About the Author: Tom Weinz is the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer (FSLO) aboard the USNS Richard E. Byrd for Pacific Partnership 2009 (PP09).
During one of our feedback sessions in Samoa, an older gentleman who had lived all over the world suggested that Pacific Partnership personnel should take one day, or at least one afternoon, and just spend time with the people of a village or area where they were working. His point was that many of us would never be in Samoa again, and may never meet another Samoan, so we should relax, get to know each other, and generally recharge our batteries. No one disagreed with these points, but most of us thought we couldn’t do that and still complete all of our dedicated projects.
The Tongans changed the suggestion above into a mandate. In Tonga, Sunday is a day of family, worship, and rest. All of us were gently reminded that we too would “rest,” whatever that might mean to us. Of course, we all enjoyed our day of rest immensely, and spent it variously, from attending the local churches (where the a cappella harmonies moved everyone, and reminded some of us of childhood choirs back home) to lazy picnics and even some exceptional scuba diving (which had to be approved by the village leaders, as it bordered on the too active). Furthermore, nearly everyone returned to work on Monday refreshed, invigorated, and ready to work harder and smarter to make up any lost time.
But in fact, almost every project is ahead of schedule, entirely due to the overwhelming participation of Tongans, both officially and as community volunteers. TDS soldiers and Royal Tongan Marines, as mentioned in an earlier piece, had prepared all of the renovation sites by demolishing or removing roofs, siding, windows, etc. In addition, Tongan engineers used PP09 building materials to install all the new trusses and roofs on the schools and community centers chosen as PP09 projects. And every day, local community volunteers simply appeared and mixed cement, carried debris, fed the workers, and painted. So many volunteers participated, in fact, that we are now able to patch a roof and paint some schools that were not originally on our list. So much for time lost to a day of rest.
Unfortunately, we are losing time due to the weather. RHIBs between shore and the Byrd had to be suspended at 3 p.m. yesterday, stranding 47 PP09 workers ashore. Everyone found temporary shelter in the community; current plans call for a trip to the Byrd for breakfast and a quick shower before returning to work on Wednesday. (As I write this early Wednesday morning, the rain and wind continue.)