Newsletter September 2015


From Rachel and Simon Tipping

We arrived to find the school in very good shape! The grounds and gardens are the best we ever seen them, and many people have been commenting on the appearance of the school. Thanks are due to Robin and Cheryl Fleming for some great improvements in the landscaping, and the Senior Mistress, Naimila Mafi, who does a great job in keeping the grounds tidy and attractive (see attached photo). Robin was DP of King’s College for many years before coming over here for six weeks towards the end of last year to help the school and mentor the principal.

The classrooms are also looking good. A large number of volunteers have been involved in upgrading them over the past three years, and most of the teachers are taking a pride in the appearance of their rooms, decorating them in various ways and keeping them clean and tidy.

The principal, Mo’unga Maka, and his leadership team have made great strides in the past couple of years, and huge thanks are due not only to Robin Fleming for his mentoring, but also to Kay Hawk, who travels over here two or three times a year to work with the school leadership, teachers and board. Kay donates her time at the school. Thank you to those of you who contribute to her travel costs. Notice boards put up by Robin are in daily use, and are constantly checked by students and staff.

There is some good teaching happening here now, and last year’s exam results were the best the school has had for years. Form 6 is the largest we’ve ever known, and quite a number of the senior students plan to do a Form 7 year at Tonga High School (the top Government school). Three of last year’s Form 6 are there this year, one being supported through your donations.

Volunteers who were involved in creating the new school kitchen and also the new classroom under the library will be pleased to know that both are looking great. Hingano, the Home Economics teacher, has decorated both the kitchen and the adjoining room with bright curtains, and reigns over the rooms with great pride (see attached photo). Sister Fehoko loves her modern classroom next to the main office (see photo of our volunteer Sarah teaching in there).

Those who helped in creating the new computer room, and indeed the generous donors of all the computers and new server, would be delighted to see them all in constant use, both in the new classroom and in the staffroom.

Volunteers who worked in the library will be pleased to hear that apart from some tidying up which had to be done, it was and is looking good, with a better selection of books, including text books brought over by King’s College this year.

And those who were involved in the major drainage project last year will be delighted to know that in the recent several days of very heavy rain, the drains and pump performed immaculately, and there was no major flooding around the school – what a difference to how things have been in the past!

The piggery at the school plantation is flourishing, so much so that Ma’ake, the Agriculture teacher, has had to extend it, building two new rows of pens, very much in Tongan style! The double water system Simon and volunteers put in over the last two years is working well, collecting rainwater and also bringing up water from the well.

We have had just four volunteers working with us here for the past three weeks, partly because we felt all the major projects had been done, and partly because we personally felt the need to be a little more low-key this year. All four had been twice before and were very familiar with things here, and were able to get stuck in straight away. Eddy with his mechanical skills worked wonders with the school truck, which is still sporting the new tyres bought for it last year by generous volunteers. Our two electricians, Robert and John, swung into action connecting power to the music room (a free-standing prefab), and then fixing a series of electrical problems in various parts of the school. Our fourth volunteer, Sarah, kept us fed, as well as taking some classes for Sister Fehoko, who has been in NZ for the past month on study leave. We deeply appreciate the sacrifice they all made in coming over here at their own expense to give their time and expertise to the school, and the wonderful contribution they all made to improving conditions here (see attached photos to see them all at work).

We have also been blessed with the help of two palangi women volunteers living here temporarily to help with reading recovery groups. I have joined them two days a week and between us we have been seeing over 50 students a week. (Attached photo shows NZer Helen Kerr, wife of the locum pharmacist at the Mission Clinic, working with one of the students).

Simon has been busy finishing off the last painting job – the upper storey of the main school building. To reach the heights, he built a huge scaffolding tower, which is moved around daily by a small army of boys (see two attached photos). Alongside this is the replacement of the pigeon-wire to keep the birds out of the roof space above the flat we stay in.

We already have plans for a major project next year, which is a further assault on the school toilets. The toilet and shower block were renovated three years ago but the toilets themselves were not replaced. Due partly to the build up of lime scale which comes through the local water system, and partly to age, they are almost all unusable, with only one being available for use by all 450 students. So if anyone is feeling brave, let us know, as Simon could do with a bit of help!!

Before we arrived in July, the school was visited again by a group of students and chaplains from King’s College, Auckland. This was the third visit by a group from King’s. We are very encouraged and touched by their ongoing support for St Andrew’s. This year they took over the arrangements for shipping the container, filling it with resources for the school which they had collected. Many of these resources were paid for by St Andrew’s, Epsom, and also by some of you – thank you for supporting this particular need so generously.

The visit by the party from King’s was a huge success and a little different this year in that they were involved in the Coronation festivities – definitely a unique experience for them – and were billeted for part of their stay by St Andrew’s student families. This was very successful and will be repeated next year.

We are hugely appreciative of all the support which King’s College continues to give St Andrew’s. One of the school’s most outstanding students, Posesi Fanua, is now at King’s on a full boarding scholarship for his final two years of secondary schooling, and we hear that he is flourishing, and a great ambassador for St Andrew’s. Thank you to those of you who have contributed to his additional expenses – flights, uniform, books etc.

A great thrill for us on our return in July was to see the work being done at the school by Kaveinga Vaka, the former head prefect who spent last year in Wellington, studying at Onslow College, taking private trumpet lessons, and singing in the Orpheus Choir. Even while still at school he was obviously a born leader, and he has great presence standing in front of the school.

The day after we arrived, we attended the 3-day interschool brass band contest which the St Andrew’s band had never been good enough to enter before. We were blown away by the standard of the St Andrew’s band, as were many others. They ended up winning three awards, and coming a very close second in their grade. (For anyone used to the standards of the Big Sing National Finale in NZ, we can tell you that the standard of school brass bands in Tonga is very nearly on the same level).

The band continued to perform over the next few weeks for a number of different events, including the visit of the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. On each occasion Kaveinga impressed us with his total control of the situation and his meticulous preparation of the band. So to all those of you who supported his year in NZ, a huge thank you, particularly Katherine Hodge and Justin Pearce at Onslow College, Rev Maurice Dagger and the parish of St Michael’s Newlands who embraced Kaveinga into their church family, Wellington Cathedral for their support, Judy Berryman and other members of the Orpheus Choir for providing Kaveinga with the most amazing musical experiences ranging from Beethoven’s Ninth to Carmina Burana. (The attached photo shows Kaveinga conducting the school band, with the Archbishop of York and the school principal Mo’unga Maka in the foreground, and Archbishop Winston looking on).

When we arrived this year, refurbishing and equipping his new music room became a priority (see attached photo for the state it was in when we arrived). With the help of volunteers over the past three years, the staff room, library, computer suite, science labs, kitchen, home economics room, art room and all other classrooms have been refurbished, but the music room hadn’t been done. It is still far from perfect, but it does at least have electricity connected (thanks to this year’s volunteer electricians), and two store rooms fitted out to keep all the brass instruments safe, along with the keyboards, ukuleles, guitars, music etc which have been donated over the last few years. Katherine and Justin at Onslow College have been wonderfully helpful in emailing music syllabus information, and Judy has bought a supply of manuscript books and other equipment with funds donated for school resources, and this is on its way over at this very minute. 

On Archbishop Winston Halapua’s recent visit to the school, two beautiful wooden candlesticks which had been fashioned by Rev Rory Redmayne out of timber from the demolished St Mary’s Merivale Church were presented to the school, and blessed by the Bishop (see attached photo). Shortly afterwards, we farewelled Archdeacon Joe and Anne Le’ota who have been great friends of the school during their three years of ministry here.

On a financial note, we have just received the good news that the Hornsby Trust has been granted donee status to be effective from next April, which means that donations will be eligible for tax rebates. While still keen to provide money for school fees for those students whose families can’t afford to pay them, we would also like to provide financial support for talented school-leavers to pursue further education. We feel strongly that this is a chance to “make a difference” not just to them, but to others who will benefit from their education.

Kaveinga is one example, and we are also paying, through your donations, the fees of a young woman who left school at the end of last year and is now attending the Catering and Hospitality Course at ‘Ahopanilolo, and doing extremely well. Another young man, Halatoa, whom we will be supporting next year in attending a building course at the local technical college, will be remembered by many of our volunteers for his faithfulness in working alongside them all day every day for weeks, over the past three years. 

Students whose fees you have paid this year have been busy writing their thank-you letters in the past week, and we hope you will receive them before long. Apologies that their letters will reach you later this year, but in past years the King’s College students have helped the Tongan students with them, but we weren’t here to organise it this year!).

Thank you for all your support for us and for St Andrew’s in so many ways – as volunteers, financial supporters, pray-ers and encouragers. Although we continue to have moments when we tear our hair out with frustration, we really can see that the school has made great strides, particularly over the past two or three years, and we thank you for being a part of making this progress possible.

We are particularly grateful for the support we and the school have been receiving from individual Anglicans and Anglican parishes in NZ. Anglicans account for only 5% of the population in Tonga, and there is no framework of support for the school here. The biggest church by far is the Wesleyan Church which, with the support of the Uniting Church in Australia which sends volunteers over each year to work in their schools, has a large educational institute equipped with advisors and other staff, and substantial financial resources. The Mormon Church schools are supported from America and are well resourced with trained teachers from the States. So St Andrew’s is considerably disadvantaged compared with other church schools.

Simon and Rachel  

September 2015