History of the Peace Corps in Tonga
The Peace Corps has a rich and extensive history in the Kingdom of Tonga. Volunteers first arrived in October 1967 at the invitation of King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV. The initial group consisted of only 39 trainees; by the end of that first year, there were more than 400 Volunteers and trainees in Tonga. Since then, more than 1,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Tonga, primarily as teachers. However, Peace Corps programming in Tonga has also included work in fisheries, agriculture, physical therapy, architecture, health, marine biology, water resources, cooperatives, business, construction, environment, and youth.
Today, approximately 50 Volunteers are serving in Tonga. Current Volunteers are working in the community micro-enterprise development and community education projects. Both incorporate elements from previous programs and future Volunteers will build upon the foundations established by several generations of Volunteers in Tonga.
The community education project focuses on both formal and nonformal education at the village level. Most Volunteers serve in the communities with the greatest needs in Tonga, including remote outer islands and the smaller villages on the main island of Tongatapu. Volunteers divide their time roughly equally between their formal work as enrichment teachers in the classroom and their nonformal education activities at the community level. This approach helps establish schools as centers for community education and development throughout the kingdom.
In the schools, most education Volunteers serve as enrichment teachers for English as a second language (ESL) at the elementary and secondary school levels. Volunteers work closely with a Tongan counterpart teacher to develop, enhance, and enrich the English language instruction at all grade levels in their schools. Volunteers also help to develop resources, including library and computer resources, and increase the links between schools and communities. Many Volunteers are involved in creating and implementing community classes in the information technology (IT) and English fields. They are involved in a range of extracurricular activities including arts, music, physical education, sports leagues, and student clubs.
Outside the classroom, education Volunteers work closely with a wide range of community organizations including youth groups, women’s groups, church groups, and others. Using nonformal education techniques appropriate for adult audiences, Volunteers focus especially on environmental and health education. Volunteers promote appropriate solid waste management, recycling, integrated coastal management, and ecotourism development. The most important health education issues in Tonga are related to preventing noncommunicable diseases. To that end, Volunteers have created exercise programs and developed nutrition workshops and activities with community groups and through the formal school setting.
The community micro-enterprise development project is designed to meet the pressing needs of income-generating employment and capacity building for economic growth throughout the kingdom. Micro-enterprise Volunteers advise and motivate potential business entrepreneurs and provide training for youth, women, and communities throughout the kingdom. They work through programs provided by the Tonga Development Bank; the Ministry of Labor, Commerce, Industries and Tourism; and the Tonga National Youth Congress. Volunteers work with local counterparts and clients to develop appropriate training programs and provide effective advice on financial and managerial topics, marketing techniques, skills development, and motivation to those who are interested in starting a business or participating in income-generating activities.
Micro-enterprise Volunteers work in a variety of business fields, including solid-waste management, recycling, sports, ecotourism, and farm and small-scale agribusiness management. Many of these business activities complement community education project activities.
All Volunteers regardless of sector work at their sites and in their villages on disaster preparedness, mitigation, and assessment activities. They work with their schools, town officers, and town councils to ensure that their communities are prepared for any disasters that might occur.