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Tonga 2012


The island nation of Tonga is composed of 176 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. The capitol of Tonga , Nuku'Alofa, is on the island of Tongatapu. Health care for all of Tonga is provided through the Ministry of Health. While in Tonga , students visited of the islands, Tongatapu, Eua and Vava’u. They spent time at the three hospitals and in the community on these islands.

In Tonga, nurses care for people "from womb to tomb"--caring for people before they are born, until after they die. Students were able to help with nursing care through the whole spectrum. This meant working with community nurses in the antenatal clinic, supporting mothers through childbirth in the hospital, and going out with the community nurses to weigh and measure babies and other health care services such as education and immunizations.

Students helped care for sick people in the hospitals, including dressing changes, observing surgery, providing support, in the mental health, medical, pediatric, labor and delivery, postpartum, and surgical units. Students also worked in a variety of the clinics, including antenatal, medical, ambulatory and dental clinics. Students also got to witness and some even assisted with nursing care for those who had died, including the careful washing and dressing of the body. Funerals are very important in Tonga and the dress for a funeral for both the living and the dead has a lot of importance.

Students also got to participate in community screening clinics, including blood pressure and glucose screenings on two of the islands, and in a health fair on the third. Tongan nurses also provided support, as well as the nursing students from the Queen Salote School of Nursing on the island of Tongatapu. Students also got to participate in community nursing at its finest—visiting patients and families in their homes with community nurses, giving immunizations and providing glucose and blood pressure screenings on small remote islands that we had to reach by boat.
In addition to participating in the above experiences, for 2012 we have been asked to teach inservices for nurses in the hospitals. Students who would like to participate in GHHD Tonga should be ready to help prepare inservices as well as present them in country. Students who would like to have a successful GHHD experience in Tonga will not mind heat, bugs, spiders, will try new foods and be very interested in learning as much as they can from the Tongans they come in contact with in the health care system, church, and community.Enjoying boat travel, as well as a swim or two in the ocean, are also pluses. Students should also be aware that if there is a need to be in frequent contact with family or friends at home, this is NOT the GHHD experience for them, as the internet is unreliable and at times difficult to access. 

While we do not have a set schedule, we make the most of an occasional afternoon or day off to visit the many cultural and beautiful nature sites there are on the islands, as well as an occasional swim at the beach. Evenings are sometimes occupied with visits to the temple while we are on Tongatapu, or with a church activity or an occasional health fair. At times we will mix work and play, for example, during blood pressure and glucose screenings in the market we take “shifts”, with some students shopping while other students do the screenings. Flexibility is key, as learning AND playing opportunities will sometimes come up, necessitating a schedule change. Flexibility and eagerness to learn as much about the culture will help our group to have the best experience possible.

Student Reflections:
"The healer’s art is  so much more than simply healing people from diseases and traumas . It really has to do with understanding people and providing care for their whole being.  I learned this from the example of the Tongans. When a patient comes into the hospital the nurses know and  care for that person as an individual . I understand it is a larger and different atmosphere than in the United States where you most likely are not neighbors with your patients. Here in Tonga, I did not necessarily see nurses dressing wounds or delivering babies or just doing their jobs.  I saw nurses caring for other human beings . They were dressing wounds, but talking with and getting to know the person. They were delivering babies, but developing genuine relationships with the mothers and families. These nurses would get into vans and travel miles simply to give one or two children a vaccination. They  care about their people , and you can tell just from watching them for a week."     -- Sarah

“I was unsure about the quality of health care I would find in Tonga. Although they have limited resources they do the best they can and all they possibly can for the people. The nurses stay all day and night in the hospitals at times. They strive to follow the correct techniques and practices that each nurse learns during their education. I have a great respect for how determined they are to seek and find each person that needs care. They know their patients by name and keep close records of all those who need care. As we went from island to island seeking out people who needed immunizations or medications, it reminded me of Christ seeking for the lost sheep and knowing where to find them. I learned that though they may not have everything they need to perform their care, they still strive to offer the best care they know how to give. I learned that spending time getting to know patients can often be exactly the kind of care they need.”     -- Whitney
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