Malo e lei lei from Tonga!
Our time in Tonga has been quite the adventure and experience. On arriving in Tonga on Thursday night, we were met by family and friends of some of the boys, the principal of Apifo’ou college, Fr ‘Ekuasi Manu, and Tino, our tour bus driver for the week.
Our first experience of a Tongan ‘light meal’ awaited us at Toutaimana, the Catholic Education Centre who were to be our hosts for the first three nights.
Early the next morning we met with Bishop Mafi, who shared his experience of Catholic life and his experiences of education in New Zealand. It was not lost on us that he was a Marist.
The formal welcome at Apifo’ou College was a lifelong memory made up of many different parts:
- Mass that included a brass band, singing that lifted the roof and full participation from every student.
- Kava ceremony to officially welcome us to the college – Mr McDowall represented the college.
- Waiata and haka from the St Bede’s boys and responded to by Apiifo’ou students (see SBC website).
- Banquet lunch and dinner.
- Concert, which many of our boys joined too.
Dinner that night was provided by Jerry Li’s family. Jerry is a Y10 boarder at St Bede’s and his family is based in Tonga.
The following day we headed out for a tour of the farm that Apifo’ou College are involved in. After helping to weed some taro plants we were given coconuts straight off the tree. A tour of the Nishi production plant and farm completed the visit.
It was a special lunch for us on Sunday with the family of Soane Tahi (Year 12 boarder). We saw the talent in Soane’s family as his little brother sang while we ate and his sister also did a traditional dance… which Soane joined in on!
That evening we were privileged to be invited to Lord Sevele’s home for a banquet dinner. Lord Sevele is an old boy of the college and after dinner retold some of his life journey and his special affection for St Bede’s College. The boys sang our college waiata as a thank you.
Mass on Sunday was always going to be special with faith being such a key component of everyday life. Everything stops on a Sunday for this reason – no shops open, it is all about church and family. The stunning Tongan singing was all we had hoped for, and the parish priest did say he doubted the boys had ever been to such a long service, but welcome to Tonga!
Following Mass, the boys met their homestay families and were off on their immersion part of the tour. The generosity of these families was humbling and three days the boys will never forget. Many of the boys have said that these days, spent with their Tongan families, were the highlight of the trip for them.
From Monday to Wednesday the boys attended school with their homestays and embraced Tongan education. This involved going to classes, mingling with students and staff, and taking part in the Angelus each day at midday, signalled by the ringing off the school bell. A very different experience to see a school of 800 stop and pray together each day.
Wednesday was a day of service with the boys doing painting jobs around the school. The boys repainted the college signs of the ‘St John’s Campus’ and St Mary’s Campus, which combined to form Apifo’ou College. The statues of Our Lady and St Peter Chanel, Patron Saint of Oceania, also got the boys’ attention.
Thursday will see us begin our journey home after a tour of the island and final farewell to all those who made this trip possible.
The purpose of this tour was to strengthen our relationship with Apifou’ou College – clearly successful by the amount of time it took for farewells! But also, to give St Bede’s boys an understanding of where their fellow Bedeans come from and their culture. Involvement in school, parish,and family life were key components and 16 boys will come home with a new outlook on life. It is our intention to develop this immersion tour into a biennial event enriching our Catholic Special Character programme.