Hands reach across the sea as Auckland school supports Tonga cyclone victims

Issue: Volume 97, Number 10

Posted: 7 June 2018
Reference #: 1H9j8N

A Mangere school’s call for donations for its storm-battered sister school in the Pacific produced a container-load of help from its community.

When Cyclone Gita struck Tonga in February, the impact was devastating, and schools were hit hard by storm damage and flooding, along with the rest of the community. But big-hearted help organised by a New Zealand school has put one girls’ school in Nukualofa back on the road to recovery.

The worst storm in 60 years brought widespread flooding and caused huge damage to buildings, including to Queen Salote College, which is Tonga’s only all-girls school. The roof was extensively damaged and furniture swept away.

Classes couldn’t continue in the damaged buildings, so the students were put into marquees. It was a major blow to their education as the school couldn’t afford to quickly rebuild or replace what was lost.

In Auckland, leaders of Sutton Park School in Mangere were shocked when they saw pictures of the devastation on TV and decided to reach out to help in a very practical way – by sending aid in the form of container-load of essentials.

A community rallies

A call for donations went out to the wider Tongan community across Auckland.

Sutton Park School has close links with Queen Salote School through a sister school relationship. The shipping container idea was put together by the principal of Sutton Park, Fa’atili Iosua Esera, and its Tongan bilingual unit, Sia Ua, led by Maliana Taufalele.

Fa’atili says that help came from everywhere. The container itself was given for free. Tongan Radio got behind the campaign, as did other media. Schools, families and businesses rallied round with donations of furniture, books, desks, chairs, white boards, even plates and cutlery, sports gear and food, all eventually packed into the container for shipping. Students arrived at the school with bags of rice, flour and canned food from their parents.

It took just four weeks to fill the container ready for shipping. Two weeks later, the container arrived in Tonga, and it was a godsend, says Queen Salote Principal Dr Asenate Samate.

“The support from Sutton Park parents … was astounding. The love and support given by our Mangere community, schools and other businesses was greatly appreciated,” she said.

Vaitimu Togi Lemanu, Deputy Principal of Sutton Park, went to Tonga with two teachers and the board chair for the official ceremony to open the container after its arrival.

The college community was very grateful and there were “never-ending thank yous”, he says.

Pacific values and identity

The response to the call reflects the school’s kaupapa and its strong community connections, which embrace Pacific values. Retaining the culture and being proud of Tongan identity is a big part of that. Two thirds of the students at the Years 1–8 school are Tongan.

“There is strong parental engagement and we maintain strong relationships with other schools and the wider community. We tell students that being proud of your language, identity and culture will help you throughout your life, as you need to know who you are to be successful,” he says.

The school has eight Tongan bilingual classes from Years 1–8 and follows the bilingual model, with Years 0 and 1 studying in Tongan only, after which the students study in English also. It has two Māori immersion classes, one class being Years 1–3 and the other class being Years 4–6, and a Samoan bilingual unit. Eighty percent of senior students speak two or more languages, and seniors can also learn Mandarin as an option.

Vaitimu says the benefit of this early language focus is that in following years the students’ fluency improves, as does performance in all their languages.

“People learn better in cultural contexts they can relate to. Our aim is that our children graduate proficient in two or more languages.”

In its 2015 report on Sutton Park School, ERO said: “Māori and Pacific perspectives are skillfully woven into learning experiences and this encourages students to be highly engaged.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 2:09 pm, 7 June 2018

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