21 July 2016
About 40 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel currently leading a multi-national task group undertaking humanitarian projects in Tonga have led outreach activities at schools in one of the main islands in the Ha’apai island group.
Lieutenant (LT) Aidan Bilbe from the Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps said many students in primary and secondary schools in Lifuka expressed a wish to join the military during a recent visit by military personnel taking part in Exercise Tropic Twilight 2016.
“The visits were very well-received by the teachers and the principals. They were very grateful that we would take the time to talk to the children. It was the first time these kids had the opportunity to meet people from other countries, especially foreign military personnel. When prompted, a lot of the children said they wanted to join the armed forces and the teachers were very supportive of their career choice,” LT Bilbe said.
Personnel from the New Zealand Army and the Royal New Zealand Air Force, half of whom are engineers and tradespersons from the Army’s 2nd Engineer Regiment, are working alongside engineers from Tonga, China and the United States to improve water storage and sanitation in two main islands in Ha’apai.
Nine 10,000-litre water storage tanks are being installed at churches, the fire station and city hall in Pangai, the administrative capital village of Ha’apai. A toilet block is also being built near the Pangai Ferry Terminal, a high-traffic location.
“We explained to the children that what we are doing in Tonga isn’t just about building projects but also about building friendships and partnerships between all nations involved,” LT Bilbe said.
“We spoke about the value of family and community, education and respecting other people especially elders. We also encouraged them to aspire to do great things and emphasised that the world beyond their island cares about the people of Ha’apai.”
LT Diana Denhaan from the Royal New Zealand Nursing Corps said she found the school visits rewarding.
“Engaging with the children is important. Some day, some of them will be holding key appointments. Hopefully, they will remember the Kiwis who helped rebuild their community and spoke with them. I hope I was able to instil motivation and inspiration into the children. Everyone was so warm and welcoming,” she said.
Tropic Twilight is a recurring humanitarian activity focused on disaster relief operations that is being conducted this year in Tonga. New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is funding the projects being delivered as part of the New Zealand Aid Programme.
For further information please contact Defence Public Affairs: 021 487 980