Oxfam supporters are giving young people in Tonga the chance to develop their skills through volunteering and professional development. Oxfam’s Michael Smith recently visited our partner, the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC), to find out more about their work and to meet some of the people we’re helping.
I am writing this from the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) office, which sits about two or three blocks back from the waterfront in a dusty backstreet of Nuku’alofa.
Across the road is the grand-looking Ministry of Justice. There’s a scene that unfolds in the street outside this building every week that inspires Vanessa Lolohea, the Director of TNYC. “Thursday is juvenile court day,” says Vanessa. “Hundreds of youngsters turn up to hear the cases against them. Mostly it’s petty theft, fighting, alcohol related, sometimes it’s drugs. It’s disheartening, but galvanising at the same time.
“Every Thursday I look out across the street see just how important this work is. And that we still have lots more work to do.”
This petty crime and violence is symptomatic of the malaise affecting Tongan youth. There’s a sense of listlessness here, which is in part derived from the absence of opportunity. Even for university graduates, there are few job opportunities. It’s not surprising that many young people look to brighter shores or become disheartened or de-motivated.
The team at TNYC believe in creating better opportunities for young people. They create these opportunities in a number of ways - such as encouraging income opportunities through organic agriculture and through volunteer work.
I met with Unaloto Saulo, 20, from Ha’ateiho, who is a TNYC community volunteer. He’s a bit of a dude, but under the bravado is an intelligent, softly spoken guy who is passionate about enabling Tongan youth to have the same opportunities as those we expect here in New Zealand.
Una used to hang around drinking kava and getting into trouble. But three months ago, he signed up to become a TNYC volunteer after being inspired by another TNYC volunteer, Mausa, who was conducting HIV-awareness work in Una’s school.
Una’s role is flexible and includes data entry and writing reports. The role is providing him with good career-building experience and strengthening his CV and employability.
“For me, TNYC has made a difference. I’m more mature. I have more control of myself. It’s been a big change in my life. I’m learning how to manage my time and do something important. It’s going to be a turnaround – for good.”
Una is very driven. He dreams of becoming a mechanic, practising on the many rusting vans that litter the streets and driveways in Tongatapu. And he understands the value of the opportunities TNYC offer him. “I hope to be with TNYC a long time,” he says “I want to know more things so I can get a job.”
Change runs deep
Talking to people like Una, as well as farmers, business people, ex-pats, villagers and TNYC staff and volunteers, I can tell you that TNYC’s work runs deep in the communities here and is critical to the future of Tonga.
The kind donations by Oxfam supporters are a crucial element in making change happen. Young people like Una are Tonga’s future. We need to continue building TNYC’s capacity because they’re helping shape Tonga’s nascent civil society. They hope to see their proud kingdom emerge as a country where the future for young people is as bright as a Pacific morning.
And they are making the most out of the support you’re giving them. Malo ‘aupito.