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Don’s first visit to Tonga November 2015

January 29, 2016


Blog #1           

I was asked by Kevin Milstein, CEO of the Reagan Milstein Foundation (RMF) to go to Tonga on a scoping visit, and ascertain how RMF could help with the obesity issue that he found when he visited Tonga in March 2015.


Fact:      43% of the population of Tonga are classed as obese.


My personal highlights from that visit:

  • Meeting my host, guide, mentor and new friend Lui Muavesi Technical Director Just Play.

Without Lui’s passion, guidance and advice a project such as we envisage would be very hard to get off the ground. With his active participation, I have no doubts that the project will be successful.



  • Attending sports (volley ball, touch rugby, soccer) finals Huatotolitoli Prison – Tonga’s Maximum Security prison.

If I shut my eyes I would have thought I was at any beach watching a group of mates playing volleyball. Note the 5 metre+ concrete walls in the background topped with barbed wire.



Sitting alongside the Commissioner of Prisons at the sports finals presentation.

Note that my seat had a back – an example how Tongan’s go out of their way to make guests comfortable. (Also note: I am not sleeping!!!)



This is the group at the ‘official’ photo shoot.

I felt very privileged to be a special guest there.



  • Attending a special cava ceremony also at Huatotolitoli Prison’s maximum security wing

This was between 8 pm and midnight!! An incredible privilege. By the way, cava does nothing for me!! These guys have beautiful voices. As I said to them as I left, it was a privilege to be there – my only regret was I couldn’t join in the singing (obviously they were singing in Tongan!!).


  • Getting alongside one of these prisoners at the cava ceremony.

I plan to have a ‘hub’ ready for him when he is released. He is in this group.



  • Attending one of the regional finals of the Just Play programme

They take their sport seriously in Tonga. Approximately 30% of this group are girls, and when they play no quarter is given and no prisoners are taken!! Physical activity is another cornerstone of the project. Lui has 20,000 Tongan kids actively participating in his programme. Note there are no over-weight kids in this photo.



  • Meeting with Minoru Nishi,  and attending the Maie5 (5+ fruit and vegetables a day) prize giving


Linking in with this incredible initiative that encourages the children of Tonga to eat 5+ vegetables and fruits a day is the brain-child of Minoru, the passionate Chairman of the campaign committee


  • Selecting the site of the first vegetable growing ‘hub’

They (Huatotolitoli Prison) already have a great vegetable patch, but have run out of land. The ‘hub’ will help address that, as well as provide a focal point for adult education for the night classes planned as an integral part of the project (held during the hub building process). In between the builds, (which are planned for April and July 2016, and January 2017 - funds permitting), a former student of mine will keep the night class momentum going.


I anticipate prisoners, prison guards, local farmers and Just Play volunteers to attend – possibly 15 – 20 in total.


Combining the practical aspects of growing vegetables intensively coupled with obesity education (under the guise of teaching horticulture) makes this project unique from any other similar project.



  • Writing a report that has become the basis of the Wellness Pacific project

Without doubt, this is the most significant project I will ever be involved with – one I have dubbed ‘the project of a life-time’. Together, we have the opportunity to make a real difference to help stem the spread of non-communicable diseases (diabetes, heart conditions etc.).

In summary there are 4 cornerstones for this project:

  1. Growing more vegetables using an intensive growing system

  2. Increasing the fitness and wellbeing of youth through sport programmes  such as Just Play

  3. Linking with the Maie5 Project to promote healthy eating habits using high quality wraps as an alternative source of carbohydrate

  4. Using the opportunity to provide an adult education program


How can you help?


The obvious requirement is funding, but there also your time. If you are ever up in Tonga and have some spare time, and are interested in the project or gardening, horticulture or agriculture let us know, as the locals appreciate help.


Equally important is your support, encouragement and advice. You may have a contact that can help us – please let us know.


I know the problem of increasing numbers of the Tongan population suffering from non-communicable diseases is enormous. Any change in the attitude towards obesity is not going to happen overnight – in fact it will take a generation to begin to make a difference. But, the alternative is to do nothing and watch the Island people of the South Pacific slowly continue to disintegrate into obesity.


For more details contact me directly.










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