New Tongan kindergarten opens in Auckland suburb

A new kindergarten - Fonua ‘Alaha Manongi Kindergarten - has opened in the Auckland suburb of Ōtāhuhu, with lea faka Tonga and culture at its centre.

This is the first dedicated Tongan centre in the Auckland Kindergarten Association’s 115-year history, and was designed in collaboration with the local Tongan community reports PMN News. 

AKA Chief Executive Pauline Winter says the community's wish was for every child at the kindergarten to have their identity strengthened, and receive a foundation for lifelong learning, which is reflected in the name. 

“Fonua is about the connection of people, land and beginnings and is also the Tongan word for placenta.

“Manongi and ‘Alaha are about every child having a garland of connected quality learning experiences.”

The opening at the weekend was commemorated on Saturday with a brass band performance and songs.

Ōtāhuhu-Panmure MP Jenny Salesa says it’s a major step forward for the community.  

“We have well over 82,000 Tongans who live in Aotearoa New Zealand, and two-thirds of the Tongans actually live in Auckland, and I can tell you, there are thousands of Tongans in Ōtāhuhu.

“We also know one of the largest drops in speaking our mother tongue is unfortunately in the Tongan community, so having a kindergarten opening up a language nest to assist our Tongan people to ensure the language remains strong is really important.”

The kindergarten has been repurposed from an existing building on Fort Richard Road, and Winter says their roll of 40 children is almost full. 

“We have Tongan flags, you will hear the Tongan language being spoken by the kaiako and tamariki and you will see resources that have the Tongan language inside.”

Salesa says there are also opportunities for children to continue their language learning, with nearby Ōtāhuhu Primary School offering a bilingual language unit. 

It will be the only AKA kindergarten that is open all year, responding to the needs of the community, and there’s already talk of needing another kindergarten soon, something Salesa says will be very welcome. 

“We are a growing community. Over the next 20 or so years, there’ll probably be more Tongans in Aotearoa New Zealand than there are back in our home country in Tonga, where there are 110,000 Tongans.”

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