It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.Nelson Mandela

Meet Steph, field support officer in Tonga

August 17, 2017

Nearly 4 months has passed since I first arrived in Tonga and it has certainly been a very busy time for me! I will be based in Tonga as the Social Performance Field Support Officer (FSO) with South Pacific Business Development (SPBD), Good Return’s partner organisation in the Pacific. SPBD delivers a range of services to its members including microcredit, savings, financial education, insurance and money transfer throughout Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

My first few weeks were busy getting to know the organisation, staff and my responsibilities over the next 12 months. A week of this was spent going to centre meetings with each of the four teams. This was a great opportunity to get to know the staff, understand how microfinance works in practice, and meet some of the members and hear their stories.

Tupou, Lina and Steph (from left) at the Agricultural Show

During June and July I was fortunate enough to hear many more inspiring stories from SPBD members. In early June, two interns travelled all the way from France to help document the social impact SPBD Tonga has on its members. We visited and interviewed over 30 members during this time and I can honestly say it was an absolute privilege to be welcomed into so many members’ homes and hear their stories, and it was a truly invaluable learning experience to see the different ways in which SPBD members lives have improved. I look forward to sharing these stories with you.

Two other major SPBD events I have been part of since arriving is the agricultural show and staff offsite. Every year an agricultural show is held in Tongatapu, Ha’apai, Vava’u and ‘Eua. The show displays Tonga’s wonderful produce including fruit and vegetables, seafood and handicrafts, and a variety of prizes are up for grabs. Every year SPBD has a booth at each of the shows, and I attended the Tongatapu show on behalf of SPBD with several other staff members. The booth is an opportunity for SPBD to advertise its products and services, and for some members to sell their products. Each year a centre is invited to decorate the booth with their products, and I was truly amazed at the beautiful jewellery, tapa and other handicrafts displayed at the Tongatapu booth.

SPBD had a booth at the Agricultural Show attended by the King.

In August SPBD Tonga held their annual staff offsite where staff from the outer island offices of ‘Eua, Vava’u and Ha’apai join their colleagues in Tongatapu for three days of training and team building activities. It is also a great chance for staff to enjoy some time with colleagues from other islands that they rarely get to see. This was the first time I have been part of organising and facilitating an event like this, and it was certainly a learning experience! Despite some schedule changes and technical difficulties, everything went smoothly and the feedback was largely positive, with some staff even saying it was the best offsite yet!

My time so far in Tonga has been very enjoyable and rewarding for so many reasons. I’ve enjoyed working for an amazing organisation like SPBD which has such a positive impact on people’s lives; the weather (which is much warmer than Melbourne this time of year!); exploring the island (especially the beaches); and the people. The staff at SPBD have been so generous and welcoming, not to mention patient with my Tongan language skills… let’s just say there is room for improvement! I look forward to sharing more of my experiences with you.  

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