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Tongan American Activists Discuss Providing Aid for Tonga with California AAPI City Leaders

by Zachary FR Anderson, AsAmNews Contributor

The League of California Cities Asian Pacific Islander Caucus met with the Tonga Relief Support of America collective to discuss how the Tongan diaspora is providing aid for the Kingdom of Tonga after the January 15 eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai.

Founded in response to the eruption of Hunga Tonga, the Tonga Relief Support of America is a collective made up of Tongan Americans from various Pacific Islander organizations across the country. Members of the collective come from Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC), the Vakatasi Foundation, Motivating Action Leadership Opportunity (MALO), the Mana Learning Center at San Mateo College and The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA).

“It was really easy for [the collective] to come together and recognize that although we are always advocating for our communities and doing good work in the US, it is important to be tied to our families and our communities abroad,” said EPIC Policy Associate Sina Uipi during the meeting. “Especially after a horrific event like a tsunami and volcanic eruption.”

All of the members of the collective volunteer their time, while balancing their primary advocacy work and family commitments.

“[The collective] is coming together because of the need and the crisis we are facing,” said ‘Asena Taione-Filihia, the development director of MALO. “It would be incredible to have this type of effort and organization as well as funding and support to bring us together.”

Since the Tongan American Diaspora learned about the eruption, most of the American aid came in the form of direct donations called remittances which are given directly to family members in Tonga. However, the collective works with Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovation Tonga Trust (MORDI), a Tonga-based non-governmental organization that provides rebuilding resources and relief for communities that it has identified as being most affected by the eruption.

“Remittances play a huge part in Tonga’s economy whether it’s coming from family in America, Australia, New Zealand or abroad elsewhere,” Vakatasi Foundation co-founder Tupou Tongilava told AsAmNews. “But for Tonga Relief Support, our primary focus is assisting those communities that MORDI works with.”

One of the primary objectives of MORDI is to rebuild housing for those who lost homes during the tsunami.

“We would love to have a community development fund,” Tongilava told AsAmNews, “but first we would like to get folks into long-term sustainable housing.”

At the March 29 meeting, the collective presented their work and the kind of support they need from institutions like the API Caucus to reach their goals.

“There are many other issues that we want to address in our communities,” Tongilava said at the meeting, citing the high rates of COVID-19 infection among NHPI individuals. “But when there are urgent disasters, such as the eruption, that require an immediate response, it’s very difficult for our community to mobilize in order to create the type of change we want to see.”

Members of the League of California Cities’ API Caucus that attended the meeting included mayors, city councilmembers and other elected officials from California cities great and small.

At the end of the meeting, the API Caucus pledged to make a $5000 contribution to the collective. In addition, API Caucus President and Elk Grove City Councilmember Stephanie Nguyen told AsAmNews that Asian Resources, Inc.–– where she also serves as executive director–– will match that contribution.

“Many of the NHPI leaders [at the Tonga Relief Support of America collective] are taking on multiple roles to support their local community and abroad,” said Nguyen, “[The API Caucus is] hosting this session to bring greater awareness to it and help raise funds.”

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  1. Great article! Interesting to learn about the Tonga Relief Support and some of their members, as well as MORDI. Congratulations to the collective for getting funding!


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