Whaingaroa sending kindness waves to Tonga

The Whaingaroa community is making waves in Tonga with a load of donations headed to the tsunami-ravaged island nation.

Many will know the Food Department barista Peti Regnier, she makes a mean coffee and she’s always got a smile for the customers – no matter how busy it gets at the Raglan West eatery, she never seems flustered.

Peti was born in Tonga, and her family, like many Tongans, were devastated by the 1.2-metre tsunami on January 15.

The tsunami was the result of an eight-minute eruption of the undersea volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai, located about 40 miles north of Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island, on which about 70 percent of the population live. 

It was Peti’s gym trainer Rebecca Mckechnie who put the call out for the community to make donations on the Facebook Raglan Notice Board. 

“I feel very grateful to Rebecca for putting the notice up and also to Rangi Kereopa who also reached out with donations,” Peti says.

Since that time, Peti and her husband Paul have been overwhelmed by the community’s generosity.

Their basement is heaving with the kindness from both friends and strangers who have donated clothing, bedding, shoes, water, baby formula, non-perishable food and more.

“I feel all the support and love, it really makes me feel a part of this community. It’s hard to be away from home. I miss my family but I know I can do more for them from here.”

Peti came to New Zealand with Paul around 10 years ago, they came straight to Raglan, and the Food Department is the first and only job she has had in New Zealand.

“I was a bit shy and my English wasn’t very good but it (the job) and the customers helped me get better,” she says.

She’s well and truly part of the furniture at the Food Department now; loved and respected by the staff, they even helped raise $200 by selling avocados for a koha.

The bare essentials are what Tongans need at the moment, Peti says, as all the plantations, crops and gardens Tongans need to provide food are ruined, and the drinking water supplies have been contaminated. 

“It is a hard way of life in Tonga even before the tsunami.  And the people know how to work hard. What is most important is that not many lives were lost and everything can be rebuilt.”

Peti and her husband Paul are filling metal drums donated by Raglan Coconut Yoghurt with the donated goods in readiness to deliver them to Auckland.

“The good thing about the Raglan Coconut drums is they can be reused to store fresh water in them,” Paul says.

A container has been offered free of charge by a shipping company and should be in Tonga by mid-February with the goods donated from Raglan and elsewhere in New Zealand.

“I want the community to know that my family will share what we send over with anyone who is in need and they all know it is coming with love from Raglan,” Peti says.

On the western tip of Tongatapu, Peti and Paul have land in Ha’atafu, a spot known for its surfing, and Peti grew up in the nearby village of Kanokupolu – both villages have been destroyed by the tsunami.

A small village just metres from the shore, Kanokupolu was swamped by the waves and everyone had to be evacuated.

Peti and Paul met in Tonga and, up until Covid hit, they had returned every year with their growing family. 

“I wanted to take my children home to understand that the food you get you have to eat because that’s all there is, and to experience living a simple life,” she says.

Peti’s father, a widower since she was one, still climbs the coconut trees and she says he finds it hard to sit still the times he has come to spend time in New Zealand.

“He has worked very hard all his life – gardening, fishing and diving to put food on the table. He never wanted to remarry because he said no-one could replace my mother.”

Peti and Paul were in Tonga during cyclone Gita that smashed the islands in 2018 and have experienced several tsunami warnings.

“One time there was a tsunami warning when our eldest boy was a baby and we were all prepared to climb the mango tree because that would be safer than getting in the car. They cancelled and we were so relieved,” Paul says. 

Peti says, a cash donation of $1000 from Raglan Four Square owner Satnam Bains will also go a long way towards helping effected families to start the rebuild.

The pair say it will take several years to rebuild and the island hasn’t fully recovered from the 2018 cyclone. 

Paul estimates that $10,000 would build two substantial houses in Tonga, but for many living in humble homes the money would go a long way to rebuilding their lives.

To find out how you can help contact Peti at regnierpeti@gmail.com.

By Janine Jackson