an ode to empty youth centres…
If this last week is any indication, our life just became even busier. Our youth centre has already staved off serious financial crisis, started two new programs, and begun pursuing funding for major expansions next year. Not bad considering the New Year started three weeks ago, eh? Here’s some of what’s in store for the upcoming calendar year:
- Peace Corps is partnering with our Vava’u Youth Congress to develop a microloan program that will offer training, funding, and mentorship for qualified young people interested in starting small businesses here. Of course, the catch is they have to pay the money back…a rather foreign concept around here (no pun intended). Amber is particularly involved in this program’s policy formation, curriculum development, and upcoming implementation.
- Our youth group has expressed interest in planting a vegetable garden, placing trash cans throughout our community, and eventually building Vava’u’s first gym. We’ll start with smaller projects in the hopes of our group learning the essentials of project design and getting some success before, you know, building an entire gymnasium. This week we’re getting our weekly fundraising kava night started up again, and next week I might be helping some group members write a small project assistance proposal to Peace Corps.
- Our youth centre remains relatively short on youth; this seems somewhat problematic given our organization’s mission statement. So we’re hoping to level our large lawn, construct some athletic fields, and begin some activity nights that will draw youth from throughout our island. Of course all that requires funding, so we’ll be having a biweekly barbecue at the local market. Sensing any trends yet?
- My Tongan counterpart and I will be visiting and assessing all 31 member youth groups in Vava’u over the next several months. These site visits will hopefully help us to structure programming around local communities’ needs and empower groups to effectively pursue their development goals. That’s two nights a week of visiting local villages…you guys are writing all this down on a calendar, right? I’d record all scheduled events in pencil, as these visits tend to get cancelled about 90% of the time.
- Our youth centre is the only organization in Vava’u servicing the needs of people with developmental disabilities. Thus far these services have chiefly involved singing songs with nine individuals whose disabilities are disparate to say the least: cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome, mental retardation, physical disabilities. We’re hoping to offer our staff training with this population and broaden services to include practical lessons.
- The drama team that I “help” (my assistance typically consists of watching, offering some critiques, and frantically attempting to keep track of dialogue written entirely in Tongan) will be traveling to ‘Eua, another island in Tonga. This trip will encourage the new drama group in ‘Eua and educate youth there about various issues facing Tongan adolescents. While we’ll also be performing in Vava’u before and after this trip, it’s our travels that constitute the group’s greatest financial needs. So obviously we’ll start a fundraising effort…that way Amber and I have even less free time.
- Remember all those fundraising activities? Well, Amber’s the lucky one who gets to organize our staff, regularly review our financial status, keep everyone motivated, and prevent constant staff bickering. Oku pule ‘a ‘Emipa…meaning, she’s the boss.
We’ve come to realize that planning these various projects doesn’t necessarily guarantee they’ll occur anytime soon. The Tongan life is slower and more easy-going than non-profit existence in the States. Nonetheless, the time of initial community assessment and relationship building is drawing to a close, and the time for real work is starting. Which is daunting, to say the least. If you thought our domestic job descriptions were vague in terms of success measures, you have no idea what we’re dealing with here. So stay tuned. While our Peace Corps cohorts are basically attending a couple meetings a week, we’re putting in nine hour days. It’s not very fakaTonga of us, but at least we left our palm pilots and cell phones behind.