The Future is Equal


NZ company working with Oxfam to turn seawater into drinking water in Tonga

Bay of Islands based company Open Ocean says it is pleased the desalination units developed on request of Oxfam in 2014 are still helping to save lives in Tonga today. Over the weekend, Oxfam Aotearoa finally made contact with their partner Tongan National Youth Congress (TYNC), and was told the good news about the desalination units.

Vanessa Lolohea, Director of TYNC, spoke to Humanitarian Lead for Oxfam Aotearoa Carlos Calderon, saying that morale is high despite the circumstances. Lolohea told Oxfam that water is still a critical issue, but they are managing to survive with what little water they have.

Humanitarian Lead at Oxfam Aotearoa Carlos Calderon said:

“Even though we were unable to make contact until recently, we were confident that TNYC would have already stepped in and responded as they know best. We were so pleased to hear that they are using the desalination units to purify salty and seawater and distribute it to the community. TNYC has expressed gratitude upon receiving word that the second Oxfam desalination unit arrived on the NZDF flight and is currently  in quarantine.”

General Manager of Open Ocean Daniel Alexander said:

“Our thoughts have been with Tonga ever since we heard, so we are so pleased to hear the units are still going strong after so many years. We are currently building more at the request of Oxfam and hope to have them ready soon.”

Currently, TNYC has established five water stations in Tongatapu for easy access to the community. TNYC said they would look to expand to Haapai and Eua, but sea transport is still a challenge.

Calderon said: “The Eastern Districts on Tongatapu does not have access to drinking water, and water will need to be trucked in over the coming days. Groundwater on the main islands of Ha’apai is also unsafe for drinking due to high saltwater contamination.

“The main island of Tongatapu is covered with 5-10 centimetres of ash, but I’m told that clean-up operations are progressing well, and the runway at the international airport in Tongatapu has been cleared.

“Thanks for the generosity of Kiwis, Oxfam Aotearoa have raised over $40,000 and counting. Tonga will need every penny over the coming weeks.

“It is estimated that some 12,000 households have been affected as crops, livestock, fisheries suffered substantially. Of particular concern is the effect of ashfall on crops and saltwater intrusion, and the potential of acid rain.”


Oxfam Aotearoa is currently running an appeal to help bring drinking water to Tonga. Those looking to give can do so here:

Open Ocean have been building desalination units since 2001. In 2014, Oxfam Aotearoa approached Open Ocean to build specially made desalination units after Cyclone Ian ripped through Tonga. Open Ocean is located in Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

The Oxfam desalination units convert salt water and seawater into drinking water at approximately 240 litres per hour.

Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) is one of Oxfam’s local partners in Tonga. Other partners include Tonga National Youth Council, Tonga National Council of Churches (TNCC), Ma’a, Fafine mo e Famili Inc. (MFF), Tonga Leitis Association (TLA) and Civil Society Forum of Tonga (CSFT)

Read more about the work Oxfam does in the Pacific here.

Oxfam reaction to Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai Volcanic Eruption

Following the recent eruption of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai and the ensuing tsunami, Carlos Calderόn Oxfam Aotearoa Humanitarian Lead said:

“We share the concern of our Tongan whanau here in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and our heart goes out to all those impacted by this event. We are monitoring the situation as closely as possible.

“With little communication getting through, we cannot be sure how much damage there may be. Our colleagues have reported volcanic ash upon the ground of approximately 1-2 centimetres. Until we know more, our immediate concerns are air and water pollution from volcanic ash.”

Oxfam in the Pacific runs two programmes in Tonga: The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) programme and Food Security and Livelihoods Programme. Oxfam in the Pacific also works with several partners locally, including Tonga National Youth Council, Tonga National Council of Churches (TNCC), Ma’a Fafine mo e Famili Inc. (MFF), Tonga Leitis Association (TLA), Civil Society Forum of Tonga (CSFT). 

More to follow. 

For more information please contact:

David Bull | +64 274 179 724 |

Our Cyclone Gita response continues

Mausa Halala (pictured) is a volunteer with the Tonga National Youth Congress – Oxfam’s local partner in Tonga. He and other volunteers, trained and equipped by Oxfam to provide emergency water supplies, were working within hours of the storm, purifying and distributing safe drinking water on Tongatapu and ‘Eua. Thanks to your ongoing support, they’re still responding! Photo: Darren Brunk

Oxfam & partner’s ongoing response to Cyclone Gita.

“This has been a great experience… going out and [reaching] people that are in need shows us just how much our students are willing to help people,” says ‘Ofa Pakalani of Tonga National Youth Congress, Oxfam’s partner in Tonga.

When you support Oxfam’s response to disasters such as Tropical Cyclone Gita, which struck the Kingdom of Tonga in February, you’re supporting teams of local volunteers who are often affected by the very emergencies they’re responding to. Who better to support and develop a community than those from it?

We’ve built a strong partnership over nearly 10 years with Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC). Thanks to your support, we’re able to provide disaster preparedness and response training to teams of youth volunteers across Tonga so that when disasters like Cyclone Gita hit, young Tongans have the confidence, training and equipment to lead response efforts and help their communities recover.

The youth involved with TNYC are showing the positive impact that young people can have in their communities, and they are saving and rebuilding lives in the process. And your support is helping make TNYC’s work possible! The funds generously donated by Oxfam NZ’s supporters are being used to purchase supplies for the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) kits that TNYC distribute to those in need, as well as keeping vital equipment running and maintained, and providing support to TNYC volunteers as they dedicate days and weeks away from home to help their country recover.

“This response shows the power of partnerships with local organisations. TNYC youth volunteers are leading an excellent disaster response that is saving lives and alleviating suffering. In the process, TNYCis changing public attitudes in Tonga around youth for the better, by demonstrating the contribution that young Tongans can make to their community,” says Darren Brunk, Oxfam NZ’s humanitarian specialist, who works closely with the TNYC volunteers.

Working together with Oxfam, TNYC volunteers were among the first responders in the country when Cyclone Gita hit, and have been working tirelessly ever since to rebuild the lives of those in their local communities.

The response began as a life-saving one. More than 70,000 people on the islands of Tongatapu and ‘Eua were affected, with homes and community buildings destroyed, crops ruined and lives turned upside down. Thousands of rainwater tanks were toppled and communal water sources were flooded with contaminated water, leaving 17,000 people without water or at risk of contracting a disease. TNYC were out immediately following the storm and distributed 1,431 emergency relief items like soap and tarpaulins, filtered contaminated water, cleaned and repaired tanks, and provided emergency water storage and distribution. Since the cyclone, Oxfam and TNYC have provided over 1,107,000 litres of safe drinking water to affected communities – that’s enough to supply the entire population of Tonga for two days!

On top of this, Oxfam and TNYC are conducting hygiene education classes at schools, helping protect 3,600 children from water and vector-borne disease. Alongside TNYC and Caritas Aotearoa NZ, and with financial support from the New Zealand Government, we had urgently-needed supplies on the ground ready for distribution before the storm hit – an action unique amongst international humanitarian NGOs.

Four months after the storm, we’re still there with TNYC working on the long-term rebuild. Cyclone Gita devastated many vital food sources and markets in Tonga – coconuts, bananas, fruit trees and root crops. Together with support from the New Zealand Government, Oxfam and TNYC are growing seedlings and distributing seeds to 800 farmers to help recover their livelihoods. Working with communities, we’re also identifying and assisting the most vulnerable families – such as single women-headed households and people with disabilities – to buy the produce grown through this initiative and to sell at local markets so as to restore their own incomes and livelihoods.

TNYC’s incredible work has garnered a lot of positive feedback from the communities reached:

“Thank you for everything, we feel a lot safer now.”

“Thank you TNYC volunteer workers for the hard work. We appreciate everything that you have all done.”

“The technology used to purify our water installs a sense of assurance that we can expect clean and safe water.”

“Come back! ‘Eua needs you TNYC and Oxfam!”

Read more about TNYC and their work.

This response is generously supported by Oxfam Canada (through the Canadian Humanitarian Assistance Fund), UNICEF Pacific, the Auckland Mayoral Fund, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Oxfam Global Giving, and Oxfam New Zealand supporters.

70% of Tongan population affected in wake of Cyclone Gita

The full scale of destruction is beginning to emerge from Tonga in the aftermath of the severe tropical cyclone Gita.

Around 50,000 people, or almost 70% of the country’s population, have been affected, a third of whom are children.

Water supplies across the main island of Tongatapu have sustained significant damage, making the risk of further outbreaks of waterborne disease a very real threat. Tonga was already addressing an outbreak of dengue fever in Tongatapu before the storm hit.

Jane Foster, Oxfam’s country director for Tonga, said: “Homes have been destroyed, government buildings flattened, and churches devastated. We have one report of a man, who is one of our local partners, sheltering in his home with his family as part of it was ripped away while they watched in horror.

“The impact of this severe storm will be felt on many people’s livelihoods for a long time to come. We also have grave concerns for the immediate threat from damage sustained to water supplies as the risk of contamination is high. There is a real risk of a second disaster from water and mosquito borne illnesses like dengue.”

“Our focus right now is to support our local partners to conduct assessments as quickly as possible – they are out there now finding out exactly where the most urgent needs are. Oxfam’s main relief efforts will focus on our area of expertise: providing safe water for people, as well as sanitation supplies and public health support to help prevent the spread of water-borne diseases.”

Severe tropical cyclone Gita made landfall in the southern part of Fiji last night. Ms Foster said the agency was deeply concerned for communities in the outer islands, who are yet to make contact.

“Some of these islands that are going to be affected are extremely remote and hard to reach in the best of times. We hope that preparedness plans and evacuation centres keep people safe until support reaches them.”

New Zealanders wanting to support people affected by Cyclone Gita are urged to ensure their generosity has the biggest impact by sending cash, not goods, Ms Foster said. “In a disaster, many people are often moved to send goods they think can help. But for the cost of shipping nine litres of bottled water from New Zealand to Nuku’alofa, Oxfam can produce over 16,200 litres of safe drinking water in Tonga.”

Donations to support Oxfam’s emergency responses in the Pacific and around the world can be made online at or by calling 0800 600 700.

Cyclone Gita heading towards Tonga: Oxfam poised to respond

Oxfam is on standby to respond to Cyclone Gita, as latest forecasts predict the storm could intensify up to a category 5 cyclone before affecting Tonga later tonight.

Up to 70% of the country’s population is at risk with the severe tropical cyclone expected to pass near the populated main islands of Tongatapu and ‘Eua. The storm’s impact may also be felt in the low-lying Ha’apai group, where damaging winds, rain and storm surge are likely.

With the country already addressing an outbreak of dengue fever in Tongatapu, the deterioration of sanitation conditions on the island could increase the risk of a second disaster due to the spread of dengue and other vector and water-borne diseases.

Oxfam stands ready to support the Tongan government, which may include mobilising local partners and other emergency personnel.

Oxfam, along with its partner the Tongan National Youth Congress (TNYC), has disaster preparedness programmes in Ha’apai and Vava’u. Oxfam is liaising with TNYC and the Tongan government to prepare for an appropriate and coordinated response.

Jane Foster, Oxfam’s country director for Tonga, says: “Once the urgent needs are assessed we are expecting to help coordinate the supply of clean water and sanitation for those affected by the disaster.

“Oxfam has a long-established presence in Tonga and Samoa and we have pre-positioned emergency supplies already in-country ready to be deployed should they be required.”

If you’d like to help us support those affected by disasters like Cyclone Gita, donate to our Disaster Response Fund.

Facing hardship, but striving for self-reliance

Story by Kamilo ‘Ali, Oxfam’s Polynesia Micronesia Livelihoods Programme Manager, 13.10.2017

Seven years ago, Sione Te’i fell from a multi-storied building and completely paralysed both of his legs. He’s confined to a wheelchair 24/7, with his legs covered, which seriously limits income-generating opportunities for him.

As a way of making money, Sione used to help out a friend whose livelihood is making and selling carvings – however, this income was not reliable. Sione would only earn money if the carvings sold.

“Some weeks I would get $30 pa’anga [approximately NZD 20], max, and other weeks I would get nothing. My wages depended on the sales of the carving that my friend made.”

In order to earn a more stable living, Sione started working for the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC), who Oxfam has been partnering with since 2011. The partnership started with a focus on sustainable livelihood sources for young people, with an emphasis on sustainable farming to conserve the fragile, land-based resources. TNYC seeks to ensure that their projects are inclusive of people living with disabilities, in order to reduce the barriers they face to accessing secure livelihoods.

Oxfam’s Rural Enterprise and Sustainable Livelihoods in Tonga (RESULT) project, in partnership with TNYC, has the goal of establishing a viable youth-led and community-focused business, selling virgin coconut oil and dried vanilla bean. The establishment of this business aims to generate sustainable cash flow to support TNYC’s non-commercial social activities, as well as providing employment opportunities to unemployed youth, and creating an environment that will allow them to flourish. RESULT staff saw the opportunity to use the coconut shells from the VCO, which were initially simply discarded, to be turned into handicrafts and carving.

That’s where Sione comes in. With the skills he gained from helping his friend make and sell his carvings, he now produces and sells handicrafts from coconut shells as a part of the RESULT project.

Sione is happy that, through this, he can earn an income he can rely on.

“I now earn a more stable income here at TNYC of $100 pa’anga [NZD 65] a week.”

TNYC provides transport for Sione to and from work, and they also take him home when he needs to use the toilet.

“If the toilet facility here at the TNYC was fully enclosed I would not have been needed to be taken home to go to the toilet during working hours.”

Sione’s goal is to get himself his own carving tools so he can work from home, where he is most comfortable.