Updated on December 23, 2015
A Sense of Urgency
By Sina Uipi
Last week, FAB wrapped up the last session of 2015, which was about creating a sense of urgency for the health in the Tongan community. In our first session on December 10th, we had special guest Reverend Sione Ngauamo of the Hawthorne United Methodist Church, join us and teach us the meaning of this month’s proverb; ‘OSIKI ‘A VELENGA. It means that we should utilize our energy and knowledge to the best of our ability. ‘Osi means complete and velenga means duty, or calling. The Reverend encouraged us to reach our highest potential in the most effective way possible, and to not settle for less because then we are lifeless. Mo’ui means life and lelei means good, or well; so to be healthy means to be mo’ui lelei. It embodies our overall health and well-being; physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. If we can give our all to other parts of our lives, why can’t we give the best to our health as well? How do we tie ourselves to our culture when it comes to health? Our own language tells us that life and health are intertwined, that our life is dependent upon how well we are, how healthy we are. “Hold on to our culture, it will give you mo’ui (life),”– Reverend Ngauamo.
‘Osiki ‘a velenga. Complete your duty to the very end. This proverb is so fitting for the work we do in our community. I have been told – better yet, warned – about doing this work. My big homie told me that I must be spiritually grounded, have a heart for the people, and be willing to put forth the effort that is needed in order to do this work effectively. This means that you are aware of the fact that there are layers to this work, that you aren’t looking for recognition, and that you are never off the clock. It is by no means, the easiest job in the world; but for us, it is the only job that aligns with our velenga. As Faifekau Sione Ngauamo confirmed, uplifting our community is part of our velenga.
After hearing the Reverend explain the root of the proverb and interpret its meaning, I could only think of the many things that are happening in the world. There are millions, tens and hundreds of millions of people who are in need- in need of healing, in need of relief and resource, in need of understanding and confirmation. This is exactly how I view the work that we do. Anyone who has experience in community work can attest to the battles that you encounter in doing this. It can be redundant, exhausting, and even seem meaningless at times; but for us, it is our velenga. Everyone has a velenga that is unique to them, as the Faifekau reminded us, but this session definitely placed perspective on what they all have in common: service.
I said it during the session, and I will say it again. It is always an honor to be in the presence of an elder who genuinely cares for the state of the people enough to share his or her wisdom and knowledge with the hope of uplifting them. Malo ‘aupito Faifekau Ngauamo for fulfilling the part of your velenga that has intertwined with ours. – Justin Kalolo
I was so happy with how the conversation was going because everyone was able to make connections about the way we see health on their own through continued dialogue with each other and sharing their health lifelines. It was an activity we created so that each person can reflect on events of significance and how their health was impacted by those events. I realized that one part of our health can affect the rest; an event that affected your mental health also affects your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
On December 17th, we had another special guest, Reverend Kitione Tu’itupou, join us and teach us what a fakatapu is and how to do one. A fakatapu is a formal introduction of a Tongan speech that is given when you’re in a public space. There has a been an interest in language learning so we thought it was a great opportunity to have those who hold our culture and language teach us what protocol is in our own context. It was a really powerful conversation and a learning experience for us to be in fellowship with each other.
We went over homework we assigned in the previous session. One assignment was that everyone had to find out what their family health history is, and the other was to do a small challenge. I think the sense of urgency really came out when people were talking about their family health history and how depressing it was to have a visual of how bad our health is. Our elders are dying faster and the youth are dying younger. As discouraging as it was, our hope is to use it as a way to motivate ourselves to make a change. This is a start in shifting the way we see health. We know change doesn’t happen overnight, which is why we did the small challenge. We asked folks to think about their smallest downfall when it comes to health and challenge themselves by doing it for a day or two. For example, if you know you don’t drink enough water, your challenge was to drink more water. Small things that we can control is where we need to start. An important point we made was that we need to remember and acknowledge the process of changing our health, especially being in a very outcome driven society. Imagine what we could do together to address our bigger challenges!
We were trying to figure out a word for unhealthy in Tongan, and Reverend Tu’itupou said, “there is no Tongan word for unhealthy.” It makes perfect sense, for so long, our history, language, and cultural values shows us that we never expected our people to ever be unhealthy. What a phenomenal concept. This is what we have to get back to. This is what our velenga to our health needs to be. Who do you want to dedicate your health to in 2016?