Background to the Tongan Disaster Appeal

On 15 January 2022, there was a huge underwater volcanic eruption which covered the island of Tonga in thick volcanic ash and caused a tsunami which flooded the northern side of the main island of Tonga.

As a poor Pacific Island, the people of Tonga have relied pretty much on food items grown in the island and the support of the international community. After the disaster, the water supply had been contaminated, food crops have been severely damaged by the ashes of the volcanoes and people are struggling to recover. In early February, the Tongan community of Campbelltown approached Fr Feleki Tautunu (Assistant Priest at St John the Evangelist Parish, Campbelltown) asking for assistance to raise funds for the purchase and costs to ship containers to supply basic needs for the people of Tonga.

A committee comprising Fr Feleki, leaders of the Tongan Community, Trish Coffey (Parish Leadership Team and St John’s Staff member), Sean Donovan (MSC Mission Project Manager) and Kathryn Jones (Staff member of Holy Family, Ingleburn) began fund raising for $13,894 required to pay the costs of the shipping containers. Cash donations from the St John’s parishioners, MSC Mission, the Campbelltown Catholic Club and funds from the Campbelltown Tongan community raised the money to purchase the containers which were delivered to St Thomas More church carpark in early May 2022.

After the two containers arrived, school principals in the Campbelltown area were emailed asking if they would like to be involved in a charitable cause to help fill the containers with donations of food, household items and school furniture. Four schools responded and have supplied generous donations to the Tongan Disaster Relief. The containers were packed by the Tongan community members and were shipped to Tonga on 24 June (ETA Tonga 25 July 2022)

Fr Feleki and the St John’s Mini Vinnie’s Team. Fr Feleki visited to speak to students and school communities, collecting donations and transporting to containers on site. Organising the booking/payment of the container (United Pacific Freight) and the delivery to St Thomas More Parish site with Fr Michael Healy (Parish Priest, St Thomas More, Ruse).
Fr Feleki, S Anapu, K Jones, M Ramsay and S Kaufusi delivering and packing donations
The Mary Immaculate Team with Tongan community members

School Donation Drives:

  • St John the Evangelist school community, Campbelltown: organised by Maria Shea and the School Mini Vinnie’s Team
  • Mary Immaculate school community, Eaglevale: organised by Robynne Young and the school Mini Vinnie’s Team
  • Holy Family school community, Ingleburn: organised by Kathryn Jones, Grant Dodds and the Mini Vinnie’s Team
  • Mt Carmel Catholic College community, Varroville: organised by Bernard O’Connell and the Youth Ministry Team

“When I spoke with the students, I asked why Australia is a great country. Their responses included that it is a peaceful country with a beautiful environment and many opportunities. I believe it is a most generous country of people always ready to reach out to help those in need, in Australia and around the world.”

Father Feleki

“It has been great to see so many people volunteer to help the people of Tonga. Without the volunteers, the appeal would not have been so successful.”

Mr Solo Anapu, Tongan community member

The schools involved will send a Blessing/ Prayer plaque (organised by Trish) and are invited to provide an item from school to be sent to Tonga as a memorial of their support for the appeal.

Poster from Mt Carmel advertising the Tongan Disaster Appeal

The Tongan community are assembling drums for their family members, the parish and school donations are being assembled as “Care Packages” of assorted items and the school desks and tables will be given to schools.

The shipment is to Office of Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi (Bishop of Tonga) for distribution to families in need. Boxes of donations are also being packed specifically to be delivered to the Carmelite Nuns of Tonga:

Mr Bernie O’Connell loading donations to transport to the containers.
One of the four carloads of donations from Mt Carmel
The Tongan community sorting and packing the containers 4 June 2022

The final committee meeting was held on Friday June 17. After the shipment of the containers, cards for “Thank You” for efforts for the appeal from the Tongan Community and Social Media thanks on the St John’s Parish Community website were posted to:

  • MSC Mission Office
  • Campbelltown Catholic Club
  • Local Schools and community involved in the Food Drive and donations of household items
  • St John’s Parish for cash and donations of clothing and household items
  • St Thomas More Parish and Fr Michael Healey for allowing the containers to be located on site for the appeal and
  • Mr & Mrs Pine & Pasi for collection and transport of donated furniture

Article by Trish Coffey

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