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Struggling to Make Ends Meet in the Remote Isolated Rural Communities of Tonga

Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovation (MORDI) Tonga Trust was incorporated into a Trust in December 2011 after the MORDI Tonga Programme came to the end of its initial phase as a funded IFAD programme piloted in Fiji, Kiribati and Tonga. It was a Programme that targeted women and youth of outer rural isolated islands in Tonga in the hope of helping them find pathways of alleviating their hardship status and finding innovative and alternate means of earning sustainable income for the future. The programme funded a total of 139 trainings and 74 community based projects within a span of four years to 25 communities on the outer islands of the Kingdom of Tonga scattered in a range of over 640km of open water. Getting to each community was like playing tug of war against an imaginary line up of unfortunate events. At first the only vessel that could travel as far north as the northernmost island of Niuafo'ou which was owned by the Government was found unfit for traveling in 2008 making matters worse as there were only ad hoc flights to the island on a monthly basis if there were enough people. In 2009 the Government bought a stand by ferry to take services well into the northernmost isolated islands but due to mechanical difficulties that boat sank five months after its maiden voyage ending the ferry services to the northern most isolated islands. It was not just getting to the northernmost island that proved difficult, the ferry services were running without proper schedule and there was only two boats operating. To get to the MORDI communities in Ha'apai, one would have to sail to the main island of Ha'apai, get off and get on a dinghy to ride another four hours in the open waters to get to the first MORDI community. If that was not bad enough, there was no proper wharf at most of these communities.

Pregnant women would often sail to the main islands when they are still in their first trimesters in order to ensure safe delivery because sometimes there is no medical staff available let alone a clinic. It is only often the youth who get sent out to the main islands and even to the main island of Tongatapu for educational purposes by their parents in order to break the cycle of poverty that they grow up in. Most almost usually find their way back to the islands due to negligent ill treatment by their relatives on the main islands. Youth and women find themselves without work and with very little input in their communities except through small women and youth groups who get together to weave and make traditional artifacts to be sold at the main island markets. When MORDI arrived to introduce the Programme and seek the involvement of the communities they were received with criticism because the communities were fed up with outsiders coming in with promises they fail to deliver especially politicians during election times and with parliamentarians raising false hopes of community development.

With the inclusion of the community in its entirety using participatory tools such as the Participatory Learning and Action Plan for the identification of most urgent needs needed to be developed into a community development plan for the next four years, the community took up ownership and felt that their plights were actually being heard and not just that but their opinions and solutions to the problems they raised were actually being valued. Women and youth were also heard from as the communities were separated into groups in order to come up with their most wanted needs for addressing. Youth have been trained throughout the span of four years first into financial management and business plan development and then encouraged to identify small business oriented activities that they could develop within the community in order to finance and rotationally build a business from. Women were encouraged to innovative arts and crafts and introduced to cost efficient usage of their local materials to tailor to the needs of tourists and the local demand.

They were introduced to organic farming as a healthier choice to their daily diets with surplus products being available for sale at the local markets and even to their neighboring islands. Women were encouraged to take hold of their role as the provider for their families especially if they were widowed or unwed single mothers. They were even introduced to online tools such as facebook and bebo where they showcased their handicrafts and local creations which were wanted from Tongans overseas and had arranged online for exchanges later on the year. As a result of the trainings and projects, communities were made more aware of their vulnerability as poor rural and isolated communities but were encouraged to make a difference for the future of their children. They were encouraged to stay and work their communities instead of packing their bags and slumming it out on the main islands where life will be much more difficult as they would face newer challenges of having to find shelter and account for everyday costs such as transport, lunch money, tuition fees and other financial needs that they would have to meet when living in an urban area.

Granted there is no electricity or running water to wake up to in the mornings nor flushed toilets or the life saving ability of a quick coffee stop. There are insects that you have to swat at most if not all times. When you're pregnant you are always wary of your surrounding and start saving for that one way ticket to the main island to get some decent medical attention. There are no venues of employment and you will have to rely on your artistic skills by developing some handicrafts or planting your own organic garden. When you live in the community you really have no need to interact with the outside world until your children start high school and then you need money for a sturdier more resilient house to protect your family from the higher intensity hurricanes hitting the islands. There are no daily bills to pay or deadlines to meet and life is generally filled with laughter. However we all know that this a global world that we are living in and money makes the world go round.Without the helping hand of the MORDI Tonga Trust, the youth and women of these 25 communities would not have been exposed to skills and projects that they have trialled and made a living from.

To know more about the MORDI Tonga Trust please visit


In partnership with the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), World Pulse is collecting personal stories outlining women’s experiences and recommendations on sustainable and equitable development for presentation at the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

All stories submitted on our community platform between now and June 3, 2012 will be presented at the Rio+20 Conference. Additionally, selected entries will be published in World Pulse’s digital magazine and distributed widely to international media partners. Learn how YOUR voice can be included!


jadefrank's picture

Taking your voice to Rio+20!

Dear Ana,

I am inspired by the incredible work of MORDI Tonga Trust and through your story, my eyes are now opened to the unique challenged faced by women in a climate vulnerable and remote region such as Tongo—a place we hear little of in global news coverage. The work of MORDI serves as a valuable example for reaching sustainable development goals through addressing women's access to health services, vocational training, and resources for combating the effects of climate change.

Thank you for participating in our Rio+20 initiative and courageously sharing your voice. Your story and recommendations are en route to Rio de Janeiro with our partners at WEDO, and will be presented at the conference to ensure grassroots women's perspectives are included at the negotiating table. Our editorial team is working on an E-magazine for publication next Wednesday which you will receive in your inbox, highlighting selected pieces from our Rio+20 initiative. We will keep you updated on the outcomes of the conference and how you can stay involved as a vocal leader for your community on these issues.

I encourage you to read the stories of your fellow PulseWire sisters and engage in conversation to share experiences, ideas, and best practices for addressing sustainable development issues in your communities.

In friendship and solidarity,

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