Amazing Things Happen

May 28, 2021

Like most places in the Pacific, health care in Tonga is staffed by amazing people working with limited equipment and resources. This is especially challenging when caring for children in need of hospital care so an unlikely team of organisations came together to make a difference.

Rotary Club’s 9920 district includes parts of Auckland but also serves Fiji, the Cook Islands, and Tonga. Take My Hands (TMH) worked with them and The Harold Thomas Rotary Trust to fund the collection of much needed medical equipment, including paediatric cots, baby warmers, a specialised stand for an ultrasound machine, hospital beds, mattresses, bed linen, medical trollies, a wheelchair, scrubs and gloves.

Then, in the midst of pulling this project together, COVID hit and borders closed. A 20-foot sea container of medical supplies was going nowhere. That’s when The Royal New Zealand Navy got involved. They were as determined to find a solution as TMH were.

HMNZS Manawanui was heading to take part in RIMPAC – the world’s largest international maritime exercise, near Hawaii. They were able to load the container onto the ship before departing Devonport Naval Base, then on the way back from RIMPAC, it was transferred to Tonga’s Nuku'alofa wharf.

The sea container of medical supplies on board HMNZS Manawanui. Photo credit: U.S. Navy

The visit required diplomatic clearances from the Government of Tonga and coordination between the New Zealand High Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Tongan authorities to meet strict COVID-19 regulations. No personnel were allowed ashore so an offshore crane lifted the container onto the wharf. The equipment was then transported to the obstetrics and paediatrics departments at Vaiola Hospital which is Tonga’s main hospital.

It was a mission of particular pride for HMNZS Manawanui crew member, LSCS Fineongo Leameivaka.

This was a first ever partnership between TMH and the Royal New Zealand Navy. TMH usually works with commercial companies with spare space and capacity, or utilise containers at a discounted rate – anything to keep the costs down. The success of this project could open doors for future collaborations with the navy.

Maritime Component Commander Commodore Mat Williams said, “We always look for opportunities to support our Pacific neighbours. In this case it’s been rewarding to work with Take My Hands, Tongan authorities and other agencies to deliver charitable medical supplies which will be of real benefit to people in Tonga.”

Take My Hands founder and trustee Janette Searle said, “I’m a big fan of cross-sector collaboration, all working together, doing what they are expert at. When that happens, amazing things happen.”

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