One Love Tonga
One of our team members, Nida Ahmad was traveling in Tonga and got the opportunity to meet and spend time with the Founders of One Love Tonga, Chris and Ashley Paquette. Chris has been skateboarding for over twenty years and it all began in Kansas when he first saw Gordan Smith, a professional skateboarder, and fell in love with skateboarding. Chris is not new to building skateparks either, he and his brother built skateparks in the Boston area for local skaters. Chris and Ashley sold most of their belongings and packed up their bags and moved their family down to Tonga and skateboarding followed them.
1) How and when did Love Tonga come about? What was the inspiration behind it?
Chris and our 13-year-old son Indy are both skateboarders. So naturally, when we moved our family of 5 to Tonga in 2012 they brought two boards along with them. They were a form of transportation and fun for them and the local kids in our village. The local kids were so natural on the boards and picked it up crazy fast. Skateboards were rare to see in Tonga at the time and most kids only had seen it on TV. Seeing the interest, we created One Love Tonga within that first year with the dream of building Tonga’s first skatepark.
2) What are some of the goals of Love Tonga?
Although we have built a skatepark in Tonga, we’re not finished there. We are in the process of building a camp for the youth on the eastern side of Tonga.
We plan on moving the skatepark to the new land and building a bowl. From there we would include BMX riding, parkour, and an obstacle course. We also want to provide a space for workshops so volunteers can teach free art, music, photography, etc. to the community. Our goal is for this to be funded by an onsite backpackers hostel, restaurant, and traditional village experience all run by locals and youth in training.
3) How receptive has the community been? Was there any pushback from the community, family, etc. on skateboarding or the organization?
We’ve had a lot of positive feedback. Every parent or local we’ve talked to love what we’re doing. They see the need and appreciate anyone willing to stick around and help. The government hasn’t fully come onboard yet and the police don’t like the kids riding in the city, but we hope in time they will the positive impact it has on the youth.
4) There is a range of social issues that each country/society encounters. What are some issues the Tongan community faces and how is skateboarding helping to address or tackle these issues?
Most people appreciate the skate park here because they see the need every day. One of the biggest complaints I hear from kids and parents alike is there is nothing for them to do here. If you’re not a rugby player, then you’re really limited. With hours and hours of empty time, kids get into trouble, have massive brawls in town, drink, steal, sniff mortein and then sadly get hooked onto crystal meth. It’s progressed quite rapidly, and we see skateboarding as a chance to get these kids addicted, but not to something harmful but as a chance to challenge themselves and build confidence in their abilities. Instead of stealing for a rush or crystal meth for a high they are putting their energy into ollie challenges and flip tricks and teaching the younger kids how to drop in on the half pipe. All the pent-up frustration and anger that drives some youth to unhealthy habits is instead verbalized on a board and cement. It’s pure joy watching them land a trick after hours of practice and seeing the smiles and excitement on their face. They’ve taken a real ownership of skateboarding and created a Tongan way of skateboarding. Tonga’s youth are at a pivotal point and we see skateboarding as a great tool to help them.
5) What are some of the challenges your foundation faces or has faced in the back?
The biggest challenge is funding. Organizations from overseas are not willing to take a risk or see the benefits to a community through programs like this. It’s just so hard to find funding, which is why we are building a self-sustainable camp. Up until we got the land we’re building on currently we had a difficult time finding a place. We pursued different locations but hit a lot of walls. Leasing land in Tonga can be tricky with ownership laws. We were very cautious about make a decision on a camp location, but we’re pleased now with where we are.
6) Is there anything else you want to share about your organization?
The mission and mindset of One Love Inc. is deeply rooted in our personal faith. And because of that faith, we believe that people matter and our job is to love the ONE person in front of us, whomever that might be. That means their needs become our needs. We take the responsibility seriously while also striving to respect and learn from the Tongan culture and traditions.
Great to learn about skate initiatives around the world. It is also interesting to see the similar struggles lack of funding.
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