Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Last Tango in Tonga

 To begin: My service in Tonga has ended as of June 27 and I have returned to the U.S. where I am adjusting to a new life as a “retired” person. 

The first semester of 2011 has shown that 'Atenisi University in its current incarnation is not sustainable. Low enrollment, alienated alumni, and debt together mean that reinvention and outside investment will be necessary if Futa Helu's brave creation is to have a future, and it became clear that there was nothing further I could contribute. This is not a good time for liberal arts education anywhere; in Tonga the bad economy has dried up virtually all outside funding support and the government is more interested in supporting more practical tertiary education enterprises. And the loss of Futa Helu over the last decade has been catastrophic; his energy, vision, and charisma carried 'Atenisi for many years, but without him the school has struggled for effective leadership.
So with the first semester complete, my wonderful students said goodby with a lunch of cookies and fruit. I am very proud of the work they did this year in our Critical Thinking class and I am going to miss being with them as they continue their studies.   

So in grand Peace Corps tradition I distributed all the household stuff we had accumulated to my fellow volunteers, said my goodbyes to the staff, enjoyed a farewell dinner with colleagues at the Emerald Chinese restaurant, and then headed home. Four flights and 30 hours later (with no serious “travel adventures”) Kathy was there to welcome me home.  A few days later we celebrated the 4th of July with good friends and fireworks.

Here are a few of my favorite visual memories of my 21 months and Kathy's 15 months in the South Pacific. I have posted these and more in a Picasa web album (see link to the left). 
Kathy educating

Marching bands and parades
'Atenisi Graduation
Kathy's Library was a huge success
Tonga's traditional culture lives on.


So faithful readers, this closes out Tonga Tangos. It has been a memorable, challenging, frustrating, and rewarding experience. A "game changer" for sure, but exactly how remains to be seen.  Perhaps another blog will emerge from that experience, who knows?