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Living Conditions in Tonga

Communications

Mail

Mail usually takes at least two weeks to arrive in Tonga; however, oftentimes, it can take up to a month. Mail can be addressed to the following mailbox address:

U.S. Peace Corps
P.O. Box 147
Nuku’alofa, Tonga, South Pacific

Volunteers who serve on Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu collect their mail from the Peace Corps office. Mail for Volunteers on outer islands will have their mail forwarded to the islands via the local airline or the local ferry service.

Telephones

Calling the United States from Tonga is expensive. Peace Corps Tonga will provide you with a local SIM card or a basic phone, if necessary. Telephone plans operate on a prepaid credit system. Telephone credit can be purchased at almost any small shop throughout the kingdom. Volunteers can bring their own personal phones; however, phones must be unlocked prior to arrival and eSim services are not currently available in Tonga.

Internet

Most Volunteers choose to bring personal laptops to Tonga. If you are thinking about bringing a laptop, please consider insuring your devices against damage and theft. Internet service is widely available through prepaid telephone data plans (3G-4G); however, service can be intermittent depending on many different variables (weather conditions, bandwidth, etc.).

Housing and site location

Host organizations are responsible for identifying and providing safe and suitable Volunteer housing in accordance with Peace Corps policy. Housing ranges from a one-bedroom standalone house to homestay accommodations where Volunteers live in a bedroom within a host family’s house. Basic plumbing and kitchen amenities are widely available, although there may be some situations of shared bathroom or kitchen amenities. For electrical devices, the current in Tonga is 220 volts, 50 cycles, with variations. Electricity and running water are available in all Volunteer housing, with the exception of the more remote outer islands. Peace Corps Tonga provides Volunteers with a solar lantern, a life vest, a bike helmet (if necessary), and an AM/FM radio. Volunteers will receive a settling-in allowance to purchase additional household necessities. Peace Corps staff members conduct site visits to Volunteers to provide ongoing support and to follow up on any housing or safety issues that may arise.

Living allowance and money management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. U.S. bank cards can be used at local ATMs, but ATM and foreign transaction fees can be quite expensive. Volunteer who are placed with a homestay family during their service will also receive a monthly host family contribution that is to be given to their host family each month to help with utility and living expenses.

Food and diet

Tongan meals consist of staple foods, such as yam, taro, sweet potato, cassava, fish, pork, and canned meats. Fresh fish can be purchased from markets and local fishermen throughout Tonga. On Sundays and for special occasions, Tongan families prepare food with an underground oven called an ‘umu. Food and food culture is a very important aspect of Tongan culture. Volunteers often eat with families, school staff, and community members all throughout their service. Sharing a meal or excess food with others can be crucial to a Volunteer’s integration. It is possible but difficult to maintain a vegetarian diet in Tonga with some potential cultural challenges. A meal without meat is considered incomplete and inadequate by Tongan standards. This makes it difficult to explain why one would choose a vegetarian diet.

Transportation

Transportation in Tonga will vary depending on site placements. Volunteers get around in their communities by walking, however Volunteers are able to purchase bicycles. Bicycling provides opportunities to get to know local communities and surrounding countryside, as well as getting some good physical exercise. Peace Corps Tonga issues helmets, which are mandatory for bicycle use, to Volunteers who wish to own a bicycle during service.

Local public transportation on the main island of Tongatapu is primarily buses and taxis; however, ‘Eua, Haapai, and Vava’u do not have a form of public transportation.

Inter-island travel can be via air (prop plane), ferry, or both. A commercial airline has regular flights from the main island to the other major islands of Tonga, and inter-island ferries provide service to outer islands, large and small, throughout Tonga. For safety reasons, Peace Corps Tonga prohibits Volunteers from owning, driving, or riding on motorcycles and from owning or driving private cars for any reason. Violation of these policies may result in the termination of your Volunteer service.

Social activities

Tongans are very social and there are a variety of different ways to have fun and enjoy integrating into communities. Team sports such as rugby, volleyball, basketball, table tennis, and soccer are popular amongst Tongan males. Women generally play rugby, netball, field hockey, and sometimes volleyball and soccer. Movies, videos, card games, and dances are also major forms of recreation.

Men gather to drink kava*, converse, and sing late into the night. Families have picnics on the beach for special occasions, and feasting is an appropriate way to celebrate anything and everything in Tonga.

Men traditionally build boats, canoes, and houses and are proficient in woodcarving. Women traditionally weave mats and baskets and make tapa (cloth made of the bark of the mulberry tree), dolls, and flower necklaces.

*Kava is a root plant that is ground into a powder and mixed in water as a recreational drink. Drinking kava is widely popular all throughout the Pacific and has a varying sedative and relaxing effects depending on the potency of the plant and preparation.

Professionalism, dress, and behavior

Professionalism in the Peace Corps requires an awareness of the host community workplace culture, community values, and your self-presentation.  To maintain a positive, culturally appropriate professional standing within a host community or workplace, Volunteers may need to adjust their style of dress, hair style, facial hair, make-up, piercings, manner of greeting others, etc. to demonstrate respect for local culture and customs.  How you present yourself, in both informal and professional settings, is a reflection of you as an individual and of you as a representative of Peace Corps and the United States. In the U.S., dress (and other elements of personal appearance) may be seen as an expression of personal freedom and identity. In many host countries where Peace Corps Volunteers serve, the way you dress and present yourself may be interpreted as an expression of regard – or disregard – for those host community members around you.

Volunteers are encouraged to spend time in their communities, to develop their language skills, and to get to know the individual members of their community to better understand their traditions, culture, and local norms. As mutual trust is established over time, there may opportunities for Volunteers to adjust their personal appearance and dress outside of the more rigid local standards. Volunteers are encouraged to discuss these potential adjustments with staff and other cultural mentors.