September 29 2022
Dear Friends and Supporters of St Andrew’s High School in Nuku’alofa
As some of you know, we have just spent two weeks at St Andrew’s in Tonga. We were not able to stay longer, as the Tongan borders only re-opened in August, by which stage we had other things planned for the rest of the year. It was our first visit to the school for three years.
Thank you for your ongoing support, love and prayers for the school, which we and they have appreciated more than you can imagine. This year, through your generous donations, the Hornsby Trust was able to pay the fees of 81 needy school students as well as 7 tertiary students. We also sent money for desktop computers mid-year when there was an urgent need. During our visit, your donations paid for laptop computers for HODs, a large quantity of text books, and Visual Arts and Home Economics resources. Before we left, Simon handed over to the Industrial Arts department a large quantity of tools which have amassed over the ten years of visits by volunteer groups.
Some of you specifically wanted to help school families who had suffered from the effects of the tsunami, and we were able to give money to three families on your behalf. We had a very moving visit to one of these families, when they all emerged from their battered home and tent to sing to us (below).
The gratitude of the school, board and families was overwhelming, and we have been asked to pass their thanks on to all of you for your support of the school over many years.
Students whose fees were paid have all written letters of thanks, and these will be forwarded shortly to those of you who have supported them, together with a photo of your student. (The photo below was taken in the library on a Wednesday, which is mufti day, hence the students not wearing school uniform).
It was good to return to St Andrew’s after three years’ absence. Once we arrived it was as if we had never been away. We were most grateful to the new Principal Losana, the secretary ‘Naite, (below) and the staff and board members for their warm welcome. Those of you who have been volunteers will remember ‘Naite, who has been a constant presence at the school since we first visited in 2010.
The past four years have been difficult ones for St Andrew’s. In 2019, the school had severe financial difficulties, which led to a big loss of confidence, and the principal and several teachers left. Tonga’s borders were then closed for the first two years of the Covid pandemic, during which time things were not happy at the school. Then came the eruption and tsunami, followed by the arrival of Covid in Tonga. All of these caused hardship for many families, with many parents losing their incomes. Because of lock-downs, the school was not able to get under way properly until May this year. This has caused huge disruption to the educational programme of the school. While we were there, the Form 6 students began “camping” at the school in an effort to make up for lost time with external examinations looming.
The school has had a fresh start this year under its new Principal, Losana Latu (below), who comes with a wide background in education, including being DP of Tonga High School, holding positions in the Ministry of Education and at the Teachers’ College. Her husband Tony was principal of Tonga College for many years, and continues to work in the Ministry of Education. We greatly appreciated the easy and efficient relationship we established with Losana right from the start. We were also very pleased to find her and her family living in the Principal’s House in the school grounds, which our volunteers refurbished in 2013, but had not been lived in by a Principal since then.
We were also pleased to meet two new board members who are prepared to bring their professional and business skills to bear on the management of the school. Both ex-students, they are very committed to the welfare of the school.
One of the highlights of our visit was a very happy evening with six of our seven Hornsby–sponsored tertiary students over dinner (below). We found them bright, positive and excited about their studies and future. Three are at the University of the South Pacific, two at Tupou Tertiary Institute, and one at the Teachers’ College. It was a positive and encouraging time and reinforced our feeling that the tertiary scholarships are a very worthwhile aspect of the Trust’s activities. They are an excellent follow-up to the fees grants which support the most vulnerable students at school, regardless of academic standard.
Another ex-student who continues to do well is Kaveinga Vaka, now in the second year of his music degree at Auckland University, funded by a scholarship from the Diocese of Polynesia. We called in to see him and his wife Fila and three year old daughter Lupe (below) in their St John’s College flat in Meadowbank last week. Kaveinga had to manage without his family for his first two years in Auckland because the borders closed before they were able to join him. He has been getting high marks in his chosen majors of conducting and trumpet.
There were some disappointments after three years away. The roll is low – approximately 250 (compared with 450 in 2019). Of the teachers who were at the school in 2019 there are only four still there. This turnover means that virtually all the professional development done in previous years has been lost to the school. It is also a very de-stabilising influence on the school as a whole.
Until we returned this month there was virtually no equipment or materials remaining for Fine Arts, Home Economics, or Music, though the kitchen built by volunteers in 2013 still has its cooking stoves. The complete set of brass band instruments is either missing or damaged beyond repair. While some of the classroom display-boards have bright displays on them, others are gone or damaged. The computer system supplied and installed in 2014 is severely compromised.
In response to this, as already mentioned, donated funds from the Hornsby Trust were used to provide Visual Arts and Home Economics equipment, laptop computers for HODs, extra tools for the Industrial Arts workshop, and textbooks.
A drive around Tongatapu was sobering. All the resorts, although basic in comparison to other Pacific Islands, were completely demolished by the tsunami. This photo of White Sands Resort (below), where several of our volunteers stayed after working at St Andrew’s, shows the scene which was left behind after the army moved in to clear away all the debris. Islands to which we took volunteers for a much-needed day off, including Pangaimotu, Atata and Fafa, have all been devastated and are virtually uninhabitable. This of course has led to a loss of income for many Tongans.
While in Tonga, we were visited by Tiffany Babington, previously the NZ High Commissioner in Tonga. She is now the Tonga representative of VSA, an organisation with which we began a relationship in 2018, when they sent a volunteer to St Andrew’s to train the teachers in teaching ESOL. VSA is keen to continue this relationship, and we hope there may be another volunteer at the school next year, working specifically in the area of teacher training.
So although there were a number of disappointments on this visit, they were to be expected after what Tonga has been through in the past three years. We feel confident that under the leadership of Losana, things will continue to improve at St Andrew’s again.
Thank you again for all your support.
Simon and Rachel