From island to island, Tongans help each other find relief after tsunami

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the islands of Tonga pulled together this weekend to provide relief to fellow Tongans whose lives have been devastated by a Jan. 15 volcanic eruption and tsunami.

According to the Church’s New Zealand Newsroom, members of 15 stakes in the nation contributed food and supplies, including clothing and bedding, as part of 30 tons of cargo that is being shipped from Nuku’alofa to Ha’apai Luluga. 

That 30-ton shipment is only half of what local members have donated so far, according to a Facebook post by the area. 

That post says the remaining donations will be delivered to other islands in the coming days. 

Responding to the speed and quantity of the donations, Elder Ian S. Ardern, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s Pacific Area, said, “It is the Tongan way.”

Donations to the Church’s Humanitarian Aid Fund helped to fund the cargo ship that is now being used to distribute the donations. 

Supplies donated by Members of the Nuku'alofa Tonga Stake members await loading onto a boat bound for the outer islands of Tonga, where an offshore volcanic eruption triggered a tsunami on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.
Supplies donated by Members of the Nuku’alofa Tonga Stake members await loading onto a boat bound for the outer islands of Tonga, where an offshore volcanic eruption triggered a tsunami on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The ship — capable of carrying 150 passengers — left dock with only a few dozen because of the amount of supplies loaded onto it. Those passengers are volunteers, who will help unload the cargo and deliver it to the people of Ha’apai. 

Ha’apai was hard hit by the tsunami that followed the initial volcanic eruption. Some whose homes were destroyed may return on the ship to take shelter at the Church’s Liahona High School until their homes can be rebuilt or other accommodations can be made. 

The high school initially provided shelter to more than 100 individuals and families; however, only 15 remain. Volunteers are ready to help any who may come when the ship returns.

Hundreds of messages of hope and prayer have been left by people around the world on the area’s Facebook page. Posts have included photos of homemade signs, inspirational quotes, prayers, scriptures and memories of interactions with people from Tonga. 

Communication, however, is still a challenge for the Pacific nation, comprising hundreds of islands. A naval ship has helped restore limited, emergency communication.