This week, students of the Tongan club gathered to sing for a Tonga relief project they are participating in, a community-led effort to aid and support the people in Tonga. However, this wasn't the first time students gathered together as a show of strength and support to their families and loved ones in Tonga. Just weeks ago, on January 15, 2022, an underwater volcano erupted, causing a tsunami to wash through the isles of Tonga, followed by a blanket of ash that coated their islands, contaminating natural water and food sources. This natural disaster has also made it extremely difficult to communicate with the outside world. As a result, many students from Tonga who are currently studying here at BYU–Hawaii still have yet to hear from their families and friends.
Talamonu Tupou is a senior majoring in business management. He is also the president of the Tonga Club on campus. When asked to share this experience, he recounts the many images and videos he saw after everything had happened in Tonga. During those moments, the only thing he could see and think of were the faces of his two younger siblings. He can't even put into words the emotions he felt as he anxiously awaited more information concerning his family. Weeks have passed, and he has still not heard from them. However, he feels confident they're safe, but it's still difficult not to hear from them.
If this experience has taught Talamonu anything, it's to refocus on his family, stating, "Family is the most important thing in this life. As students, it's easy to think about your GPA in school or how much money you have in your bank account. But none of that matters when faced with trials concerning your loved ones." He thinks of this as a way for Tongans everywhere to remember the words of King Taufa'āhau Tupou IV and give their lives to and land to God, to trust in Him.
When asked to talk about this experience, Ana Tupou, a senior studying social work from Vava'u, kept saying she felt desperate. It took two weeks for her to hear from her extended family that notified her of her immediate family's safety. However, those feelings of desperation are still very much present for her today. Fortunately, gathering with friends on campus who are in similar situations has comforted her. Another force of good that's made a difference in her outlook has been the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ana said, "I have a hope and feeling that they are okay even though it's been hard. I've learned how to stay strong for those I love."
It's been an emotional experience for Matangiake Talamai, a senior majoring in Pacific Island studies, from 'Ahau. Noting that he's heard the tsunami destroyed half of his village, and the water made it to his home. Although he's seen a picture of his family safe at the Liahona High School, a space used as an evacuation center, he still worries whether they have enough to eat or drink in their time of need. However, he still holds onto hope and the feelings of care and support from his peers here at school. He adds, "Talking to family is a blessing. No one knows what's ahead of us," as a way to encourage others to reach out to the people who matter most to them.
Eikimo'unga Pola'apau, a junior studying business management from Nomuka Ha'apai, an island close to where the volcano erupted, knew of one person who passed away due to the tsunami. This news has caused great anxiety for her since she has yet to hear from her family. It is hard for her to look online at pictures of the police station and other buildings near her home and see how bad the damage is. Her main concern is her loved ones not having enough water and food.
However, she has felt love and support through this pain and sadness. Her professor, Tseggy, encourages students to pray for the people of Tonga at the beginning of every class. An act of kindness and love that has not gone unnoticed and means more to her than others may realize. One takeaway that Eikimo'unga has learned is the importance of communicating with loved ones. She admits that school, friends, and even the gym would take priority over phoning home before this happened. She urges anyone reading this to take the time to call their family and communicate with those you love while you still can and while they're still here.
A Campus Coming Together In Support
Each of these students shared recent moments where they've felt the love and support from their classmates and peers on campus. Other peoples from the Pacific, such as the Fiji Club, hosted a special devotional for the Tongan students to ease their pain and worries through a shared meal and songs. The Student Leadership & Service team also organized a day that encouraged the campus to wear red to show their love and support. Our hearts and prayers are with our students and the people of Tonga.