Sione Taungakava encourages his family and other youths to continue their studies
A family that prays together stays together is a mantra that many, if not all, Pacific Island families hold close to them. This is the case for Mr Sione Finau Taungakava.
Born into a humble family on the island of Ha’ano Ha’apai in the Kingdom of Tonga and the oldest of six siblings, Sione and his family faced numerous challenges over the years.
Financial struggle tops the list of their challenges; however, it did not deter the efforts of his mother and father to provide for him and his siblings.
His father was a fisherman who would sell his catch to provide for Sione and his siblings’ education, while Sione’s mother would weave tapa to sell at the local market as an additional income for their family.
Having watched his parents’ struggles throughout his younger years, Sione learnt the value of hard work very early on and made sure he focused on his education to excel in his studies.
“My parents were both fishermen and cultivators of the soil. I came from humble beginnings where my family struggled with financial matters to pay the bills and faced challenges to put food on the table. Despite the difficulties, my parents provided us with an environment filled with love and compassion.”
As the oldest of three girls and three boys, he felt a great sense of responsibility to be an example to his younger siblings.
“I had to be a role model to my younger siblings, and with that, I had to pave the way for them throughout my academic journey. It wasn’t an easy road, given the fact that I had to move to the Island Kingdom’s capital, Tongatapu, around the age of 13, just after completing my primary level at the government school. I entered Tupou College Toloa (an all-boys school for the Methodist church).”
This was a whole new experience for young Sione at the time, being away from home on a different island for four years.
“I studied in Tonga for seven years, and despite being looked down on for being an island person, I strived for the best for my parents and my island and made sure I finish top of my class all throughout the years of my high school studies. I eventually finished as one of two students to top our level at school. I won many awards, including being the top student in Agriculture science.”
Sione later attended Hango Agricultural College (a Tertiary Institution for the Methodist Church), where he met Reverend Kisepi Havea, who helped him find his passion for agriculture at the age of 18.
He started at the Agriculture College in 1986, completing a certificate in 1987 and a diploma in 1988.
“I then received a scholarship from the Free Wesleyan Church (F.W.C) to carry on with a Certificate in Advance Teaching Agriculture at The University of the South Pacific (USP), Samoa Campus.”
“This is where my journey began outside of my comfort zone. I faced numerous challenges as a student who was new to the environment and because English was my second language. Transcending from college to university was not easy because it had its battles. Yet, I trusted God and worked hard for the blessing he had given me, the opportunity to come from a poor family to study in a university away from home.”
While studying at the USP Samoa Campus, Sione met his beautiful wife, who was also studying at the time. The two graduated and got married before leaving for Tonga to continue their lives there.
“We worked for the F.W.C. church for many years, teaching at different secondary and tertiary-level schools in Tonga.”
By the grace of God, Sione got another chance to continue his studies and pursued his master’s at USP in 1997 through the Wesleyan Church scholarship.
“I finished my studies, setting a record of completing a Master’s Degree in only eight months, and I thank God for the opportunity and grace that carried me through while reflecting on my past.”
Sione returned to Tonga to continue working for the Church for many years and was blessed with five children before being anointed as a church minister while he was the Vice Principal at Tupou College Toloa.
“I have learnt that your battles with God prepare you for the best, and as the saying goes, despite the obstacles you face in life, when you stick to him, his blessings and guidance will never leave you.”
After nine years of service, he moved to the capital island and became an education officer for all the Secondary and Tertiary Schools belonging to the Free Wesleyan Church.
Sione, his wife and two daughters are currently in Samoa pursuing their studies at the USP Alafua Campus.
“Looking back, we came here in 2021, and life was devastating for us. We faced financial struggles to feed our kids, pay their school fees, and look for a place to stay for six months. My oldest daughter will be graduating next month with her Bachelor of Science; my wife has submitted her master’s thesis, and my second daughter will be finishing off this year. My two sons are still in high school, and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for my family.”
Sione advises young people that the field of Agriculture is not just about farming; it allows people to learn more about their surroundings, their basic needs in life, and how to produce their own food instead of relying on the market.