Since 1967, over 1,300 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Tonga by working in teaching positions, in teacher training, in agricultural research and extension, in rural development, and in health. Since 1988, Peace Corps' strategy has focused on rural youth development and continuing work in education, providing teachers in information technology and vocational skills development. Peace Corps programs address the high unemployment among the young, one of the major issues facing the government.
Peace Corps History
Main article: History of the Peace Corps in Tonga
The Peace Corps has a rich and extensive history in the Kingdom of Tonga. Volunteers first arrived in October 1967 at the invitation of King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV. The initial group consisted of only 39 trainees; by the end of that first year, there were more than 400 Volunteers and trainees in Tonga. Since then, more than 1,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Tonga, primarily as teachers. However, Peace Corps programming in Tonga has also included work in fisheries, agriculture, physical therapy, architecture, health, marine biology, water resources, cooperatives, business, construction, environment, and youth.
Today, approximately 50 Volunteers are serving in Tonga. Current Volunteers are working in the community micro-enterprise development and community education projects. Both incorporate elements from previous programs and future Volunteers will build upon the foundations established by several generations of Volunteers in Tonga.
The community education project focuses on both formal and nonformal education at the village level. Most Volunteers serve in the communities with the greatest needs in Tonga, including remote outer islands and the smaller villages on the main island of Tongatapu. Volunteers divide their time roughly equally between their formal work as enrichment teachers in the classroom and their nonformal education activities at the community level. This approach helps establish schools as centers for community education and development throughout the kingdom.
Business advising/education volunteers work as economics teachers in schools or as business consultants with local business development organizations. Volunteers focus on addressing some of the business difficulties in Tonga, including poor record keeping, conflicting family obligations, and a hard-to-navigate regulatory environment. Businesses especially benefit from volunteers' trainings in business plan creation, record keeping, marketing, and computer skills.
Main article: Volunteers supporting the needs of their communities.
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle
Main article: Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Tonga
Volunteers’ host organizations are responsible for identifying and providing safe and suitable housing in accordance with the Peace Corps’ criteria. Housing ranges from a one-room fale Tonga (traditional hut) with a thatched roof to a two-or three-bedroom wooden or brick house with very basic furniture. Peace Corps/Tonga asks host agencies to provide private bath and toilet facilities; however, some Volunteers may have to share facilities with a neighbor.
As access to electricity and running water varies widely, you will need to be flexible. Some Volunteers have electric lights and outlets, flush toilets, and running water in their homes. Others spend evenings reading by kerosene lamp or candle, use a pit latrine, and collect water from a tank near their home.
The Peace Corps will provide you with a kerosene lamp, a life vest, a bike helmet (if necessary); and an AM/FM radio. Once you become a Volunteer, you will receive a settling-in allowance to purchase additional household necessities.
Peace Corps staff and Volunteer leaders make site visits to Volunteers to provide ongoing support and to follow up on any housing or safety issues that arise. However, Volunteers are encouraged to contact staff if there are any improvements needed for their homes—especially if it is safety-related.
Main article: Training in Tonga
To help you adjust to living in Tonga and adapt the technical skills you already have to the local situation, pre-service training is conducted in-country. Throughout training, you will stay with one or more host families.
Pre-service training (PST) ensures a thorough understanding of project goals and objectives, the development or fine-tuning of skills and attitudes needed to accomplish your project’s goals and objectives, exposure to experiences that will help you adapt to the new cultural setting, basic competence in the Tongan language, and basic knowledge of health and safety guidelines and strategies. Your counterpart or supervisor may take part in some training sessions during or shortly after pre-service training.
Training takes place partly at a training center in the capital city and partly in communities similar to those in which you will work as a Volunteer. Training incorporates both group activities in a classroom setting and work with a smaller group of four or five trainees directly in the communities. During community-based training, you will be immersed in the daily activities and events of the community, which will expose you to circumstances similar to those you will encounter as a Volunteer. Training is designed to give you hands-on practice at doing many of the same things you will do as a Volunteer.
Health Care and Safety
Main article: Health care and safety in Tonga
The Peace Corps in Tonga maintains a clinic with a full-time medical officer who takes care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Tonga at local health clinics. If you become seriously ill or required a medical evaluation for a problem that cannot be locally evaluated, you will be transported either to an American approved medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Major health problems among Volunteers in Tonga are rare and are often the result of the Volunteer’s not taking preventive measures to stay healthy. The most common health problems are minor ones that are also found in the United States, such as colds, diarrhea, sinus infections, headaches, dental problems, minor injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, emotional problems, and alcohol abuse. These problems may be more frequent or compounded by life in Tonga because certain environmental factors in the country raise the risk or exacerbate the severity of illnesses and injuries.
Dengue Fever has been a common ailment during the 2007/2008 rainy season with approximately 15% of Tonga volunteers experiencing Dengue Fever symptoms. Dengue is a painful and potentially life threatening disease transmitted by mosquitoes. It is difficult to estimate the mortality rate in Tonga, but there are estimates of about 20 deaths in Tonga in March 2008 alone due to Dengue. No U.S. PCVs have been died or been medivaced, although volunteers from JICA have been medivaced to Japan for Dengue treatment.
Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues
Main article: Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Tonga
In Tonga, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics considered commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Tonga.
What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misperception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Tonga are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Tonga, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States, political discussions need to be handled with great care, and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
- Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
- Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
- Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
Frequently Asked Questions
Main article: FAQs about Peace Corps in Tonga
- How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Tonga?
- What is the electric current in Tonga?
- How much money should I bring?
- When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
- Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
- Do I need an international driver’s license?
- What should I bring as gifts for Tongan friends and my host family?
- Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
- How can my family contact me in an emergency?
- Can I call home from Tonga?
- Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
- Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Main article: Packing list for Tonga
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Tonga and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight restriction on baggage. Remember, you can get almost everything you need in Tonga for a price, and you can have parcels shipped to you later.
- General Clothing
- For Men
- For Women
Peace Corps News
The following is automatic RSS feed of Peace Corps news for this country.
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PEACE CORPS JOURNALS
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Contributions to the Tonga Country Fund will support Volunteer and community projects that will take place in Tonga. These projects include water and sanitation, agricultural development, and youth programs.
- Volunteers who served in Tonga
- List of resources for Tonga
- Pre-Departure Checklist
- Inspector General Reports