Living in Tonga: The TRaM project

Ray Mines sits on the steps of his wooden home. The sun is setting, giving the photo a glow. In the background are tropical trees including coconut trees.

“Living in Tonga is a fantastic learning opportunity for me.”

We recently caught up with MA’s Programme Manager, Ray Mines about what it’s like living and working in Tonga to make our current project happen. He shares the benefits and the challenges about what it is like to live and work in country as well as what excites him about the current Tonga project.

Tell us about the Tonga Project:

The Tonga Rehabilitation and Mobility project is a two year and five-month partnership between Motivation Australia and the Ministry of Health in Tonga. The Ministry of Health would like to increase access to rehabilitation and mobility device services for people with disabilities, non-communicable diseases and the frail aged. The project is funded through the Australian Government’s Disability Inclusive Development (DID) programme.

What excites you about the Tonga project?

Secondary complications of non-communicable diseases such as stroke and amputation, are impacting large numbers of Tongans and their families. The technical parts of the project are about renovating and equipping new facilities, training Tongan personnel and establishing the rehabilitation, wheelchair and prosthetic limb service. However, for me, our work is also as much about creating hope that after a stroke or an amputation, people’s lives are not over. If the service can provide people with the support and devices they need to stay healthy and mobile – and the hope that life isn’t over – then together, we can really change people’s lives.

We know you are living there for 6 months to make this project happen, how is the move so far?

It’s been good. I save time by being right there when I’m needed, and it isn’t as much of a rush as when I fly in for a short visit. Face to face communication is so much better than email! Of course, there are always challenges, but we’re making progress. I think that it’s important for us to get to know the local staff that we’re working with, and to understand more about the country and the culture that we’re working in. Living in Tonga is a fantastic learning opportunity for me.

What is the hardest thing about working away from the office?

Staying connected with the team is always hard when we’re traveling. Communication is a challenge when you sit in the same office as someone – but it’s even harder over Skype or email. A three and a half hour time difference offsets our working days, so it’s tempting to keep working into my evening because everyone is still in the Australian office.

Where is your favourite place in Tonga so far? Are you able to find somewhere for your downtime?

I’ve still got a lot of exploring to do, but so far Halafuoleva beach is my favourite spot for a swim and chill out.

What is the food like? What is your favourite local food?

I love cooking and eating and there is a good range of food available in Tonga. The access to really fresh fish and seafood is a highlight for me. Raw tuna is on my menu at least once a week! I guess I have adapted my diet to what is available.

What are your top 3 goals for the Tonga project while you are living there?

  1. Building renovation – The project is renovating a building in the hospital. This is a big activity for the project and takes a lot of time. My role has been to guide the design process and moving forwards oversee that the renovation is done well, on time and within budget. There are many challenges to achieving this in Tonga and I’ll be working closely with the Ministry of Health, ITS Pacific and the building contractor.
  2. Recruitment – The project is expanding the staff able to provide more rehabilitation and mobility device services. This means working closely with the Ministry of Health to recruit new personnel with various skills and experience. So far, we’ve recruited three new staff which we’re looking forward to working with in 2019.
  3. Procurement – The project is procuring a lot of tools, equipment, materials and mobility devices. It’s my role to ensure that we make good purchasing decisions. It’s important to strike a good balance of value for money, quality and appropriateness to the Tongan context. The first of these shipments will be on its way to Tonga in the New Year.

Keen to know more? You can learn more about the Tonga Mobility and Rehabilitation project here. If you have questions for Ray, you can email him.

A big thanks to the Tongan Physiotherapy Department and Vaiola Hospital, for their enthusiastic support and hard work for this project. The project is funded by the Ministry of Health, with funds provided through the Australian Government’s Disability Inclusive Development (DID) programme. TRaM project partners also acknowledge Latter-day Saint Charities who are supporting the service by donating a range of appropriate wheelchairs and walking aids.