I made lifelong friends and experiences that I will never forget. I walked away from this internship with a new lense and love for the Tongan people.
— Alexa Benavides
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The David O. McKay Center works closely with the Pacific Islanders namely in the islands of Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji, by sending Peer Mediators to these islands to teach in schools and serve the people of those communities. These are school sanctioned internships and anybody may go to fulfill a Peacebuilding Internship! Alexa Benavides recently had the special opportunity to fulfill her Peer Mediation internship in Tonga over the Summer. Read on about her experience, and what you may want to know should you decide to participate in this opportunity! For more information on internships, please reach out to David Whippy at david.whippy@go.byuh.edu.

“The internship duration was six weeks. We had the opportunity to teach during thestudent’s study hall periods (Since most prefects/student leaders had this period). The classes were scheduled into two hour periods. We adapted the ten lesson plan from the Peer Mediation curriculum to the needs of the students. The lessons were graciously received since Liahona students have been involved in school fights with other high school students in Tonga. Most of our work was allocated here, we shared the curriculum with the principal and her vice principals, school counselors, we spoke at devotionals, shared the curriculum with the student body presidency, and the students.

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The message was well received by all the church schools in the entire Kingdom of Tonga. The first Friday that we arrived we had the opportunity to do an Arbinger workshop with all the principals and vice principals of all the church schools in Tonga. It went better than we had anticipated and we were even invited to teach the workshop and peer mediation on the island of Vava’u (Sineha High School). We had the opportunity to share about peer mediation in Havelu Middle School and presented during a devotional that was arranged for us. We also taught peer mediation to the prefects at Liahona Middle School. We arranged a weekly Arbinger workshopmeeting that was taught at Pakilau Middle School. The Arbinger workshop was taught a total of three times.

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Cyber-bullying is something that was brought up in every class. Fiber-optic just arrived to Tonga -making the internet 60 percent cheaper and more available to anyone. Cell phones are cheap and the telephone companies such as Digicel and Ucall are giving two hours of unlimited wifi use in exchange for two Pa’anga which is equivalent to one U.S. dollar. The Fifteen Arbinger books were donated due to a lack of resources from the school. A copy was left with the Principal of Pakilau, the Principal of Sineha, the Principal of Liahona Middle School and the rest were left with Principal Fehi from Liahona High School. I left a copy of my Mediator’s Handbook with the counselors of Liahona High School. Counselors do not have the proper education to be school counselors. They have no background in social work or psychology. They were put into those positions because of need. Tonga is running into social problems, depression, anxiety, and domestic abuse. The school faculty and administrators need training to be of better service to their student body.

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The ban on sports was lifted after three years due to school fights. They were short staffed for coaching the four soccer teams at Liahona High School. Due to my expertise in soccer I was able to be head coach! Their season was six weeks long. There were four teams, U16 girls, U16 boys, U19 girls, and U19 boys. Consisting of 74 players. Practice was during the week and games were held on Friday. The U16 girls placed 3rd and the U19 boys just became the 2018 High School Soccer Champions of Tonga. I wrote an anthropological blog on the Kingdom of Tonga that will give future interns and anyone interested an idea of what the situation is like. It is found here: gowithalexa.wordpress.com.

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Working with youth can be challenging at times but it was worth it! It was exciting to see how they applied the things they learned from us into their own lives and had the desire to do better. I made lifelong friends and experiences that I will never forget. I walked away from this internship with a new lense and love for the Tongan people. I ate dog and horse in one day! I am grateful for the experience of working alongside Lupi Tupou in her home country and with the people of Tonga. It will be an experience that I will never forget and has built a firm foundation in my career as I move forward.”

Words and Photographs by Alexa Benavides