will come into play about culture. We were told to expect the family to feed us, while we sit on the floor, and they stand and watch and only eat what we don't finish. This could include fish heads and pig brains -- mmmm. We are looking forward to the experience, but not the 13 hour boat ride there.

After that we have 2 week site visits, maybe separate from each other, and then off to our placement site (which we don't know yet).

As far as what we wil be doing, we think that I (Sasitini) will be teaching computers and Rebecca (Lepeka) will be teaching primary English. We have visited schools last week, and the whole education system seems a little depressing. We will also have secondary projects we will develop while in site. Other than that, we are having a great time. The rest of our group is very interesting. We are not the "old married couple." There are two other married couples out of 16 people, and we are the youngest. There are a lot of recent college grads too, and they happen to be the most fun (surprise surprise). Everyone gets along great though, and we feel like we have known them all forever. The current volunteers are very cool as well.

 
For more information see the excellent website of Peace Corps volunteer Paul Neville, who served in Tonga 2001-3.
Check out the website of Peace Corps volunteer Mike Lebson (Tonga 2001-03), who has dozens of observations about contemporary Tongan culture.