Over the past week, Cyclone Gita has harrowed its way around the South Pacific leaving behind a path of destruction, sadness and loss. One of the most affected countries was the Kingdom of Tonga – the friendly island nation in which my family and I hail from.
With destructive winds of 230 kilometres per hour, Cyclone Gita category 4 struck Tonga on the night of Monday 12th February 2018. When daylight arrived, immense sadness swept across the nation as the devastating aftermath of Cyclone Gita was made apparent. It was reported that tens of thousands of people were left without power, running water and sadly, some families lost everything. The terrifying night was felt by Tongans abroad as we were concerned for our relatives in Tonga. At 5:33am AEST on Tuesday 13th February 2018, I received the photo below from one of my relatives:
Unfortunately, like many other families across Tonga, the family home (as shown in the photo above) and the property on my Father’s side of the family were severely damaged. Thankfully, my family members in Tonga are all safe and sound. For that, we were all relieved and grateful.
The home in the photo above is located on the main road of Tonga and beside it once stood a little shop with which a generation before mine once ran a small business. You can see that the shop is no longer there. This home held so many beautiful memories for my Pale family. It was considered as ‘home’ for so many even up to this present moment. My family members who were born and raised in this home have sent beautiful messages as they lovingly and tearfully reminisced about their time growing up in Tonga. This home was built many years ago on a foundation of love, high hopes and big dreams. It was what my late paternal Grandparents had strived for and what they had instilled in the generations that followed. They have left behind a legacy for my generation and the next to continue and while we are disheartened by the devastating effects of Cyclone Gita, we will remain encouraged. Like many other families in Tonga and abroad, my family and I will face this devastating reality with resilience, love and the courage to move forward.
His Majesty King Tupou VI provided a heart-warming and empowering public address this week for the people residing in the Kingdom of Tonga. Included in his public address was the following statement:
“Let’s work together to build our country, a lot can be achieved if we work together. Make use of the opportunity that we have life to do useful work for our country.” (Source: http://matangitonga.to/2018/02/15/lets-work-together-build-country-urges-king-tupou-vi)
His Majesty King Tupou VI’s words and his example of service and leadership has resonated deeply with Tongans around the globe. It is with his encouragement, Tongans are united and working collaboratively to rebuild the nation. Below are photos sourced from various news reports which depict the extent of the aftermath of Cyclone Gita across the Kingdom of Tonga:
New Zealand and Australia responded immediately to this disaster and each government has sent over emergency supplies for the Kingdom of Tonga. This has been of tremendous help to the nation.
Photo: Australian Air Force (Source: https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/350592/transparency-trumps-speed-in-tonga-relief-effort)
Photo: New Zealand Defence Force (Source: https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/350592/transparency-trumps-speed-in-tonga-relief-effort)
The work toward the repairs, rebuild and the revival of the spirit of the people are currently underway. However, it will take time and many hands make light work.
If you would like to support families in the Kingdom of Tonga, the New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade has advised that the best thing you can do when a disaster occurs is to donate money to an emergency appeal by an experienced organisation working on the ground. These organisations have clear systems and processes for assessing what is needed. Where possible they will source supplies from close to the affected area, which is the most efficient and cost-effective way of getting help to those who need it, and also supports the local economy. Links to the emergency appeals are provided below:
Thank you to my friends, colleagues and family members who have offered kind words, love and support over the past few days. It has been both encouraging and heart-warming. I am truly grateful.
While it has been an extremely emotional week for myself and many Tongans around the globe, the saying “Tonga mo’unga ki he loto”, which means ‘Tonga’s strength-hold is its heart’, reminds me to embrace this opportunity to provide love, compassion and support back home. With this in mind, I will continue to uplift all families residing in the Kingdom of Tonga in prayer and I will try my very best to do what I can in order to help.
I conclude this post with the words of the Tongan athlete Pita Taufatofua:
“What hasn’t been affected is the heart of the people. Buildings we can repair but the core values and the core strengths of the Tongan people, no cyclone can come through and affect them – that hasn’t been touched. And that’s what is going to get our people through this.” (Source: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/sport/other/we-rebuild-tongan-flag-bearer-pita-taufatofua-shares-touching-message-cyclone-hit-tonga-winter-olympics)
Dr Maryanne Pale