I spent a wonderful day yesterday, helping out at the family fun day for the Mango Tree Centre. The Mango Tree centre offers practical and emotional support, rehabilitation and education for children living with a disability and their families in Tonga.
My good friend Chelsea volunteers at the centre and I was invited to attend by Mr and Mrs Kim, the lovely Korean couple who run the centre. They were interested in meeting a social worker and I’m hoping that next year I might be able to offer some time to volunteer with the centre.
Family day offers a time of respite for these families. Due to lack of suitable transport, practical support and limited finances, many Tongan families who have a family member who has a disability get little chance to go out of their home and just have fun together. Around 130 clients and family members, plus volunteers from a local church and a mission team from NZ, spent the day at a beach resort enjoying good food and a program full of dance and musical items.
Culturally in Tonga, disability has represented a curse from God, so families often hide their disabled family members, cutting them off from society.
There is no social welfare system in place, no laws offering protection and services to people who have a disability, no employment services to offer specific training and help for people to find work, no suitable public transport, hardly any access to public buildings, little home modification offered and few support services at all… apart from the Mango Tree centre and the Tongan Red Cross.
Greater community awareness is needed in Tonga, as well as the development of a comprehensive government policy and appropriate legislation for people with disability.
Read more about the Mango Tree Centre here.
Photos from the International Day for people with disability (Dec 3) street parade in Nuku’alofa.