Tagata Pasifika The Pacific voice on New Zealand television since 1987

Tongans garden for their community

John Pulu | Presenter/ Reporter/Director

Covid-19 changed the way of life in 2020 for many Kiwis. Nearly a million people struggled to buy food due to job cuts and loss of income during the nationwide lockdowns.

The Saione Methodist Parish in Papatoetoe felt the impacts. That’s when Reverend ‘Ikilifi Pope decided the church could help its members.

“I called the team from the Tongan youth trust and from the church to go fishing and we provide the fish for the families. I know that they struggling, so we distribute me’a kai Tonga or food parcels to them. Some families try to revive from those consequences. This project here really helps them a lot,” Rev Pope says.

Reverend ‘Ikilifi Pope. Photo: Tagata Pasifika
Reverend ‘Ikilifi Pope. Photo: Tagata Pasifika

Reverend Pope and his congregation applied for a grant through the Ministry for Pacific Peoples. They received close to $10,000 for the church to come up with their own solution to recover from the pandemic.


Their saving grace was access to land in Takanini, South Auckland to plant kūmara (sweet potato). Around 50 families were mobilised to plant nearly 30,000 kūmara crops.

“When our parents moved from Tonga, they had experience in gardening/ngoue and fishing as well, and we don’t really use that much. But this project is a chance for us, a chance for the fathers, the mothers, to work with their young children and pass on their experience in toutu’u kumala, or kūmara plantation,” Rev Pope says.


Young mum Latai Sakalia and her family have been tending to their kūmara crops. Her children enjoy eating kūmara, and they will save money on groceries.

Sakalia Family. Photo: Tagata Pasifika
Sakalia Family. Photo: Tagata Pasifika


“Bringing the kids out and giving them a sense of community… They’ve had a lot of fun being outdoors instead of being stuck at home on the phone and iPads, and they also get to spend a lot of time with their grandparents,” she says.

Another church member, Sonia Pope, is praising the project for encouraging people to live off the land.

“One of the things that we really emphasise with this project is to come outside, even plant a kūmara in their backyard. Because I think with the help of Ministry for Pacific Peoples and their funding, we were able to not only create affordable, sustainable but healthy ways of providing food for families that were affected by Covid-19.”

For Tomasi Manase, this was a chance to connect with Tongan roots.

“Being a Kiwi-born person, (I’m) not that very strong with my culture. Being able to come here and do this, it keeps me grounded, and it also helps me connect to my culture as well. So it’s very humbling.”

The Tongan community garden at Takanini, Auckland.
The community garden at Takanini, Auckland. Photo: Tagata Pasifika

After six months it’s harvest time, and the Saione parish can finally enjoy the fruits of their labour.

The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Hon Aupito William Sio, was on hand to dig up a few of crops.

“The church’s role is not just spiritual. We should have an interest in economic well-being and mental well-being and also in cultural well-being, which is what our churches provide,” Aupito says.

“It’s just that we haven’t done so much of that, and I think what we’re showing here is that we should really be confident in our holistic approach to life. We need to embed that going forward.”

By John Pulu

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