Oamaru links with Tongan community for water project
The rural services town of Oamaru is hoping to provide the model for integration of Pasifika communities in New Zealand with a new initiative.
The rural New Zealand town of Oamaru is hoping to be the model for the integration of Pasifika communities in New Zealand with a new initiative.
The South Island town of about 13,000 has seen its Tongan population boom in recent years.
Some locals claim there are as many as 2,000 Tongans living in the region and the 2013 census said Tongan was the second most spoken language in Oamaru after English.
RNZ International's Koro Vaka'uta reports.
The Reverend Jill McDonald is the minister of the Waitaki Presbyterian Parish and says Oamaru has a more than 40 year history of Tongan residents.
JILL MCDONALD: Back in the 70s there was an engineering company and they brought in a number of Tongan workers on short-term contracts. Some of them settled and stayed, so we have got some Tongan families that have been here for like 30 years and now it seems that the more that come, the more want to come.
Holiti Asi arrived in Oamaru in 2001 to play rugby for North Otago and stayed.
HOLITI ASI: The environment and the people (are) amazing and I think it is quite small enough for us coming straight from Tonga. We find it really, really comfortable for us, especially bringing our kids up in a small place. I think it's better to bring them up here rather than Auckland or Dunedin.
With the influx of Tongans increasing, Reverend Jill McDonald saw a need and decided to create the North Otago Tongan Engagement group or NOTE.
JILL MCDONALD: I was really conscious of the need to break down some barriers and figured that the best way to do that is when you are working alongside each other on a project.
Ms McDonald says NOTE's first project is to raise 25,000 New Zealand dollars and partner with local NGOs as part of the installation of much-needed water tanks in three villages in Tonga in August.
The President of the Waitaki Tongan Community, Talanoa Palu, says she is delighted to be a part of the project.
TALANOA PALU: This is the first time that this has happened. For myself, being in Oamaru for 30 years, I count as a blessing and I am one of those that will be in Tonga for that project, so I am very proud this is actually happening.
Ms Palu says other towns and cities can learn from it.
TALANOA PALU: I believe 100 percent that if other areas in New Zealand will see what we are doing here so hopefully that will create a close relationship between the Palangi and Tongan community to work together to help each other and support each other and learn from each other.
Ms Palu says NOTE provides access to a greater network of information and services for Tongans and allows them to feel comfortable when approaching people who they may have met through the group.
From her perspective, Ms McDonald says she has always felt welcomed when visiting Tonga and the local expat community.
JILL MCDONALD: I'm just conscious that I don't think that the Pasifika people who have moved to Oamaru have received that same generosity that we did. I think that is something that we can really learn from. In Dunedin at the moment they are getting ready to welcome refugees from Syria. We could take something from that as well and learn to welcome new people.
Apart from their work towards the water installation project in Tonga, the NOTE group have also worked on beautification projects in Oamaru and is aiming to hold a multicultural concert next week.
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