Dear Tonga

The process of writing down my thoughts and ideas from my mind and onto paper has been a challenge for me for quite a while, but I’m going to give this my best shot.

Dear Tonga,
you were everything I dreamed of and more. Months ago, we were sitting in a room together with Mr. Matheny, waiting for the reveal of the location of our trip. I remember gripping my friend’s arm, and being able to feel the tension in the room. As he revealed the location, I remember screaming on instinct yet upon the location settling in, I realized I had no clue where this place was. At that time, Tonga was foreign to me. When I would ask people for donations during our coin drive, the word Tonga seemed foreign. When I told my family and friends about the trip, Tonga seemed foreign. When we had class together, and Mr. Matheny talked about our upcoming trip, Tonga seemed foreign. When we were counting down the days to our flight, Tonga still seemed foreign. When we landed and our pilot announced we were in Tonga, it still seemed foreign. It wasn’t until the final day when we were all preparing for our departure that I realized what Tonga meant to me. I have such a strong connection to the word now that upon hearing or reading it, I immediately picture the beautiful memories I had on the trip. Tonga is no longer foreign to me. What once used to be a unfamiliar island in the the South Pacific is now another home for me, all the way across the world.

Dear Tonga,
you taught me so much. So much that couldn’t have just been learned in the classroom. You showed me how much I was truly missing out on without ever knowing it. You taught me what it means to be truly happy and showed me where happiness comes from. You helped me grow and become a better individual and helped me connect myself to the world around me.

Before my trip to Tonga, I was a typical IB student; constantly feeling tired and simply surviving amidst the endless deadlines and huge piles of works to be done. Key word; surviving. It took a trip like Tonga to teach me that I wasn’t truly living during my IB journey, I was just surviving. Getting what needed to be done, done. Tonga taught me to live in the moment and to appreciate and enjoy every moment I get on this world.

Prior to the trip, I was well aware of the blessings I have and knew just how fortunate I am. My parents brought me to Canada for a better future and I know what it feels like to live in a third world country. However, despite having known all this, physically being in Tonga, experiencing their lifestyle and creating those connections to the kids still impacted me tremendously. Those connections and strong bonds we formed with the kids helped each of realize how truly blessed we are. I remember one night, before dinner, a couple of us were gathered in my room and we were talking. Eventually, the conversation came to the future of the children and how we want them all to have bright futures but know that not all of them will have that opportunity, even though each and every one of them deserve it. Knowing how little they have but how happy they are and how joyfully they live made us realize we don’t need much to be happy. It also helped us understand how much we have and how lucky we are for the opportunities we’ve been given.

The connections we’ve built with the locals whether it be through “Malo e lelei” greetings at the worksite, or greeting them “good morning” on the way to breakfast, or mixing cement with them, or having mini dance parties, or even just by waving are incredible. During our short time in Atata, we were able to experience the local culture and learn more about how the Tongan’s live. One of the greatest blessings of this trip was being able to get to know these beautiful individuals better. They taught me how to bring joy into every aspect of life and made me laugh until I cried. (thanks Keli) A Tongan heart is a heart like no other.

Lastly, being able to be apart of a project that helps educate children is one of the best things ever. We started from scratch and left behind a legacy, together. If that multipurpose classroom helps even one individual have the opportunity to learn better, we’ve done our job. Our opportunity for education in Canada is incredible. I have the chance to become anything I want to be and I’m forever grateful for this blessing. I know that the children of Atata may not have this opportunity and it saddens me but I hope that our project has helped made their journey a bit smoother.

Well, If you’ve made it all the way here, congrats and thank you for reading my blog. Tonga is one of the best things that has ever happened to me and is now forever a part of me.

Malo from your local Tongan, Sidrah