Peace Corps Videos

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Changes in Peace Corps Tonga

It has been a sad week in Tonga as four volunteers, all who live on the main island of Tongatapu have ended their service.  Alexis, Cassie, Trent and Lara are all now gone.  With the departure of Enrique last week, this is five volunteers from the mTrentain iLarasland to leave in less than two weeks.

Each has their own reason for leaving, but I am particularly saddened by the loss of Trent and Lara,  a married couple from Hawaii.  I've been good friends with the two of them almost since my first day in Tonga.   I've stayed with them during my visits to Nuku'alofa and they have been here to Vava'u and stayed with me.  Trent and Lara were model volunteers, taking time to not only respect the Tongan culture but to make strong ties with the local people.  Both were dedicated to their jobs and Lara, who worked with GIS, was doing some really great things.

The really sad part is that neither wanted to leave Tonga or the Peace Corps, but circumstances at home required them to return.   I completely agree with and understand their decision, but will miss them a lot.  I was fortunate to be able to briefly say good-bye to them in person on Monday when I was passing through Nuku'alofa, the capital city on the main island where they lived.

More Changes Coming Soon

Right now in Tonga, Peace Corps has two programs for volunteers.  One is education and the other is business.   For the most part, the education volunteers teach English to Tongan children while the business volunteers do a wide range of projects dealing not just with business, but also government agencies and NGO’s. (Non Government Organizations).

As a business volunteer, I might be a bit biased, but I really think there is tremendous potential for volunteers in the business program to have a big impact on Tonga.    There are not a lot of Tongans with business experience. I have yet to walk into a Tongan business, and I've been in a lot of them, where they didn't need help with basic business principals.

In an ideal world, Tonga would continue to have both programs but if given a choice of only having one program, I would pick the business program.

Unfortunately, Peace Corps has decided to eliminate the business program in Tonga.  The current business volunteers will be the last to serve in  a separate business. program  Beginning this fall, Peace Corps will only be sending education volunteers to Tonga. 

The current plan, though not final yet, will have all volunteers working under the Tongan Ministry of Education.   The good part of the plan, is that instead of just teaching English, they will be looking for volunteers to teach Science, Math and Industrial Arts as well.  There will also be five volunteers in each group who will be classified as business, but will work in the schools teaching computer skills or teaching business skills.   They are no plans to attach any volunteers to other ministries or organizations except the Ministry of Education.

The change is happening because of a survey that Peace Corps did to review its current programs.   It will also give Peace Corps one point of contact, the Ministry of Education, to deal with volunteer site selections.

I get that this change will be easier for Peace Corps, but am disappointed to see the business program go away.

Last September, I wrote about the many opportunities that could exist here for business volunteers.   Those opportunities are still here.

The change won’t impact any of the current volunteers as we will be allowed to finish our projects.  

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