News Story

Tongan Students Come to the Aid of their Classmate

Tragic fire destroys a home but gives students a chance to show who they really are

When tragedy strikes in a village in Polynesia, help isn’t very far away. That’s just the way things work in the tight knit communities of the Pacific.

This was especially true for Tevita Lei, a student at Saineha High School in Vava’u, Tonga.

When his family’s home was completely destroyed by fire, they lost everything. The next day, his fellow classmates got together and discussed what the family needed to start putting their world back together.

Mele’ana Mafi teaches computer science at the school, which is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She remembers the day she looked around her classroom and noticed someone missing. Students confirmed that Tevita Lei was not there.

The teacher asked, “Why is he not here?”

A soft voice in the back said, “His house burned down last week.”

“Our simple discussions led everyone to think outside the box,” Mele’ana recalls.

“Students started volunteering to donate things for the most urgent needs, such as uniforms, school materials, a new school bag. The rest of the students volunteered to donate other things such as food, clothes and blankets.”

Mele’ana then went to the school principal, Motuliki Fakatava, to tell him about the situation and to see if he could provide transportation for the class members to deliver the items they had collected. He readily agreed.

“As soon as Mele’ana told me this story,” Motuliki reports, “I felt an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Several months ago, I felt prompted to begin to set aside in storage some food and clothing, but I didn’t know why or who it would be for. As soon as Mele’ana told me this story, I knew this was the right time and purpose.”

The next day, all the members of Tevita’s computer class got on a school bus during home room time and went to see what was left of his home. In addition to Motuliki’s items, the students brought along all that they had managed to collect including some essentials such as rice, flour, sugar, beans and crackers.

They found Tevita and his father there by themselves amongst the charred remains of their home. 

“I told his father the purpose of our visit and asked permission to do a short devotional service with them," Mele'ana says. 

"When we started to sing 'We thank thee, O God, for a Prophet,' we truly felt the spirit present and confirmed God’s love for His children. The sincerity of the prayer offered truly touched our hearts and put everyone in tears.”

She continued: “I was so broken hearted when we arrived to see Tevita and his father outside trying to clean up the ashes and burned remains of their home. I knew in my heart that this was the right thing for us to do.”

Some of the students shared their feelings about their visit to Tevita and his dad:

·         “Last night I was confused about what I should take to give the family. It came to my mind that it doesn’t matter if it is something small, big, cheap or expensive, but that you tried your best to help. It shows Tevita’s family that this is not the end and that the good Lord loves them. I saw the smiles on their faces, and it reminded me of my family.”

·         “I hope that what we gave them was a big help to their family. By helping others, we learn to love them as ourselves. I am grateful, and may God bless their family.”

·         “As we arrived, I just imagined myself in the position that he is in, with such difficulty and struggling to survive. It touched me most when his father said that he is grateful that Tevita has family out of his actual family, meaning us, his computer classmates.”

·         “Seeing my classmates’ willingness to help him really touched my heart. It showed the love of a family we had in our class. No matter how big our help was to Tevita Lei, that didn’t matter, but what mattered was that our classmates were willing to give a helping hand to our dearest brother. We will never leave anyone behind.”

·         “I know that Tevita’s dad was so excited and grateful for what we have been able to do. He said that now he can feel that ‘there is a family for his son that still cares about him.’ Everyone in this life is my family.”

·         “The moment I saw this brother, my heart and soul filled with the spirit of love. I appreciated my teacher for the great spirit that inspired us as a computer class to visit our beloved classmate Ti Lei. I felt the love that Jesus had for His children.”

Mele’ana summarized her thoughts about this experience: “I am grateful for the opportunity to reach out with our class to Tevita. What has happened this morning was a great start of our day. The acts of kindness, working together, love, empathy, and service, does reflect who they really are. They are sons and daughters of Heavenly Father.”

“As I came back to my classroom and reflected on my students and the goodness and mercy of God for His children, the scripture in Alma 26:37 (The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ) came to mind: 'Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every  people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever.'"

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