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June Monthly Spotlight: Siotame Drew Havea

Mr. Siotame Drew Havea is one of the most significant people involved in community development in the Kingdom of Tonga. His impact cannot be overstated as he has over forty years of extensive experience working with the vulnerable communities of Tonga. He has lived in the capital city of Nukuʻalofa for all of his life, with the exception of when he pursued higher education; he earned his Masters of International Policy studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and his Bachelors of Arts in History and Political Sciences from Willamette University. 

Mr. Drew Havea is married and is the proud father of five children, three boys and two girls, all but one of whom now live internationally. He is also the proud grandfather of thirteen grandchildren – surely a Havea family reunion would be a sight to behold. At the time of this interview with Mr. Drew Havea, he was visiting his son in France – a quick pitstop in between two conferences. He had just attended the Red Cross Conference in Geneva and was soon departing for the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon. But that’s not all, as after Lisbon he would be attending a third conference in Fiji before returning home – a conference concerning organic and ethical trade in the Pacific hosted by the Pacific Community organization.

The subject of the last conference, organic and ethical trade or farming, is one that he is very passionate about. Mr. Havea even owns a small organic farm at his home where he grows root crops such as taro, sweet potatoes, and purple yam, as well as other vegetables and herbs. He described his farm as a “learning farm” as he encourages the Tongan youth to come and learn about farming organically and the variety of produce they could grow in the fertile Tongan soil. Mr. Havea does his best to spread the awareness and support the implementation of organic farming in Tonga. His vision is for the Kingdom to be fully certified organic by 2030 and has begun setting up social enterprises for the export market in organic virgin coconut oil and organic vanilla to provide employment for those in need. Farming, as well as fishing, are indeed passions of his as Mr. Havea described how since he was young, he had always dreampt of being a farmer and a fisherman. He said that a silver lining of the pandemic was that it afforded him a long break away from the multitude of conferences and work he would travel for and allowed him to tend to his farm and take the boat out to fish.

Mr. Havea started his professional career with the U.S. Peace Corps as a program training officer. Throughout the twenty-five years that he was with the USPC, he worked in community development and also placed volunteers in the different communities of Tonga. Mr. Havea said he appreciated the fact that his work with the Peace Corps allowed him to see all the different communities and islands in Tonga and the challenges they face, an understanding of which surely helped for the foundation for his continued service and work in community development.

Throughout his time with the Peace Corps he saw the progress the communities had made due to their support and impact. Mr. Havea spoke of the gradual shift towards gender equality and women empowerment due to the work and examples set by female Peace Corps volunteers. Young girls became motivated to branch out from the more traditional activities into sports and community development. He also mentioned the volunteers support of HIV/AIDS awareness and the progress that was seen there. After twenty-five years with the Peace Corps, Mr. Havea decided to move on to do similar work but independent. He joked, “I moved from making money to being a volunteer”.

But to describe himself as just a volunteer is a severe understatement. In 1991, Mr. Havea went on to become a founding member of the Tonga National Youth Congress, and also founded the Tonga National Volunteer Service which was a program similar to that of the Peace Corps program he worked in. In the year 2000, he co-founded the Civil Society Forum of tonga (CSFT) of which he is currently the Chairperson. The CSFT focuses on identifying vulnerabilities in the different Tonga communities and ensuring there are programs to support those challenges. After the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, the CSFT organization was instrumental in providing immediate support to those in need, such as helping provide water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services, and food and other supplies. Mr. Havea was especially appreciative of the flexibility that Friends of Tonga provided in efficiently providing funding and support to CSFT during this crisis, as it allowed their support on the ground to have an immediate and direct impact.

Within the last ten years, Mr. Havea has also become involved with the Red Cross and within the last five years he has become involved with humanitarian localization which seeks to empower the communities to become more self-sufficient. Furthermore, he is a Trustee of the Pacific Island Association of Non-Government Organizations (PIANGO). His influence and impact seem to touch every corner in the Kingdom of Tonga.

When asked about the major challenges that the Kingdom of Tonga faces in the future, Mr. Havea warned about the danger of the rising sea level. Just recently, to celebrate Ocean Day on June 8th Mr. Havea took some time to boat out to the smaller uninhabited islands of the Tongan archipelago. Much to his dismay, he could see that a few of the islands has lost roughly fifteen meters of land, and that a couple of islands were now entirely underwater. Most of the globally community and leading governments are calling for changes to counter climate change to be implemented by 2050, but from what Mr. Havea has seen and learned he feels that that is not enough. Additionally, another issue is that, due to the volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami, for the first time several Tongan communities have become displaced. Mr. Havea anticipates population displacement to be a growing issue for Tonga and stressed the need to have a discussion and plan in place for that in the future. Lastly, he mentioned that he is currently advocating to disallow sea-bed mining in Tongan waters as there are currently contracts open with international companies to do so. He believes that the threat that sea-bed mining has to the environment and fishing aren’t fully understood. It is hope that both the global community will begin to take climate change more seriously as it is the Pacific islands which see the adverse impact firsthand.

Mr. Havea is kind and generous, respectful and well respected. In 2017, Mr. Havea was honored with the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award by the United States National Peace Corps Association, which recognized his extensive work in supporting youth, democracy, civil society and leadership in Tonga. We here at the Friends of Tonga also applaud the work that Mr. Havea has done and continues to do, and are proud that we are able to work with him through our partnership with the Civil Society Forum of Tonga.