Story-telling in Sydney used to teach the Tongan language

A community group in Sydney, Australia is using story-telling and music to teach the Tongan language and culture to children.

Taimi Fananga literally translates to 'story time' and began last year in June, when two Tongan mothers Una Betham and Annabel Piliu wanted to teach their Australian-born kids about their Tongan heritage. 

"I'm originally from Auckland and I grew up in a very strong Tongan community and I soon found that living in Australia, it's a little bit harder to be around more of my Tongan people," says Betham.

"We realised it was a need in our community for this and decided to form a group and invite other like-minded families to join us."

"Living in such a diverse world, children and families lack identity and we really want to help our future generation retain that cultural heritage and learn more about who they are and where they come from."

From modern stories to Tongan fables and myths and even music, prayers and games, Betham says the kids with very little to no Tongan at all, are picking up on key words.

"We sing simple nursery rhyme type songs that teach basic Tongan like the 'Malo e lelei' song, 'How are you?'," she says. "Because they're interactive and fun, our kids are always looking forward to the next sessions." 

The first Taimi Fananga session for the year kicked off last week and runs once a month. Betham says the response from the community has been great.

"We've had a lot of positive feedback from the parents and they get a lot out of our sessions because they're learning as well," she says. "We encourage them to participate in our lessons so that they could be good examples for our kids and the kids love it as well."

Betham says most of the children are half Tongan and so they're getting more than just Tongan families joining.

"With each lesson we've noticed they're developing a love for Tonga and for being Tongan."

Taimi Fananga sessions are free and run local fundraisers to help with costs. 

"We think it's important that it's accessible to everyone regardless of their financial status," says Betham. "It's a labour of love but it's totally worth it."

"The fact that I can speak full Tongan is a gift and if you have that gift, share it with the world, share it with your children and show them how important it is to pass down to future generations so that we don't lose it."