Strengthening of wheelchair services in Tonga

A boy wearing a superman costume sits in his wheelchair and beams at the camera. 3 service staff in dark shirts and his dad in a bright patterned shirt stand behind him, also smiling.

The Motivation Australia training team have been back in Tonga over the past two weeks, with Lauren, Ray and Daniel conducting intermediate wheelchair services training with the rehabilitation department staff and one member of staff from Mango Tree Respite Centre at the Vaiola Hospital in Nuku’alofa.

Until this most recent training, the Mango Tree Respite Centre were the only organisation who provided wheelchairs for children in Tonga, and there was a strong need for more services and improved capacity of the Vaiola Hospital, the largest hospital in Tonga, to provide these services for children.

Intermediate wheelchair service training specifically teaches rehabilitation personnel how to provide seating and wheelchairs to clients who require postural supports to sit upright. This typically includes children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. Providing wheelchairs to this client group poses an array of technical and clinical challenges, with each client’s posture, shape and size varying considerably.

Having run multiple trainings throughout the almost two and a half year Tonga Rehabilitation and Mobility project, including basic wheelchair services training, Lauren and Ray are well acquainted with the staff at the rehabilitation department and their return was welcomed. The training began without a hitch and almost immediately the Tongan participants were firing back answers at Lauren and Ray, and also becoming the teachers as they taught Ray how to count to ten in Tongan.

After day two of the training both the trainers and participants were faced with the daunting task of having to move an entire shipping container full of boxes of wheelchairs and parts into two other shipping containers. With temperatures inside the containers around 40 degrees and humidity leaving the skin instantly soaked in sweat, the whole team rallied together to get the job done, boosting team morale and setting the tone for the training to follow.

Throughout ten days of training the participants showcased fantastic willingness to learn, absorbing the content and then applying their newly acquired skills for the real clients who came in for wheelchair fitting starting at the end of the first week of training. It was inspiring to see the intent and effort that each of the participants showed whilst assessing, prescribing, preparing and fitting the wheelchair for their respective clients.

Working with children can be challenging, especially in a health setting. Some of the young clients demonstrated that they were frightened to be in the clinic room surrounded by unfamiliar faces. However, the change in even the most frightened child after their wheelchair fitting was amazing to witness, with tears and frowns transforming into smiling faces beaming at the delight of their new wheelchair and mobility.

The participants celebrated the completion of training with a closing ceremony after ten days of training, with everyone looking fantastic in their traditional Tongan dress. The presence of representatives from the Latter-day Saints Charities (LDSC), Mango Tree Respite Centre, Vaiola Hospital and Dr Lisiate, the medical superintendent at Vaiola Hospital during the ceremony was greatly appreciated by all.

As expressed by Ray and Dr Lisiate, despite the completion of training the job has only just begun and now that the participants have learnt these new skills it is important that they apply this to their services. We look forward to seeing the improved outcomes for children requiring wheelchairs in Tonga and hope that the relationship and multidisciplinary team care between the Vaiola Hospital rehabilitation department and Mango Tree Respite Centre is strengthened.

Training health professionals improves the lives of people for generations to come. We need your help to make it happen. Make an easy donation today!


We would like to acknowledge our partners, the Ministry of Health in Tonga, for allowing their staff the time to complete the training with us and for helping to facilitate the training. Motivation Australia would also like to acknowledge the valuable contribution of the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) to this project and all of the Motivation Australia staff back in Australia who made this trip possible.