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June 2009

Tongan immersion childcare teaches children the island way

By Cory Miller

The sounds of laughter and the patter of tiny feet echo across the playground of Akoteu Lotofale’ia, the Tongan Early Childhood Education Centre, situated behind Mangere’s Tongan Methodist Church.

Loviana Lusaipu is the supervisor of the centre which has been in the running since 2000. Under the umbrella of the Methodist Church, the educational centre was brought to life with funding from the Ministry of Education. Its roots are deep in the soil of the Tongan culture and the Methodist faith.

Over the past 10 years the Lotofale’ia congregation has worked alongside the centre to immerse their young in an environment that is in sync with their culture and spirituality. "Our vision is that our children are able to maintain our cultural identity," says Loviana. "The church sees the children as an investment. They are the family of the church and the way of the future. We want them to grow up as Tongan, Christian children. We want them to maintain the island values and not to lose our island way of life."

Early childhood education centres at Tongan Methodist Churches teach children Tongan culture and Tongan values.

Loviana hopes that some of the children will become teachers, and pass on their knowledge of their culture and faith into future generations.

Akoteu Lotofale’ia focuses on immersion in the Tongan language. "We speak Tongan, give instructions in Tongan, and live a Tongan way of life," says Loviana. However not all of the 50 children who attend the centre, are of full Tongan descent. The centre also opens its arms to children from mixed ethnicities, such as Maori, Samoan and English. Their daily greeting incorporates the different

languages in acknowledgment of this diversity.

Loviana says the centre recognises the individuality of each and every child and seeks to nurture this uniqueness. Staff aim to provide a

learning environment that is not about changing the children but about encouraging who they are and helping them to grow into their full potential, whilst maintaining their cultural identity.

The centre also encourages faith learning. Integral to each day is prayer in which the children are encouraged to participate. The simple gesture of getting them to join their hands, close their eyes and bow their heads in prayer is often enough for them to concentrate on what is being said. It encourages them to focus and take their first steps into a life-time of prayer. They are taught scripture verses, songs and hymns. Even some of the ten children they have that are under the age of two are able to contribute their own words.

Since its beginning the centre has undergone a continual process of growth and development. This year Akoteu Lotofale’ia has extended its facilities to accommodate an extra 25 placements. This will ease some of the weight of their hefty waiting list and expand the family further.