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August Monthly Spotlight: Katie Tongia

Katie Tongia: FoT Co-Founder and Former Board Member

We are thrilled to introduce our August Member Spotlight: Katie Tongia. Katie is a founding member of Friends of Tonga and currently lives in Apia, Samoa with her husband, Nisi, and daughter, Hina. Friends of Tonga spoke with Katie to learn more about her life, working for the Peace Corps in Samoa, and her love of Tonga.

1.  Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps?

I was inspired to join the Peace Corps by a professor who taught human rights at the University of Michigan (where JFK originally announced the creation of Peace Corps!) and had been a volunteer herself in India many years before - in the days when you had to write letters home rather than Facetime friends and family!

2. After your experience in Tonga, what drove you to work for the Peace Corps, first in DC and now as the Director of Management and Operations in Samoa? 

I wanted to work at PC Headquarters to support future generations of volunteers joining the Peace Corps, in hopes that they could have a positive experience like the one I had in Tonga.

While working at HQ, I learned a lot about the operations of the agency, and I wanted to take those skills back to the field, where I would be working directly with the volunteers and staff. So being a Director of Management and Operations in the Pacific now is truly my dream job!

3. What are you most proud of professionally?

I am proud to work alongside a dedicated team of local Samoan staff, supporting the Peace Corps volunteers who promote important literacy and climate change initiatives in the communities.

4. What are you most proud of personally?

I am a new mother to a beautiful ta’ahine Tonga (Tongan girl), which is a new and exciting adventure I look forward to navigating!

5. Can you tell us about your work in the community in Samoa? 

I manage the operations of the Peace Corps Samoa office, which in turn supports the great work of the Peace Corps volunteers on the ground. This includes overseeing human resources, budget, contracting, and daily office operations.

6. What was your favorite part of living in Tonga? What is similar and different about living in Samoa? 

The relationships and friendships I made in Tonga are still very special to me, and to this day, I stay in touch with many friends back in Tonga.

The people from Samoa are also very friendly and have a great sense of humor. The food and fresh local fruits are also similar, but Tonga still has the sweetest watermelons and pineapples :)

7. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Tonga currently? How can Tonga prepare for and/or mitigate that challenge?

Climate change is a major challenge facing the entire Pacific region, including Tonga. Many local organizations in Tonga are doing a great job of bringing awareness and promoting clean-green initiatives in the islands, in addition to the FOT fundraising campaigns after the volcanic eruption and recent cyclones. I think there are still opportunities to enhance these initiatives with support and commitment from community members and FOT supporters, plus other external governments’ buy-in.

8. As a founding member of FOT, how can Friends of Tonga and our community members support the efforts you and others are doing in Tonga?

Continue to maintain connections and love for the islands, both abroad and locally, wherever that may be for you, as well as spread the word to others who may be interested in learning more about this part of the world and supporting the admirable work of FOT and other local Tongan organizations.