US elementary school raises over $3,000 for Tonga recovery

When grade 6 and 7 students of Skagit Adventist Academy in the small town of Burlington in Washington state, saw images of destroyed villages and ash-covered palm trees in Tonga, it struck a chord.

"I researched and found a photo of the devastation and I just can't imagine just living like that," said 12-year-old Natalie.

"I wanted to help because I knew that if that was me, I would want other people to help me too."

Many of the students and teachers had heard of Tonga as the school's former Pastor Ofa Langi was Tongan. Langi provided spiritual guidance to the school for more than seven years before leaving the town to become pastor of a church in nearby Seattle.

"I looked up pictures online and saw how much devastation happened," said 12-year-old Issac.

"On Pastor Ofa's island (Mango), they said not a single house was standing, and I just imagined if that was me."

So when Tami Rowe, the teacher who coordinated the fundraising, told the children if they would like to fundraise for humanitarian efforts in the Kingdom, there was little need for encouragement.

"All I did was tell them the situation in Tonga and they were so excited to help," Rowe said.

"I did not have to motivate them all, they were just all in right away."

"We knew it was going too bad"

The Skagit Adventist Academy is a church and community-oriented school of 128 students. Rowe said her students were captivated by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai Volcano as they just happened to be studying volcanoes at the time it occurred.

When the eruption happened, it triggered tsunami warnings in towns and cities all along the west coast of the United States, including Burlington.

"We had tsunami warnings and all these things and I thought the students are going to love to study this because it's happening right now, so we just spent a whole class period studying everything they wanted about the volcano, but we hadn't heard anything about its impact on people because the communications in Tonga hadn't started yet," Rowe said.

"We didn't know what happened but we knew it was going too bad. Then we heard Pastor Ofa putting out an announcement about how devastating the effects were and that he wanted to send over a container with building supplies. We said let's do it, let's see what we can do to help."

Rowe said her students got the whole school involved by making presentations to each of the classes, showing photos of the disaster, and describing what happened. They distributed flyers and sold popsicles.

"It was really fun," said Issac.

"I made a few posters on my school computer and printed some…and I just went around said 'hey you heard of the volcano, you want to help?.''

"I told my pastor about it at church, and he pulled me up onto the stage and I told everyone about what happened in Tonga. I got donations every Saturday."

"I and my friends went around the neighbourhood and we sold cards and a lot of people bought them," Natalie said.

"I also called into my church and family…a lot of them donated".

The campaign originally aimed to raise $US1,500 but the students ended up collecting $US3,160.

"After the fundraising ended, people still wanted to donate. They were like 'hey can I still donate?' and I was like 'sorry, it's finished. They were sad that it ended."


Photo supplied Caption: School posters at Skagit Adventist Academy