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Tongans foster community spirit

A few weeks ago, some friends in Auckland held a fundraiser.

They put on an afternoon outdoor party, with music, food, lots of people from the community, some speeches and of course, buckets to accept people’s donations.

It was a pretty standard event, a regular occurrence in communities around New Zealand, totally normal, except for the object of their fundraising efforts.

They were fundraising for a corpse refrigerator.

In Tonga, funerals are a big deal. There are many important customs that are observed when a family member dies, and the most crucial factor is that the whole family comes together to grieve and honour the dead. This becomes a massive undertaking when a huge number of Tongans live overseas, many in New Zealand and Australia.

Difficult task

When someone in a remote village dies, they need to keep the body above ground and cold until the family can arrive for the funeral and burial, a task that becomes difficult when you’re a long way away from the country’s only morgue.

To solve the problem, the hospital has one portable refrigerator, which they rent at a high cost, at a time when the family is already coping with the cost of a large funeral.

Cool suggestion

So my friends and their community including expat Tongans from neighbouring villages, banded together to raise money for a fridge, a generator and a trailer. These items combine to create a readily packaged answer to a problem faced by many villages.

The unit will be shared around several villages, meaning families suffering tragic loss have one less thing to worry about, and pay for, during an event that will already be a huge hit to their finances.

This kind of fundraiser can seem odd to the New Zealand mind-set, as we are more likely to think of donating food, clothing and other ‘basics’ of life.

The reason my friends can fundraise and provide these strategic forms of aid to their families back home was because of their intimate knowledge of what daily life is like in the community. This is their family, their hometown. They know what is going on and how best to help.

Social housing

It is this advantage of community knowledge that the Government has recognised with its recent decision to open up the provision of social housing to community providers.

Instead of solely funding Housing New Zealand to provide housing for those in need, the Social Development Ministry will now be able to consider placing state housing clients in privately and community-owned houses and subsidise the rent.

This means there will be far more opportunities for people to receive housing assistance without the need for the Government to build and maintain more houses, and local communities can play a key role in helping their neighbours.

Rather than just a state house, community groups are uniquely positioned to offer belonging, life skills and friendship.

Like my friends and their refrigerator party, these communities can see beyond the basic needs of their neighbours and offer strategic help that will bring long term value.

Jeremy Varo is Media & Communications Officer at Maxim Institute based in Auckland

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