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April/May Monthly Spotlight: Ofa and Stephen Mcginley

Ofa Kaifoto Mcginley & Stephen Mcginley


Ofa Kaifoto Mcginley grew up in Lapaha, Mu’a in Tonga. Stephen McGinley grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1997 Steve traveled to Tonga as a Peace Corps volunteer where he lived in Kolofo’ou, Nuku’alofa in Tongatapu for one year where he taught at Saint Andrews and then moved to Pangai, Ha’apai where he taught at the Wesleyan primary school. A mutual friend of theirs who was a teacher at Saint Andrews, introduced Ofa and Steve in 1998. 

Steve describes how his Peace Corps experience gave him a much broader view of the world. As he had never been to that part of the world, it made him have more of a global perspective and also made him more aware of how smaller countries can be impacted. He thinks this had a big impact on the way he lived his life, as he tries to live it a little simpler and realizes from his Peace Corps service that he really doesn’t need as much as he once thought. 


When asked to reflect on what they miss about Tonga, Ofa relayed how of course she misses her family and friends the most, but also the friendly nature of people in Tonga. She says in Tonga you wake up every morning and see smiling faces, and people stop to say hello and chat, something she misses. She also misses the Tongan food, including the sunday umu. Lastly, she misses the weather- which she says is her favorite part about To nga!


Steve says his favorite part of Tonga is the slower pace of life, and having less stress than the rushed lifestyle here. “It’s more chill!” Ofa said with a laugh. He says what he misses the most about Tonga is the opportunity to fish, something he loves and did frequently when in Tonga. 


They encourage those traveling to Tonga for the first time to get to know the people and to enjoy the fishing and the beautiful weather. The great thing about Tonga, they say, is to be able to immerse yourself in the culture. Ofa recommends visiting the outer islands and villages, so that you can learn more about the people and culture, outside of the capital. Get out and explore!- says Steve. 


Both Steve and Ofa talked about the strong sense of community in Tonga, something it is clear that they have brought with them with their move to the states in 2000 . Although they talked about the challenge of the transition to the US (especially the cold Pittsburgh winters and the overwhelming reintroduction to the USA at LAX Airport in Los Angeles!), their search and desire to hold on to this Tongan sense of community was clear. From Pittsburgh to now Alexandria, VA and everywhere in between, they have found connection with the Tongan, RPCV and wider Pacific Islander community. Over and over they told stories of the small world of Tonga and its community, and the “coconut wireless” that helped them find this community. 


This community has become even more established with the DMV Tongan/Pacific Islander group that they have been instrumental in creating, and their house has become a quasi hub for these gatherings. The creation of this group comes back to the small world of the Tongan community. Ofa relays how she brought her kids to school one day and the receptionist told her how another Tongan family had just registered at the school. Come to find out this family were actually their neighbors! From that initial connection, the group kept growing and growing, as one family would know another and invite another to join in. 


This group recently hosted an event for Friends of Tonga to support relief efforts in Tonga after the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai volcano, where they were able to raise $5000USD and had 85 participants. They are currently planning a Tonga Day to be hosted in July and are inviting Tongans from all over the country to join in! To learn more information visit: 


Thank you to Ofa and Steve for taking the time to talk to Friends of Tonga, and we look forward to much more collaboration between the DMV Tongan Community and Friends of Tonga!