Thursday, June 25, 2009

Economy in Tonga

With all the economic hardship elsewhere in the world, I decided to write a little about how it's effecting Tonga, or could effect Tonga. The main source of income in Tonga is from overseas remittences from relatives - people sending money home to family in Tonga. They feel pressure to do this, in Tonga everything is shared, nothing is looked at as your own. (which creates some problems- with no sense of ownership things are never taken care of). Especially in the smaller islands. If fishermen go out and catch a lot, they come back the village and divide it up between everyone. If kids have some kind of treat, they share it with any other kids around them. And if there's a huge feast everyone in town will help contribute, even if they don't belong to the church that is having the feast. So the hopes of many families is for their children to move overseas, so that they can make more money and support the family in Tonga. The main export of Tonga is in fact people. I believe about one-third of the Tongan population lives overseas mostly in the US, New Zealand and Australia. And now with the economic situation overseas, many people are getting laid off and a lot of these start at the bottom with things like gardening or laborers etc. which are the kind of jobs many overseas Tongans have. So they aren't able to send as much money back home. Or they are getting deported back to Tonga - things like crime or visa issues that are getting looked at more closely now since other governments don't want to pay for illegal immigrants in prisons. So there are many more deportees in Tonga (some of which have never really lived in Tonga, they moved overseas as children). And in Tonga there aren't many jobs, not enough to support everyone. There are many unemployed youth.

But with all these points against Tonga, it's unlike many other countries. People can live and survive here without a job. Because of the community aspect no one is ever homeless, someone will always take that person in. There aren't even any nursing homes, family members take care of their elderly parents until the end. There are no orphanages, in fact kids often get passed between families - to aunts and uncles or grandparents. And there is definately not a shortage of food, you could never starve in Tonga. They do have a lot of imported food now, but even without that there's an abundance of fish and food in the sea, they grow lots of root crops, and have many different kinds of fruit growing (bananas, papaya, passion fruit, guava, etc). At least that's how it's usually been, but with the younger generation things are changing. This younger generation isn't following the community aspect as much, they don't want the same responsibilities and may also change the reliance on remittences from overseas- some of them aren't sending money home. This is probably somewhat from overseas influence. They all want cars, dvd's, new music, cell phones, and things like that. Which means they need money, and want to own their own things and not have to share everything. But can Tonga support all of this growth, with so little jobs? Which brings up the point of globalization - a good thing or a bad thing? It's creating problems, changing cultures, but do we have the right to say no you can't have cars or TV's?

But so much of the overseas influence is still so new, and the Tongans have lived self-reliantly on the land and sea for so long. I think that if overseas remittences stopped coming in and there wasn't much money here in Tonga things would still be fine. They all take care of eachother and have enough food. And there are so many conveniencies that people see as needs now. You don't really need electricity or running water - although everyone wants it. And many of these conveniencies have created more problems - such as imports to Tonga creating garbage they can't handle. You can't have a landfill on an island a mile by a mile in size, you can't export the garbage, so it either gets burned or thrown into the bush or sea.

What puzzles me the most is what happens to all this money coming into Tonga from overseas relatives. It's a HUGE amount that comes in, and sometimes they just send things like TV's or supplies. Western Union and other moneygram companies here are probably making a killing. But Tongans are always saying they have no money. So where does it all go? To the church, possibly. So many organizations and communities here apply for foreign aid, but they have so much money already coming into the country, and the government itself has a lot of money. Being here has really changed my views on foreign aid, seeing the dependency it creates within a population. And they don't need it, they can do things here themselves but don't want to, they expect to get handouts. You even see it with tourists that come to Tonga, people approach them asking for money or school supplies because they think every overseas tourist is rich. (probably because we get a lot of yachties that have money). In Tonga they always go for the easiest way to do things, which in this case is getting money instead of doing the work themselves. Or trying to get a volunteer to do the work for them.

Anyways, I'm rambling on so this is probably enough, it's a complex situation. All I know is you don't need much money to survive in Tonga, peace corps gives every volunteer a salary that's locally comparable and just enough to live off. Our salary is about $300 US a month, or $3600 US a year per person. And it's more than enough to survive on.


Steve Hunsicker said...

Very good post and right on target. I also wrote about the issue of remittances on my blog this week.

Am going to add a link to your post!

Hope all is well with both of you.


Tonga Employment said...

It's most certainly seems to be a complex issue, as I'm beginning to learn. :-|

I'm curious about how Tongans -- who appear to lead a pretty relaxed, laid-back lifestyle in Tonga -- adjust to the pace of life and employment demands, when they move overseas?

I do know that many people who moved from Mexico to either the US or Canada -- once they began to discover the more hectic lifestyle, higher cost-of-living and greater job expectations -- realized that perhaps the "American Dream" might not always be what they had expected. In fact, some moved back to Mexico, and as a result of their new-found work ethic, became quite well-to-do... certainly far better off than they could ever have achieved by staying in America/Canada and working a stifling 9-to-5 job in some factory.

Certainly the Internet is creating huge opportunities in the increasingly global workplace; the challenge now is to help Tongans tap into those opportunities through hands-on education and better Internet access. I've just recently started a website called Tonga Jobs that is specifically seeking to help Tongans take advantage of these global employment opportunities, without having to relocate overseas.

I recognize that its impact will be curtailed by limiting factors such as sparse Internet access and slow speeds... but at least it's a start!

Sandy said...

This was really fascinating to read - having just read a book about Africa that had the same conclusion - they expect to receive money and don't feel the need to do anything for themselves, when they surely could, and have done in the past. We've all made a mess of things with all the cash - including the many charities whose volunteers arrive for a bit and in Africa at least, seem to drive around in fancy vehicles, work a bit and then go on a luxurious safari. (We have friends who did just that!) Good on ya for getting out there and weeding!, showing them we do know how to labor. :-)