Local Tongan communities across the Bay Area are supporting their families through donations, food drives and prayers following the eruption of an undersea volcano of the Tongan archipelago on Jan. 14.
“My family in the states and lots of other Tongan families have been contributing to support groups who are helping the islanders of Tonga,” Palo Alto High School junior Mia Tuifua said.
One such organization is Capuchino High School’s Poly Club, located in San Bruno, which has been collecting food, water and medical supplies from families around the Bay Area over the past week to be shipped to Tonga.
“This [emergency supply drive] is very important to us because we have everything here, and we’ve heard people living on one gallon of water per household out there,” Capuchino High School Poly Club president and senior Afa Kaufusi said. “We found out that a company [S.F. Enterprises] was receiving donations, and I said, ‘Let’s put the club to work.’ So we started gathering things. We started putting it in our daily bulletin. We started telling the community through Instagram posts online, and we were able to get the word out.”
However, local Tongan community members such as Paly junior Vainga Mahe Jr. are still waiting for contact from their family members on the island.
“For me, it’s just been a long and nervous wait,” Mahe said. “Just waiting for that answer of confirmation that’s they [Mahe’s family] are alright.”
Paly freshman James Tautua’a can recall the exact moment he lost contact with his family.
“As soon as my family and I received news [of the volcano], we immediately contacted our uncles to see if they were hit,” Tautua’a said. “In the middle of the conversation, the connection broke off, leaving all of us to worry.”
“For me, it’s just been a long and nervous wait. Just waiting for that answer of confirmation that’s they are alright.”
— junior Vainga Mahe Jr.
Since then, families such as Mahe’s, Tautua’a’s and Tuifua’s have only heard bits and pieces about the status of the islands of Tonga
“It’s been really difficult trying to get a hold of our relatives,” Tuifua said. “With them being out of the country, communication is already hard. All we know is that Ha’apai is experiencing a lot of tsunami waves and towns are being completely flooded and destroyed. We can only hope that our family is safe and trust that they will contact us when they can.”
For many Tongans, this event was a shock; however, natural disasters have always posed a risk to inhabitants of the islands.
“I was working on a project about what will happen to my homeland and sadly, if the world continues to do what it has been doing for years, we might not even see an island there in 2055,” Tautua’a said. “Climate change is island genocide.”
Tuifua, on the other hand, has always wondered what would happen if a tsunami hit the islands.
“I’ve thought about what would happen if Tonga experienced a tsunami before because the islands are extremely flat compared to other countries and lands,” Tuifua said. “I’ve wondered where my family would go since there are no big mountains or tall buildings to escape to. However, I’ve never considered the devastation that I feel, hearing about the islands where my family is from being destroyed.”
Despite the sense of worry, the local Tongan community remains united.
“I feel like this has brought us even closer,” Mahe said. “Knowing that we all have family back in the islands, we’re all just keeping our heads high and hoping that they are alright.”