Maile is sitting among his crop of yams

Maile has placed branches over his new crop of yams

New life from the ashes

Maile, like most of the men on the island of Tongatapu in the Kingdom of Tonga, is a farmer and plantation worker.

Until January 2022, his simple routine was enough to get by, and provide for his family.

“When I wake up in the morning I tend to my pigs and feed them and clean out their pen if I need to,” he says. “My wife takes care of everything else while I make my way out here to the plantation and I begin weeding which can take all day. Sometimes if the weather is favourable, I go out fishing to get our daily food. I have a few bulls that I take to graze and make sure they have enough water to drink. After which I make my way home to tend to the pigs before calling it a day.”

The powerful eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano caused an atmospheric disturbance around the globe, and drastically impacted the lives of the inhabitants of this Polynesian archipelago. Ashfall from the volcanic eruption and seawater from the tsunami waves contaminated agricultural lands and drinking water sources, especially on Tongatapu, Ha’apai and ‘Eua islands.

Maile says that after the eruption and acid rain, the men in his farming group went to their plantation allotment. “We just had to come and see the damage and try to salvage what we could. That involved shaking off the ash from most of the plants that survived, and we tried to get as many tubers left to use to replant in good soil.”

“I felt devastated as we all did when we saw the damage to our plantation and our hard work,” he says. “There were so many thoughts running in my mind like, How will I provide for the education of my children? Where will we get food? Our household depends on income from the plantation. I sell crops at the market to meet our needs.”

The answer to Maile’s questions came sooner than he expected.

CARE Canada, through local partner MORDI Tonga Trust and with support from the Humanitarian Coalition and the Canadian government, initiated the Tonga Response Program to meet the humanitarian needs in 62 rural communities following the disaster.

“The Tonga Response Program was the only thing that allowed us to go back to the farms and resume the work,” says Maile.

The farmers received assistance in ploughing the land and installing fencing. The women’s community group was supported to rebuild vegetable gardens, and women farmers received seeds, tools and fruit tree kits.

“It has meant a great deal to me and my family,” says Maile. “There wouldn’t have been any other way for my family to have had this blessing.”