NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga More than 13,200 citizens of various faiths, beliefs and persuasions participated in the historic community service initiative that swept across Tonga July 21.
The service was performed in 25 locations, in 'Eua, Ha'apai, Vava'u and 20 locations across the main island of Tongatapu.
The massive turnout launched a two-month-long, nationwide clean-up program. The program was initiated by the Church, under its "Mormon Helping Hands" volunteer service program, to prepare for the celebrations surrounding the rededication of the Nuku'alofa Tonga Temple.
"We wanted to do something that would bring everyone together in a common cause," said Elder Sione Fineanganofo, an Area Seventy in Tonga. "There will be lots of visitors to the islands because everyone is invited to our temple's public open house, that starts on Sept. 29. We want the island to look its very best."
Prime Minister Feleti Sevele, his wife and granddaughter joined Elder Fineanganofo at Fa'onelua Park to greet the volunteers.
The prime minister expressed his gratitude to the Church for initiating the campaign, and to all citizens for coming together to beautify Tonga. He and his wife were the first to pick up rubbish, working side by side with other volunteers.
Volunteers were involved in painting more than 25 large buildings. Five buildings were painted at the Vaini Government Primary School, in addition to one building and a bathroom at the Lotolu Primary School. Eight buildings were painted at the Tonga College, Atele, and the clinic at Kolonga was also painted. In addition, a high school was painted in Vava'u and one in Ha'apai. Six classroom buildings and three smaller buildings were painted at the Nuku'alofa Government Primary School.
One group of volunteers gathered at the domestic airport. They cleaned up rubbish and hauled away 15 truck loads of green grass to various farms to feed the cattle. The trucks that hauled the rubbish were donated by local citizens and businessmen.
The volunteers reported that they were often approached by local residents expressing their heartfelt thanks and many residents also came to the street to offer food and water to the workers.
The "Mormon Helping Hands" campaign will continue each Saturday morning, and will conclude on Sept. 15 with Tonga's "Clean Up the World" campaign that is co-sponsored by the Church and the Waste Management Authority.