Store on journey to rebuild Tonga

Ready for sales to help support the community in Tonga are (from left) Setaita Aitu and Lavenita...
Ready for sales to help support the community in Tonga are (from left) Setaita Aitu and Lavenita and Le’iataua Tahaafe in their new shop. PHOTO: JULES CHIN
The "Friendly Islands Shop" has opened in the North End of Oamaru.

The charity shop was the brainchild of Lavenita and Le’iataua Tahaafe, who wanted to help raise money for people in Tonga who are still rebuilding after the tropical cyclones that struck in 2017 as well as the devastating underwater volcanic eruption that hit the country in January, 2022.

The volcanic blast, earthquake and tsunami devastated much of the country and affected an estimated 85,000 people who were left without food, water and shelter.

Mr and Mrs Tahaafe had been involved in helping rebuild houses in Tonga and wanted to continue to contribute to the process from Oamaru.

Mrs Aitu, the Tahaafes’ daughter-in-law, who is dealing with sales and administration at the store, said the family also self-funded the shipment of six containers back to Tonga from 2017 to 2021, with items for vulnerable families.

They eventually stopped the shipments due to their own financial situation.

Mr and Mrs Tahaafe said a trip to Tonga in 2017 and continued yearly trips up to 2021 opened their eyes to the devastating effects of the natural disasters and how many people were forced to live in shelter tents.

"A mother explained to us that whenever there were heavy rains they had to put everything on top of a table and they would wait until the rain finished and all the water sinks, and they just had cardboard on the floor.

"To me, I’m very emotional ... I was crying and when we went back to where we live ... we started saving to help," she said.

Mrs Aitu said the purpose of the Friendly Islands Shop was to create revenue to continue with the shipment of the containers to Tonga to help rebuild.

The results of the work they have already achieved over the last four years has spurred them on.

"A town officer in Tonga sent us to the hall and we put the clothes in the hall and then everyone could come and grab according to their size."

Mrs Aitu said it was an emotional time.

"I was crying," she said.

"We built our first house in the worst area. Where they rent, it’s $T200 [$NZ138.20] a month ... It made us willing to do more.

"We’ve kept doing it with no funds or no help, so we can’t afford to keep doing it, but we were always thinking about it," Mrs Tahaafe said.

Mrs Aitu said it was not just one place on the island where people needed help.

"It’s all over."

The family spent a month leasing and creating the shop which officially opened on June 10.

"We have received a lot of help from the people of the community and the church, donating all different items where we packed and filled out the containers and we would like to thank each and everyone of them for that," Mrs Aitu said.

"It was really fun we had people over and had the blessing done beforehand."

The family belong to the Weston Presbyterian Church parish and asked for the church’s and the community’s help to stock the store with "any unwanted things, blankets, clothes, whatever and also canned foods, flour, sugar and things like that," Mrs Tahaafe said.

All proceeds from the Friendly Island Shop will go towards the ongoing rebuilding process in Tonga.

The shop is open from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays at 366A Thames Highway.