Aʻutonu charity service reveals widespread destitution among elderly and disabled

A Tongan charity service says poor people are neglected in Tonga.

Aʻutonu Charity Mission provides financial support and shopping assistance for the elderly and disabled people and families in need in Tonga.

The charity’s founder, Fakaʻosi Maama, said their clients included organisations such as Women Refugee, the Ālonga Centre and some of the Catholic nuns.

Maama said the mission had spent more than TP$70,000 on its work.

He described the situation of most of their clients as “extremely pitiful”

  • There was a 70-year-old man who was taking care of his 40-year-old daughter who suffered mental illness.
  • A widow who was staying with her two and 10-year-old daughters used a toilet and a bathroom made out of sticks and covered by a piece of tupenu (cloth).
  • A woman who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease in Vavaʻu while looking after and educating her four children, had no income.

Maama said the mission also visited disadvantaged families with circumstances that ranges from no income or  one of the parents had died or separated.

Most villages in Tonga were not yet covered by their mission, but there was a plan to expand their work  to the outer islands.

They had donated shopping to more than 241 families in 23 villages in Tongatapu.

He said the number of people in need was growing and the charity received requests from people to  be included in their services.

“The woman with the Parkinson’s disease heard about the programme and contacted us and her name has been put on our list,” Maama said.

The mission

The Aʻutonu programme is composed of Tongan charitable organisations overseas such as  Faiʻofa- Doing Love (Australia), ‘Ofa Moʻoni- True Love (New Zealand), Nimaʻofa- Merciful Hands (United States), Bread & Fish (organized by Tukilamulamu in the United States), Lolo ‘Alapasita by Dr. Seini Taufa in New Zealand and the Pelehake & ‘Alakifonua Mission.

Maama said in October 2015 he began a family business to allow Tongans  overseas to pay for him to shop for their families in the kingdom.

The Rev Nau Taitusi ʻAhosivi from the Uniting Church in Australia recommended deducting TP$2 from every shopping order paid from Australia to help buy a carton of chicken for those who were really in need in Tonga.

This was the beginning of the Aʻutonu programme, Maama said.

Rev ʻAhosivi  later informed Maama the Doing Love mission had started and they could provide free shopping for the poor.

Eleven members of Doing Love began by donating Aus$30 each every month to pay for the shopping.

Their donation started with 10 families from 10 villages. Later they changed the process to deliver the shopping to 10 families in each village.

Maama said the programme worked together with either the town officers or church ministers in the villages to choose who would receive the donations, mostly cartons of chickens and groceries.

He and his staff would join the town officers and the church ministers in delivering the shopping.

The mission now had grown and more members joined the group in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Most of the donors wanted to remain anonymous, Maama said.

In January this year the True Love mission began in New Zealand. The group was set up by church ministers and kava drinkers at Glen Innes in Auckland led by Rev Pitasoni Fonua.

The group donated shopping to 10 families every month.

In February the Merciful Hand mission was set up by Tongans in the United States led by ‘Ānau Pulu and Īvoni Maama.

A Tongan woman in the States named Tukilamulamu came across the Aʻutonu mission on social media and she set up a branch, Bread and Fish, to help the poor in Tonga.

Lolo ʻAkapasita, Merciful Hands and Pelehake and ʻAlakifonua missions also joined the Aʻutonu but expanded the donations to include the Ālonga Centre and victims at Women and Children Crisis Centre

As of last month the Tongan based charity had dispatched shopping and goods to 60 “poverty stricken families” and “disabled”.

Maama described the service as “difficult,” but said he and his family felt the difficulties had paid off when they saw the smiles and listened to words of thank from the clients.

“I and my family are extremely happy for doing this service, although the scale of the work is huge,” he told Kaniva News.

They also had plan to help build houses, toilets and bathrooms for their clients.

Maama can be contacted on (09) 570 0550 or  64211462858 or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007844476917

Government assistance

In 2015 the Tongan government began paying out a monthly payment in benefits to 50 disabled people to help them with their living.

Each disabled person received TP$65 a month under the scheme.

At the time the government said there was an estimate of 600 disabled people all over Tonga.

The scheme for the disabled came after the government started the Social Benefits Scheme for the Elderly to help vulnerable older people facing difficulties in 2012.

It was a joint effort with the support by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR).

However only those who were 75 year-old and over are entitled to a monthly payment of T$65 pa’anga .

In 2013 there were 3,985 elderly in Tonga aged 70 or older, of whom 2,635 lived in Tongatapu.

According to the Asian Development Bank, about 22.5 percent of the population live  below the poverty line.

The main points

  • A Tongan charity service says poor people are neglected in Tonga.
  • A’utonu Charity Mission provides financial support and shopping assistance for the elderly and disabled people and families in need in Tonga.
  • The charity’s founder, Fakaʻosi Maama, said the situation of most of their clients was “heart-breaking,” “harrowing” and “distressing.”
  • Most villages in Tonga were not yet covered by their mission, but there were plan to expand their work to the outer islands.

For more information

Poverty in Tonga (Asian Development Bank)

Poverty in the Pacific (Oxfam)

Call for research into rise of child poverty in Tonga (Radio New Zealand)

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