“Malo e lelei”, Unity College’s Tongan Travellers called out, flaunting their new language skills as they emerged from the airport in July.
This was the second trip that students from Unity College, a joint Uniting and Catholic Church school in Caloundra, have made to visit their twinning school, Peteli Middle School, a school of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. They arrived in the middle of the night to a welcome fit for a king: special garlands of flowers for each visitor and a huge banner with ‘Welcome to Tonga’ emblazoned on it.
The warmth of the welcome was a taste of the flavour of the whole visit.
Tongan host families took the Unity students to their hearts and gave them an experience never to be forgotten.
There were demonstrations of traditional Tongan crafts, sightseeing, feasts, celebrations and dancing.
Reflecting the ecumenical spirit of the College, students worshipped at the Free Wesleyan Church in Pea village and explored the wonderful architecture of the Catholic Basilica in Nuku’alofa.
Students were overwhelmed by Tongan generosity.
Ellen Brodrick said, “They said that this mat is worn by nobles – and they gave it to me!”
Jason Butler’s homestay parents took him to town to buy him an appropriate (Tongan) outfit to wear to church on Sunday.
“They bought me two!” he said, a little bemused.
Bryce Hilton’s host family were delighted with his obvious enjoyment of the food they provided for him.
In return, the students from Unity gave the Peteli Middle School educational materials and money to use to purchase things not included in their limited school budget which will help the learning of the Tongan students.
Teacher Lisa Farrell, who hosted two Tongan students when they visited Australia last year, found the experience enriching and was able to renew special friendships while there.
“The families and students from Peteli Middle School were so warm and welcoming,” she said.
“The whole experience is life-changing for the students: they saw how people of a very different culture live.
“They experienced first hand their warmth, generosity, their sense of family and the depth of the Christian faith on which their lives are based.”
Students are already lining up to register for the next trip.
Photo : Unity College students Ellen Brodrick (left) and Jason Butler, with teacher Lisa Farrell and Peteli Middle School Principal Komisi Fihaki (right). Photo by Judy Morrison