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New Salvation Army base built in Tonga - first EasyBuild home on island kingdom

'Alakihihifo Vailala

A team of volunteers from New Zealand have built new offices based in a small village in Tonga - putting the building up in just over a week.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

It took 12 days for the group of 15 Salvation Army volunteers to put together an EasyBuild Homes modular home in the village of Kolovai, in Tongatapu - about 17km away from the island nation’s capital city, Nuku’alofa.

This was also the first EasyBuild Homes built in the island kingdom since the company was founded in 2015.

Lower Hutt firefighter Pete Walker led the team in Tonga and managed the project.

He initially travelled to the island kingdom about nine years ago with five others to build a church.

“It was always the intention or the dream to, at some stage, build a house,” he said.

With the connections he made during that initial project, Walker put together a group of people from New Zealand to travel to Tonga for this latest project.

They included builders - one being his brother - an electrician, a plumber and labourers.

Six members of the team are also firefighters.

“It was an ambitious goal to bring together a team of 15 people who’d never all worked together before to build a house in just two weeks,” Walker said.

“But it was a goal the team embraced with enthusiasm and energy.”

The new home will be used by members of the local Salvation Army who work out of the Kolovai Church Centre and kindergarten.

Last year’s volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami destroyed many homes and buildings around the Pacific country; including the home housed by the Salvation Army team based in Kolovai village.

Later on, members were based at an office outside of the village; so moves were made to build a new office building within Kolovai itself, so they could be based in the community they served.

Walker says they were grateful for the love and support shown by the local community and villagers in Tonga.

“Local guys would come and help us a lot with the manual job. They were just relentless and nothing was a problem. They were so supportive with minimal tools.”

The team were also provided lunch every day by the local Salvation Army churches around the island.

Peter’s brother, Kenneth Walker is the Salvation Army Regional Leader for Tonga and said locals were impressed at how fast the building was built and completed.

“Everyone’s pretty amazed at the speed of the project. Things in Tonga don’t move as fast as what that house did.”

Kenneth Walker has been in the role based in Tonga since 2020 but has been involved with the Salvation Army his entire life, as both their parents were Salvation Army officers.

‘We can do better than this’

When looking at the future, he said they are looking at more building projects serviced the same way due to the success of the recent build.

He told Salvation Army Life and Times this new build held a special place in his heart as his late father, Major Donald Walker, proposed to Salvation Army headquarters for a church to be built in Kolovai after a visit in 2013.

The team of Salvation Army volunteers from New Zealand take on Tonga.

His sister, Captain Pauleen Richards, was serving in Tonga at the time.

“Mum and dad went over and at the time, Kolovai was still a corps plant and meetings were held in a tent,” he told the publication.

“The story goes that dad was looking up at the stars - through the ripped roof of the tent - [and said]: ‘We can do better than this’.”

The church was built the next year.

EasyBuild chief executive Scott Matthews said they loved seeing what the team achieved in Tonga in such a short space of time.

“Their hard work really shows just what’s possible with our homes and what we can offer to people and communities across New Zealand and the Pacific.”

Hero Image: Salvation Army volunteers travelled from New Zealand to Tonga to build a new base in the village of Kolovai. Photo / EasyBuild

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