Report from St Andrew's, Tonga

Simon and Rachel

6 October 2014

Dear Friends of St Andrew’s High School
 
We have just arrived back in New Zealand, after another four months spent at St Andrew’s High School in Tonga. It has again been a hugely rewarding, positive and productive time for us, with many blessings along the way. We feel so thankful for the opportunity to be at the school again, and for all the support we have received.
 
We were joined this year by more than 50 volunteers from various NZ churches. Groups came from St Andrew’s Epsom, Holy Trinity Picton, King’s College Auckland and the Christchurch Reformed Church, with a fifth group of individuals coming from All Saints Nelson, St Mary’s Geraldine, St Luke’s Waikanae and Karori Baptist Church. All the volunteers brought with them a wide range of skills, and the following projects were done over the six week period they were with us:

  • Storm-water drainage project – 100m of drain laid with sumps and automatic pump
  •  Art room – new ceiling and lights installed, workbench renovated, permanent lockable storage room built, room repainted
  • Staff room - new sink bench installed with tea and coffee making facilities, room repainted, new whiteboard and four staff computers installed
  • New computer lab – classroom converted to become a second computer lab; cabling, computers, new server and Windows 8 installed
  • Library – donated books sorted, librarian and staff trained in use of the library, three computers installed
  • Home economics room – repainted and new whiteboard installed
  • Classroom 14 – walls repainted, new whiteboard and display boards installed (all the others classrooms have received this treatment over the last two years)
  • Lockable cupboards in classrooms for staff to keep resources in (six built so far)
  • 10 new desks and 15 new benches built for classroom use. Others repaired
  • Exterior walls and woodwork repainted in various parts of the school
  • Mentoring of school leadership team
  • Professional development for staff
  • Relief teaching in all subjects
  • English reading groups for younger students
  • Ukelele and yoga sessions
  • Cycling and sports activities
  • School accounts reviewed and last year’s annual accounts prepared in correct format, report prepared for the Board on the state of the school’s finances
  • Second water supply at school piggery connected, using the well and portable pump to provide water for the pig pens, to complement the rainwater system installed last year
  • Principal’s house – new water supply and toilet installed.

As well as working hard with our volunteers, we enjoyed time off together, touring the main island of Tongatapu in the school truck, and visiting one of the nearby islands for a relaxing day off. Other cultural experiences included feasts and cultural shows, church services, school assemblies and overwhelming hospitality from the school staff and students. Some of the volunteers finished their visit to Tonga with a few days at one of the island’s resorts, and we too finished our four months with a short stay at our favourite resort, White Sands. It was a perfect way to unwind before returning home.
 
Many people contributed financially to these projects, which have continued to transform the school environment for the students and teachers. We were grateful too to the Sisters of the Community of the Sacred Name, who had a number of our volunteers to stay, while others stayed in the Principal’s House.
 
We received considerable funding from the NZ High Commission in Tonga for the major project this year – the installation of a new drainage system to help prevent the school grounds flooding during heavy rain (which has frequently led to the school being closed). We were pleased to welcome Mark Talbot, the High Commissioner, to assembly in August to view the system in place, as well as to present certificates to the students who had helped with this and numerous other projects while the volunteers were with us.
 
The Williams Trust paid for the container which brought over a myriad of supplies to the school – educational resources, computers, whiteboards, tools, stationery, text books, sports gear, pumps and pipes, household appliances and kitchen equipment etc. Some of the resources were handed on to the local Anglican kindergarten, the Mango Tree (a centre for disabled children and adults) and the psychiatric ward at Vaiola Hospital in Nuku’alofa.
 
Aiscorp of Wellington sent over 25 second-hand computers in the container, as well as paying for Pieter, one of their technicians, to fly over to the school for five days to install a new computer system. There is now a second computer lab linked to the first one, with 16 computers for students. Four computers were installed in the staff room and three in the library. Staff and students were trained by Pieter in using the new system which is probably one of the most up-to-date in Tonga.
 
The David Ellison Charitable Trust funded the renovation of the art room, staffroom, and other classrooms, conversion of a classroom into the new computer lab, building of desks and benches, and maintenance around the school.
 
Many individuals have supported students by paying their fees this year – not just current students but also former students who have gone on to further study and training. Others have contributed financially, as well as personally, to teacher training. We have seen definite signs of improvement this year in the quality of the teaching at the school.
 
Our friend, education consultant Kay Hawk, has visited St Andrew’s four times in the past year to work with the principal, staff, students and school board. Kay’s expertise and contacts have been invaluable in moving things forward at the school.
 
We have seen a significant change in the school in the past year under its new principal, Mo’unga Maka. As already mentioned, the quality of teaching has improved markedly, changes have been made, and there is a real sense that things are on the move.
 
Mo’unga and his Deputy Principal Paea spent last week in Auckland visiting different schools each day. This visit was funded and supported by St Andrew’s Epsom, and arranged by Kay Hawk, and we thank them for this wonderfully generous and thoughtful gesture. In addition, the retiring Deputy Headmaster of King’s College is shortly to spend seven weeks at St Andrew’s Tonga, working alongside Mo’unga, the principal. This will be an extremely valuable time for him and in fact for the whole school.
 
Thanks to a generous sponsor, one of St Andrew’s most outstanding students has been selected to attend King’s College for the final two years of his schooling. It will be an amazing experience for Posesi, who is talented academically, musically and on the rugby field.
 
It’s good to be able to report a population explosion at the school piggery! This time last year there were three pigs in residence. They have multiplied, and there are now 30! New outdoor pens are being built to house the overflow, and the additional water supply, pumped up from the well, will make clean-up operations much easier. Sales of small pigs will begin soon, and will provide an extra income stream for the school.
 
This year our funding has been channelled through the newly set up Hornsby Pacific Education Trust. We are most grateful to Jackson Russell Solicitors of Auckland for their assistance in setting this up for us. This has simplified our financial arrangements considerably. The Trust’s website can be viewed at www.hornsbytrust.org.nz.
 
We are beginning to think ahead to next year and what would be most helpful and appropriate for the school in the way of support, as well as manageable for us. At this stage we can’t see any major jobs which need doing around the school, though there will be a need for ongoing maintenance, which Simon will be able to handle with help from a few handy people. We feel that the major need from now on is to continue improving the standard of the school’s teaching and administration, both of which require people with specialised skills, as well as providing support for students from needy families.
 
We would also like to continue supporting school leavers with potential. Two former students have received funding for their study this year – Sione Hala’api’api at ‘Ahopanilolo’s Catering School and Kaveinga Vaka in Wellington with his music study.
 
Sione will be returning to ‘Ahopanilolo for a second year, while Kaveinga will be returning to Tonga to take up teaching music at St Andrew’s next year. He has had a fantastic year in Wellington, helped by some truly wonderful people, in particular Rev Maurice and Jane Dagger of St Michael’s Newlands, who have been “in loco parentis”, Katherine Hodge and Justin Pearce at Onslow College, Wellington Cathedral who donated their Lenten offering to Kaveinga’s expenses, and Judy Berryman and the Orpheus Choir.