U.S. Benefits from Foreign Aid to Tonga
By looking at Tonga and the United States on a map, it would seem the two countries share very little in common. However, despite their apparent differences, the U.S. and Tonga share a deep relationship and align closely with a number of important global issues.

U.S. and Tonga Relations

Evidence of this relationship is shown through U.S. foreign aid to Tonga, aid which directly and indirectly comes back to benefit the U.S. This aid takes various forms, including grants from the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to help Tonga recover from natural disasters and grants from USAID to support climate proofing the vulnerable island country.

Tonga also receives Foreign Military Financing, providing the opportunity for Tongan officers to come to the U.S. for training and education, fostering a close relationship between U.S. and Tongan armed forces. The U.S. also provides $21 million per year to Pacific island countries, including Tonga, in accordance to the Tuna Fisheries Treaty, which gives U.S. fishing vessels access to Pacific island fisheries.


In purely economic terms, the benefit is relatively minimal. Although the U.S. is one of Tonga’s primary trade partners and runs a trade surplus with the island country, the surplus is only about $11 million annually. However, the trade surplus and role of the U.S. as a primary trading partner with Tonga does indicate that U.S. foreign aid to Tonga has played a part in establishing closer economic ties between the two countries.


The biggest way the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Tonga is stability, both in the Pacific region and the world. When foreign aid is injected into a country to help it recover from a disaster, or to help it become more self-sufficient, everybody wins. In such a case, foreign aid has a stabilizing effect, preventing large migrations, saving lives and helping to prevent future disasters. The result, besides the obvious humanitarian benefit and lives saved, is the stabilization of a volatile region and the fostering of a close ongoing relationship looking towards the future between the recipient and the donor of aid. In this case, the U.S. benefits greatly from a stable and closely aligned Tonga for various reasons. On one hand, friendly relations with Tonga and the U.S. allows for mutually beneficial cooperation between both countries, such as access to Tongan tuna fisheries by U.S. fishing vessels.

Friendly Relations

Friendly relations between the U.S. and Tonga, as facilitated by U.S. foreign aid to Tonga, also benefit the U.S. by giving it a close ally in the Pacific, a highly important geopolitical area. The importance of Tonga as a U.S. ally was recently reinforced during the RIMPAC military exercises in the Pacific. Among 26 nations to join the exercise, Tonga was the only country from the Pacific islands to participate. The inclusion of Tonga in such an important exercise indicates its importance to the U.S., while also demonstrating how U.S. foreign aid has brought the two nations together.

The most important takeaway from analyzing the relationship between the U.S. and Tonga is that foreign aid from the U.S. has been mutually beneficial. Because of U.S. support, Tonga has been able to recover faster from natural disasters and is working with the U.S. in preventing such disasters in the future. In return, the U.S. has gained a valuable ally in the Pacific.

– Taylor Pace
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Tonga
Located off the coast of Australia and New Zealand, Tonga is part of a 170-island archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. The country itself is immersed in a rich culture that is founded on a matriarchal society, bringing benefits to girl’s education in Tonga. The eldest women, usually called “aunties,” have shared power regarding family affairs, including their own choice in marriage. This matriarchal-based society stems from the fact that Tonga‘s royal line is passed down through women rather than men.

Positive Aspects of Girls’ Education in Tonga

Although women in Tonga play a secondary role in their day-to-day society, girls’ education in Tonga is anything but secondary. Girls are exposed to education and modern technology from an early age. All children, regardless of gender, have the opportunity to take part in playgroups prior to preschool. The groups are organized by the Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning Project (PEARL), whose main goal is to help children learn to read and write before beginning school, as well as help develop skills important to their education. The playgroups are implemented by the community and the World Bank.

Programs like PEARL have had a positive effect on the literacy rate of Tonga, which currently stands at over 95 percent. Education in Tonga is mandatory and free for children ages 6 to 14. Furthering girls’ education in Tonga beyond the age of 14 is not determined by gender, but by financial resources. Queen Salote, who ruled Tonga from 1918 until 1965 and was educated herself, promoted the importance of girl’s education. She helped by paying for school funds during difficult financial times and established a group that advocated education for women. 

Challenges to Girls’ Education

Despite the matriarchal-based society and the progress that has been made, girls’ education in Tonga still faces challenges. Women in the country cannot own land and have to dress modestly. In addition, girls’ education in Tonga was recently affected by a law issued by the Education Minister, Penisimani Fifita, banning girls from participating in rugby and boxing at public schools.

Fifita stated that it was against Tonga’s culture and tradition for girls to play rugby. However, the state later issued a statement saying that the ban was imposed to give students more time for school. Fehoko Tu’ivai, the girl’s rugby head coach at Tonga High School and President of the Tonga Women’s Rugby Association, stated, “Rugby is one of the oldest sports in Tonga. We have realized that we Tongans were born to be great sportsmen and women, especially in rugby.” 

The ban on girls’ ability to play sports because of tradition deprives them of many opportunities. Two-time Olympian champion in shot put, Valerie Adams, is half-Tongan. She expressed the importance of keeping girls in rugby on social media, saying, “Tongan women must be free to choose their destiny, and not be held back by misguided and stubborn misinterpretation.” Tongans and people residing in New Zealand continue to express their disagreement and disappointment with the female-undermining bill.

Looking to the Future

Despite the setbacks, girls’ education in Tonga is supported by a strong base of literacy-based programs like PEARL and has made substantial progress. If this progress continues, the future is bright for women in Tonga. 

– Alyssa Hannam
Photo: Flickr

Cyclone Gita in TongaTonga, or the Kingdom of Tonga, is a Polynesian archipelago of 170 islands of which 36 are inhabited. With a population of 109,008 people, Tongans rely heavily on each other and the little they have to survive.

As of 2016, 22.5 percent of the population lived at, or below, the poverty line. In fact, 8,456 people lived off of $3.10 or less a day, and 1,125 people of that lived off of $1.90 a day. According to Pacific Islands Report, Tonga suffers from poverty because Tongans need to depend on overseas trades, tourism, aid donors and private sectors to bring money into their economy. At the same time, the nation lacks access to basic living essentials and services, and face poor climate.

The Impact of Cyclone Gita in Tonga

On February 3, 2018, Tongans were hit with a tropical cyclone named Cyclone Gita — the most impactful tropical cyclone to hit Tonga in recorded history. After three long weeks, Gita heavily affected 70 percent, or 50,000 people — one-third of them being children. While only two people died from this tragedy, hundreds of homes, schools, buildings, churches and agricultural land were destroyed.

Specifically, 171 homes were destroyed, more than 1,131 homes were damaged, about 5,700 people sought shelters, 129 classrooms in 83 schools were damaged (leaving 25,000 students affected and a total of 35,000 children affected) and $152 million worth of damage hit agricultural land.

Cyclone Gita put Tongans at more of a risk as this population mainly depends on fishing and agriculture for an income. Nearly 36 percent of Tonga is agricultural land and agriculture accounts for 30 percent of the GDP.

Also, 98 percent of students were left without a school. Instead of working in the fields for income or going to school, Tongans had to refocus their attention on rebuilding their country.

How the U.S. Helped People Affected by Cyclone Gita in Tonga

In 1967, the U.S. brought the U.S. Peace Corps to Tonga to work and build a relationship with the Tongans. In 1970, the U.S. and Tonga began a bilateral relationship after the U.S. accredited Kevin Franzheim II, the U.S. Ambassador, to New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

Since then, the U.S. and Tonga have held a strong relationship with each other through trades and donations. In February, USAID donated $100,000 to assist the people affected by Cyclone Gita in Tonga; every year, the U.S. provides $21 million to the Pacific Island funds.

The World Bank also provided $14.95 million to the Pacific Resilience Program, a program dedicated to strengthening awareness and preparedness for natural disasters.

Lasse Melgaard, Resident Representative from the South Pacific, said funds to the Pacific Resilience Program will go towards rebuilding 30 schools, which will put 9,000 students into a safer-built school.

Steady Support & Recovery

Other countries including New Zealand, India, Asia and Australia have also funded Tonga in relief efforts by donating money and humanitarian supplies. Although the people of Tonga still struggle to put families back into homes and children into school, the Tongan people continue to help each other rebuild their homes from the ground up. The unfortunate news is that it is expected to take months for Tonga to recover, but the good news is that there is more than enough helping hands to speed up the process.

– Kristen Uedoi
Photo: Flickr

 Education in TongaAfter Cyclone Gita devastated the islands of Tonga, more than 14,000 children may return to their education thanks to an efficient relief plan executed by UNICEF and several of its partner organizations.

UNICEF worked with the New Zealand Defense Force to provide aid for the victims of the cyclone, totaling about 25,000 students, according to a Tonga government assessment. A large portion of the aid was aimed at maintaining a level of education in Tonga after the cyclone’s path of destruction.

Relief came in the form of tents to serve as classrooms after an estimated 83 schools were damaged by the storm, according to Radio New Zealand. The two organizations also shipped supplies such as backpacks and the innovative school-in-a-box. The box includes pencils, scissors, paper, textbooks, chalk and a chalkboard, which is also used as the box’s lid.

In a podcast interview with ABC News, a UNICEF director explained the organization’s goal in Tonga by using temporary learning centers. “It will allow them to process what has happened while moving on with their lives as quickly as possible,” the UNICEF director said.

The cyclone, according to NewScientist, was the most powerful that Tonga has seen in more than 60 years, with winds reaching more than 142 mph. The damage to infrastructure did not end with schools, however. Nearly 1,400 homes were destroyed by Cyclone Gita, leaving many without shelter.

According to UNICEF Pacific on Twitter, the project also received assistance from the French Navy, who shipped some of the relief kits and helped progress education in Tonga.

While the government is still taking strides to improve infrastructure quality, the combined and coordinated effort of UNICEF and the New Zealand Defense Force successfully improved conditions for the affected children. Finding an efficient strategy to provide basic education, such as sending the school-in-a-box, allowed for high success rates in Tonga.

– Austin Stoltzfus

Photo: Flickr

infrastructure in TongaTonga is an archipelago of more than 170 islands in the South Pacific Ocean. This Polynesian country, formerly known as the Friendly Islands, relies on agriculture, fishing and remittances from Tongans living abroad, many of them in New Zealand. Unemployment is high, while the main source of income is in the developing tourist industry.

The island’s small size and geographical isolation result in limited internal, regional and international transport and communication linkage. With few natural responses and vulnerability to external economic shocks, these areas are crucial to Tonga’s economic development and social well-being. Its roughly 105,000 people face decaying infrastructure in Tonga, which when combined with financial constraints poses a challenge of meeting domestic and international transport safety security requirements.


The Ministry of Infrastructure

The Ministry of Infrastructure was created to assist the government with improving infrastructure in Tonga. It began as the Ministry of Transport, whose goal to improve compliance of the civil aviation and maritime entities with international safety and security standards. It was then merged with the Ministry of Works to form the Ministry of Infrastructure. So far, the Ministry of Infrastructure’s successes have included:

  • The creation of a domestic road contracting industry for Tonga which employed 88 people, including 12 women, working on road maintenance throughout Tonga.
  • A total of 171 km of roads maintained or rehabilitated.
  • Improved safety standards for passenger vessels under an improved regulatory framework with the government of Tonga’s Marine and Ports Division.
  • Improved infrastructure in Tonga, including the fire station at the airport and an extension to the airport transit lounge.
  • The establishment of a Road Maintenance Fund to ensure sustainable financing of future investments.


Urban Development Sector Project

Another source of aid to infrastructure in Tonga is the Integrated Urban Development Sector Project, funded by the Asian Development Bank, who stated that rapid population growth has put pressure on the infrastructure in Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa. Along with the Australian government aid agency AusAID, this multi-million dollar project focused on six different components of Nuku’alofa’s urban services, including water supply, solid waste services and development of roads and drains. Its goal is also to raise awareness in the community about issues such as household management of solid waste and public health benefits for safe waste disposal. Since 2016, 30 kilometers of expressways, national highways, fully access-controlled roadways and provincial, district and rural road networks have been built or upgraded.

The improvement of infrastructure in Tonga will aid the country a great deal in its economic development. Infrastructure plays such a vital role in every nation and with the projects working hard to sustain Tonga, there is a chance for employment rates and incomes to rise.

– Kailey Brennan

Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture in TongaMore than 70 percent of Tonga’s population lives in rural areas with agriculture and fisheries as its main source of livelihood. The country’s predominant economic activity is agriculture, so establishing sustainable agriculture in Tonga is essential to its economy.

Of all the Pacific Island countries, Tonga has one of the highest rates of subsistence food production. The method is self-sufficient and farmers produce enough food for local consumption with a little surplus for trade. More than 95 percent of Tonga’s agriculturally active households engage in subsistence and semi-subsistence agriculture activity, and only five percent engage in commercial activities.

Small landholdings, typically eight acres or 3.24 hectares, enable sustainable agriculture in Tonga. Multi-crop systems based on root crops provide food security, employment and income.

Root crops constitute 50 percent of Tonga’s total exports, with half being taro. Approximately 60 percent of Tonga’s exports are destined for New Zealand.

Watermelon exports increased from 86 tons in 2010 to 271 tons in 2013. Tonga’s goal is to export 1,000 watermelons per year to New Zealand over the next three years; New Zealand imports 2,500 tons of watermelons annually. Other export destinations include Samoa and American Samoa.

Tonga’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forests (MAFF) plans to improve sustainable agriculture in Tonga by implementing the Tonga Agriculture Sector Plan’s four programs:

  1. Climate Resilient Environment: Ensures that Tonga’s natural resources are preserved
  2. Enabling Environment: Focuses on improving Tonga’s environment for the agriculture sector’s operation
  3. Sustainable Livelihoods and Healthy Foods: Improves farmers, knowledge, marketing techniques and technologies for sustainable and diverse agriculture
  4. Sustainable Growth and Foreign Exchange Earnings: Increases exports and enhances import replacements

MAFF’s main purposes are to:

  • Provide policy advice to the Tongan government on maintaining a sustainable and competitive agricultural sector
  • Provide policy advice on achieving social, economic and environmental benefits from limited natural resources
  • Administer government programs and legislation to support these objectives
  • Regulate imports to ensure Tonga is safeguarded against exotic threats
  • Regulate exports to satisfy importing country requirements

The Tongan government is focused on establishing a secure agricultural sector plan that promotes sustainable agriculture in Tonga. With the majority of Tongans reliant on agriculture, successful implementation of the Sector Plan is vital to the population.

– Carolyn Gibson
Photo: Flickr

5 Development Projects in Tonga

Tonga is a country comprised of 170 islands in the South Pacific, located close to Fiji and American Samoa. The island nation has a relatively high unemployment rate. This, coupled with an economy largely dependent on agricultural means of making money, has led to the creation of various development projects in Tonga. In recent years, these projects have improved stability in different aspects of the country.


In 2012, the Peace Corps began a development project in Tonga designed to teach English as a foreign language. Aside from teaching English, the project’s larger goals are to improve the Tongan education system through the utilization of more computers and other technology. It also assists Tongan teachers in discovering new methods of teaching that are more student-centred. In addition, the project focuses on helping students develop healthy lifestyle habits. These lifestyle lessons are taught as part of the English language curriculum.

Growth Development

One of the more recent development projects in Tonga began in April 2017. The World Bank approved $5 million for policy reforms in the island nation. According to a press release on the World Bank website, these reforms aim to “improve the management of public finances, boost government accountability and encourage a more dynamic and inclusive economy.”

Climate Change

In 2013, the Asian Development Bank launched the Climate Resilience Sector Project in Tonga. This projects helps strengthen the country in the face of increasingly dangerous threats from climate change. The project finances low cost solutions which are executed at the local community level. Aside from this, the Asian Development Bank is also working with the Tongan government to create more renewable energy. By 2020, Tonga hopes to get 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

Environmental Protection

In July 2014, the United Nations Development Programme’s Pacific Office in Fiji created a project with the intention of protecting the ecosystem of the Fanga’uta Lagoon Catchment on Tongatapu Island. The project’s three main goals are to improve management of the lagoon, introduce an environmental management plan and educate local communities and national stakeholders about the role of the lagoon ecosystem and the benefits of protecting it.

Improved Healthcare System

The Australia-Tonga Aid Partnership, created in 2016, is a project where the Australian government provides funding each year to assist development projects in Tonga. Just last year, Tonga received around $30.4 million in aid from Australia. In particular, one of the projects that utilizes this funding is the Tonga Health System Support Program.

Phase One of the program began in 2009. Following this, Phase Two of the program started in March 2015. The objectives of the program are to stop the progression of noncommunicable diseases, generally advance health care services across the nation, provide enhanced mental health services, improve gender equality and provide access to universal health care.

Tonga has begun to experience a flourishing tourism industry that is becoming a main source of income for the nation. As a result of these five development projects in Tonga, the country can maintain economic, environmental and social stability as it continues to progress.

The support from these organizations will help Tonga combat increasing environmental risks that the country will face from climate change. Through these programs, Tonga will only continue to grow and further advance their infrastructure.

– Jennifer Jones

Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in TongaIn recent years, Tonga has taken action to bridge the gap in gender equality by improving women’s livelihoods and attempting to stop domestic violence against them, while also improving their economic power. They believe that in order to eliminate poverty in their country, women’s empowerment in Tonga needs to improve.

Tonga’s government is determined to promote gender equality. On December 9, the Pacific Community’s Regional Rights Resource Team and the Ministry of Justice helped create a new Access to Justice Project for Tongan residents. The plan’s aim is to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence and offer them the services that they need.

The plan projects to open a community center in Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, in early 2018. The center will provide assistance that will increase survivors’ abilities to apply for protective services under the Family Protection Act. It will also include free legal assistance. For women who are not in Nuku’alofa, the center will provide assistance over the phone.

An earlier development created in 2016 to improve women’s empowerment in Tonga is the Talitha Project. With assistance from Australian Aid and U.N. Women, the project organized a drop-in center as a safe place for women to come and get support and discuss any difficulties they may be having. This center provides counseling and empowerment courses to help women become independent members of society.

The Talitha Project also launched a campaign this year, supported by the Ministry of Justice, to end child marriage in Tonga. The campaign is called “Let Girls Be Girls!” and plans to increase awareness of child marriage in Tonga, as well as repeal sections of the Births, Deaths and Marriage Registration Act of 1926. The current legal age to marry in Tonga is as young as 15 years of age if the child has the consent of a parent.

The campaign is hoping to change the age minimum for marriage to 18. The founder of the Talitha Project, Vanessa Heleta, says this is an essential step to ensure that women realize their full potential.

More recently, Heleta has used the Talitha Project to partner with the Bank of the South Pacific and a telecommunications company to encourage over 50 women to empower themselves financially. The project ensures that these young women are provided guidance on how to become financially independent entrepreneurs.

The project’s main purpose is to increase women’s empowerment in Tonga. With the help of the bank, these young women in Tonga will get assistance in opening a bank account. The project also works with the women to use any talents they may have to create or make goods they can sell, such as handicrafts or fabric printing. Then, when cruise ships come in, the women go to these locations and set up a tent where they can sell their products.

These young women having a functioning bank account and earning an income from the work they have done themselves empowers them and gives them leadership skills. The purpose of all of these projects is to improve women’s empowerment in Tonga and give them the confidence and support they need in order to continue striving as individuals.

Although a persistent effort is needed to further increase women’s empowerment in Tonga, there are numerous projects and plans in place to ensure that this improvement continues. These projects are only some of the influential ones taking place in Tonga and empowering women daily.

– McCall Robison

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Tonga

Situated in the Pacific Islands, Tonga is among one of several countries in the region to experience water scarcity and quality issues. An island chain of more than 170, Tonga is limited in access to freshwater resources, much of which is sourced directly from groundwater. In addition to groundwater and springs, Tongans collect water from surface resources, which on most islands is extremely difficult to come by. A few different issues are the culprit for scarcity, and subsequently, water quality in Tonga.

One of the primary concerns is the overuse and exploitation of water on larger islands. Tongatapu, one of the most densely populated islands in Tonga, accounts for 69 percent of the total population. Its water consumption rates are continually on the rise.

In addition to poor water use practice, Tonga also experiences poor management with wastewater. All of the wastewater is managed individually rather than through a unified system. The wastewater then becomes the burden of the community: with little to no help from the government, issues with quality and sanitation are unavoidable.

Tonga also lacks water management infrastructure. Water resource use and sanitation center data is currently not nationally exchanged through an organized sharing system, making it difficult to regulate and monitor.

Because there are limited resources to ameliorate these issues, supervision of water quality in Tonga has been taken over by its residents with some supplemental assistance from the Tongan government and the World Health Organization.

In an effort to provide risk assessment and management for villages experiencing poor water conditions, the government has administered a Water Safety Plan. This plan is designed to pay specific attention to the causes of contamination of water supplies. It also considers which measures must be taken to reduce these risks and make improvements to existing water systems.

Communities are urged to take part in these action plans to learn more about their individual water resource systems and identify with the ecosystem that supports them.

In 2009, 10 villages were set up to take part in the Water Safety Plans, and eight more have been added since. The World Health Organization is working to provide training support for the Tongan government to implement the plan further.

Water quality in Tonga is also being tackled by using methods of public outreach and education. The Tonga Trust developed the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program in 2008, which works toward changing behaviors of residents and visitors to be more mindful of water use and hygienic practice.

Expected outcomes are for villages to identify their Water Safety Plans, increase the frequency of WASH’s message through media outlets, create posters and manuals in the local language promoting sanitation, establish WASH committees throughout the islands and increase stakeholder involvement.

Casey Hess

Photo: Flickr

Tonga Poverty RateThe Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga is home to around 102,000 people. Tonga is an archipelago comprised of 171 islands, only 45 of which are inhabited. In 2005, the U.N. estimated 77 percent of the population lives in rural areas.

The poverty rate in Tonga is 22.1 percent; in other words, one out of every five Tongans lives below the poverty line. Among the eight nations in the Pacific region, Tonga has the third lowest poverty rate, proceeded by the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Tonga’s impoverished communities are primarily in rural areas on the outer islands. The main island of Tongatapu has the highest GDP per capita, but the citizens of the farther islands of ‘Eau, Ha’apai, the Niuas and Vava’u struggle to find work. The higher poverty rates on these islands are due to a lack of access to goods, transportation and marketing opportunities.

The poverty rate in Tonga worsened after the 2008 global financial crisis. The cost of living skyrocketed due to increased prices of imported fuel and food. The crisis also caused Tongans overseas to lose their jobs in fields such as construction and landscaping, rendering them unable to send money back home. It is estimated that there are more Tongalese expatriates than current citizens, and many of them reside in the neighboring countries of Australia and New Zealand.

Tonga’s economy is primarily agricultural. Their main cash crops are squash, fish, copra and coconut products, vanilla bean extract and bananas. Tonga’s main mode of foreign exchange is through agricultural exports, tourism and remittances. The Tongalese economy also relies on foreign aid to offset its chronic trade deficit.

The biggest hope for improving the Tongan economy is tourism. Tonga hopes to increase high-value tourism among the outer islands, which have white sandy beaches and ideal sailing conditions. The Tongan tourism industry still has problems with remoteness, infrastructure and poor marketing. However, conditions are improving. In January 2011, tourist receipts totaled 60 million Tongan dollars, the highest point in the last decade.

Like many countries, Tonga is still in the process of rebuilding its economy after the 2008 financial shock. International cooperation will also be instrumental in doing so, as Tonga continues to rely on foreign aid for emergency assistance and filling the gaps in trade deficits. With further cooperation and the development of local markets, there is hope to lift many more Tongans out of poverty.

Hannah Seitz

Photo: Flickr