In early June an email arrived in my inbox from Simon and Rachel Tipping. It told the story of the struggles at St Andrew’s High School in Nuku’alofa after cyclone Gita. After reading this email I felt compelled to step in and see if we could do something about it. The following Sunday I talked to my friends to see if they shared my feelings. They agreed to join me to go to Tonga and so we decided, LET’S DO IT!
When we arrived late at night we were welcomed by a delegation from the school and they transported us to our guest house close to school. We were told that there are 400 students, 40 teachers and 20 classrooms. In the following days we started to hear negative things about the school and regarding the quality of teaching. So we started a discussion with the school principal and his deputy to clarify these rumours. The biggest problem in Tonga is that they have two government high schools and 10 types of private high school and the pay rate for the teachers for the government schools is four times less than that of the other schools. Therefore, the quality of the teachers in the government schools is not very high and neither is the motivation. We found that the maintenance of the building was non-existent and years behind. The storm damage was just the last drip in the bucket.
We also discussed the relationship between the Anglican Church of Tonga and the school. The school is under the direct control of the Church of Tonga, but what do they do to support the school, was the big question?
In Proverbs 3 verse 13 and 14, it says: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from it is better than the gain from silver and her profit better than gold”. Where do we get wisdom and understanding, I ask you? Where do we learn knowledge and science?
One weekend we travelled a bit around the island and saw many churches, each one bigger and nicer than the last. It looks like there is a competition happening of who can build the biggest and the nicest building. Is this what Jesus really wanted? Did Jesus ask us to build these big cathedrals on the backs of the poor people? Jesus never preached in a church. He preached everywhere and to everyone. He did not ask who you were or what you believed. The first responsibility of a church is towards its parishioners and their children and not on bricks and mortar. If the education of the children is neglected their future will be bleak. It all starts with education.
The morning after I spoke in a church in Tonga, I got a telephone call from “Winston”. He thanked us profusely for the work we had done to move things in a better direction and in showing them what they could do themselves. I responded that it should be a combined effort between church and school; we are too far away to give them more guidance. When I put the phone down, I asked who Winston was and they replied, “He is the retired Anglican Archbishop of the South Pacific and he called you from Cambridge, England”. I must have touched a nerve.
On a positive note: The government has paid the school so the school has been able to pay the teachers. The government has also decided to pay more in the future per child, per year, so things are looking up.