19 February 2010

Sunday 14 Feb: Enough vacation, what are you actually doing?

After a month and a half of meeting our neighbors, getting acclimatized to ‘Eua, and enjoying blissful rest after a full summer and fall, we finally have some idea of what we might be working on this year.

Mark’s high school started three weeks ago, and he’s left every day for Petani, the high school’s town, to spend most of the day working there with his co-teachers. This year, he’s teaching Form 5 Computers and Form 4 English, the equivalent of Junior and Sophmore years in the US system. In both of the classes, he’s co-teaching, which means that he follows the lead of the head teacher in each class, but works with them to plan lessons, and will end up teaching roughly half of the classes.

The school is very happy to have him, because for about a year now, they’ve had no certified English teacher, and as a result, they’ve had many students unable to progress to the next grade level because they haven’t passed English. The Tongan school system requires students to pass at least Tongan and English to complete that year of school, so even if a student has high marks in every other subject, they could be held back if they do badly in either class.

Mark’s also been working a lot with an NGO in that town that focuses on education and school scholarships, helping them fix and maintain their computer lab, looking into internet café software, and helping them decide what projects to take on next. They are in the classically good but hard dilemma of a small NGO that is growing fast and is not quite sure what to do with their success. At the moment, the NGO wants to push ahead with a grant for a vehicle to take the village’s children to school, so Mark is working through that with them.

Hango Agricultural
This last week, I’ve been planning for classes here at the agricultural college, an exercise that might have been partially pointless as of tomorrow. Right now, the school is pulled between the Tongan education board standards, the Wesleyan Church education office creating a strategic plan for the school, and the desire to get accredited by the University of the South Pacific to allow students to transfer class credits there. So we had a big faculty meeting a week ago on Friday to determine what classes each person would teach, and then a week later, last Thursday, we changed the entire class schedule again because of some of these requirements. Needless to say, it’s put the school in barely controlled chaos, and has resulted in it being a day before classes officially start, and no one knows exactly what they are going to start teaching tomorrow.

Hango, the agricultural college, like the other 2 tertiary schools in the Wesleyan school system, is sort of like a Tongan community college. Because there are no universities on Tonga, many people who want BAs go to Samoa, New Zealand, or somewhere else for higher education. But a lot of people go to a tertiary school to either get specific credentials (like Hango’s Diploma in Agriculture), or to do the community college hop of taking the first two years at a cheaper, nearer-to-home school, and then quickly finishing the degree out at a university. Several of the recent graduates from Hango are now studying at the University of the South Pacific, getting their BA or BS in Agriculture. One of the reasons Hango is being pulled in many directions is that it is trying to upgrade the resources and course structure here so that students can smoothly transfer right into USP.

Theoretically, this semester, I’m teaching Farm Management (essentially an introduction to basic business management, tailored to running a farm), and possibly Computer Skills 1. Next semester will be more interesting, with theoretically Farm Business Management, Agricultural Marketing, and Communication Diploma level. But I’m keeping flexible, because they might change at a moment’s notice.

Other projects
Along with class teaching, this year I’m helping Hango create a brand and maybe eventually a marketing plan. I know it’s backwards, but the priority is to get a website up and running by June, to show to alumni and donors during the 40th anniversary celebration. I’ve liked the idea of Google Sites so far, because it’s simple, free (after you buy a domain name), and easy to update for people who don’t have web design experience. While I’d love to get good at website creation, I want to make sure that it can be maintained even if there’s no one who knows the technicalities.

As I mentioned above, the Wesleyan education office is also creating a strategic plan for Hango, and I’ll be involved in that as well. Mainly, I’ll be helping with the various improvement projects, working with Hango staff to figure out how they should be done, and writing project plans and grants for them. I might also be teaching a short series of optional sessions for students who want to start small businesses or do direct selling from their farms, and if I have my way, maybe even a section of the communication class on good graphic design.

Mark and I are also working with our town to help improve our town hall. Every Tongan town has a town hall of some sort, used for a huge variety of things from kava drinking circles for the men, to womens’ tapa making and weaving, dances, fundraisers, town hall meetings, and kids’ Sunday school. Our town hall here has seen better days, and it’s been a desire of the town leaders to refurbish it a little, fix its broken toilet, and generally make it look reputable again. They’ve asked us to help find funds for it, so we’ve been talking with people from town to find out what kind of community fundraising people can organize, and looking at small grants to make up the rest of it that one of the town leaders can apply for.

Finally, I’m trying to figure out how vanilla is bought and sold on ‘Eua and in Tonga, because it seems that several farms (including Hango’s) grow vanilla, but don’t sell it because of not being able to get a good price for it. The guy working on the town hall grants grows vanilla in his plot, and is thinking of starting a small business to sell it. I don’t know enough about the market to really be of any use yet, but we’ll see where that goes


  1. Nice Story Elena, I will going for holidays in vacation time specially.

    graphic design courses

  2. So, what are you actually doing? hahaha Looks like you are both there at a time of big changes and transitions. It has been sunny for the past week in Pdx and I have thought about you (pl) on my hikes. How far is Mark's school from where you live, how does he get there? What does the town hall/business district of town look like? Markets etc? I loved the story on your first day of classes! Do you miss Mexican food yet? KT

  3. Hehe, I'm glad you liked our descriptions! Good questions: I always wonder what to write about because those kind of things that you end up doing every day seem not really worth talking about sometimes. So it helps to be asked, haha.. So jealous about your hikes! We have several good hikes here, surprisingly, but it's just not the same as Oregon.

    Mark's school is about an hour's walk, or 20 min bike ride from home. Although an hour's walk is exaggerated because there's only one main road on the island, and anyone walking up or down it will inevitably be offered a ride within about 10 minutes. I think the longest we walked before getting a ride in someone's truck was 20 minutes. So that makes it pretty doable.

    We'll try to post pictures soon (no batteries in the camera and none to be had on the island) but the main business district is about one block in the main town south of here, Ohonua. It consists of a small grocery store, post office, bank, cell phone office, and stationery shop. About a block north of that area is the main port, where the boat from the capital island docks once a day. The fresh veggie market is there too: basically a roofed overhang with vegetables set out in piles on the ground below it.

    Man do we miss Mexican food. The other day I was dreaming about that little Indonesian place in SW. Mmmm...


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