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A Peace Corps Adventure
photo Robert Stevens with the sun setting between volcanos Tofu'a and Kao in the 
Trouble in Paradise

by Robert Stevens, BS Biochemistry, 1993

I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga from 1995 to 1997. My initial assignment was teaching general science at a church school for Forms 2 and 5, approximately 7th and 10th grades. After one year I decided teaching wasn't for me and changed jobs. The second year I worked as a Volunteer in the Tongan Government's Environmental Planning Unit. Most of my time was spent wondering why I was there. However, I was able to produce a commercial for television promoting the recycling of aluminum cans and also a documentary on Tonga's participation in Clean Up the World Day.

Since Peace Corps Volunteers are barred from political activities, it is important that returning volunteers share their experiences with the public in hopes that they can make a positive impact on policy. Therefore, I am happy to be able to share my experiences with you.

Environmental degradation is a serious problem in developing countries; they want the conveniences of modern living, often without dealing with the consequences of a changing lifestyle. Thus, with the expansion of global trade has come the destruction of many once beautiful areas. There is a dire need for international legislation to address this issue....

The bike ride was over; it was time to climb down the cliffside to Fungatave Beach. This was the "secret spot" my Peace Corps friends had been telling me about for so long. Now it was my turn to enjoy a slice of paradise. Walking out of the forest onto the beach, my excitement faded as I spotted the plastic detritus scattered among the shells. "Hmmph, must've come from passing ships," I thought. This beach was surrounded by 100-meter cliffs; isolated, inaccessible, except for the pounding surf carrying more than just shells across the sand.

The night was over; it was time to eat breakfast and head to work in Nuku'alofa. I hopped on my bicycle and pedaled along the roadside. My house was special by chance--it happend to be where the traffic jam started. "This reminds me of LA," I thought, as I rode along the mile-long stretch of cars, trucks and buses, spewing prodigious volumes of petroleum combustion products into the unregulated atmosphere of Tonga. "Nah, this air is worse than LA's!"

Horses became obsolete when the steel ships crossed the Pacific, bringing automobiles. Sure, sell them used cars, and petrol, and oil, and ethylene glycol, and then what? Several years later the cars sit, rusting, leaking oil. Yes, the Palangi (white man) knows what the Tongan needs.

The long boat ride was over, it was time to set up camp and then swim in the crystal blue waters around the perfect cone of the volcano, Kao. The humpback whales entertained us before sunset, and later around the campfire we could hear the swoosh of their blowholes. Was this paradise? The next afternoon my friend and I made it to the top of the 1000-meter volcano. It was a perfect day--no clouds. We could see the entire Kingdom of Tonga. To the north was the newest addition to Tonga's 170 islands; steam rose from the distant spot, signaling the birth of an island. To the south was Tofu'a, another volcano used for agriculture. On its steep volcanic slopes a brush fire burned out of control, set by careless field workers. As I revelled in the beauty surrounding me, I wondered how long before Tofu'a and Kao, sister volcanoes in the South Pacific, would become just another Paradise Lost.

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