Eseta Kuliha’apai's story from Tonga

Eseta Kuliha’apai is a 56 year old widow of 7 children (oldest 29 and youngest 8) from Sopu. Her home was directly impacted by the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai tsunami which damaged their 3-bedroom house and took everything, leaving them displaced. She lives with her 76 year old mother and has a sister with disabilities. When the incident happened early January, she recalls having to evacuate her mother first and her sister with disability.

I had to think fast and it was good my children helped me evacuate my mother and sister first, to higher grounds. We took them inwards to Tofoa before coming back for the rest of the family members.
XT4 A0524 Tonga Trip Workon Site 01
Tonga Trip Workon Site 06

"We were all scared, I will not lie about that. When we heard the first big bang coming from the clouds, we knew immediately it had to be a volcanic eruption. Immediately after the noise, we saw the sea. It did not look normal, that’s when I shouted that we needed to move to the highest point."

Life before the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai, things were normal for them. As a widow she still works, she has odd jobs to earn money for the family which includes making and selling of handicrafts or selling of food which she makes. Three of her kids also work to support the family given that they have many in their household. Whatever they earn is enough to meet their daily needs. Their home that was affected was a concrete home and they never expected to have been impacted by the tsunami.

Eseta and daughter Ivy Tonga DRP house recipients

“Following the incident, we had to flee to live with family which has been difficult because there is about 9 of us living together in our home. The first time we visited our home after the tsunami it was so devastating to see our home directly impacted. One of the things that crossed my mind when I saw our home was our financial status. The truth is that we do not have sufficient funds to even rebuild our home or buy materials given that I am the main breadwinner.

We were one of the homes that were initially assessed by government, but our names were not on their list. When Habitat for Humanity’s team came and started to ask questions and I noticed the questions were very specific asking about our source of income, whether there is a person with disability and how many in the household. I felt the process was different and took into consideration other factors. Somehow since that assessment I have been praying about a home for our family. When I was notified by our town officer that our names are on the final list for the Hunga Habitat’s project, I just cried. I was so emotional because we had been moving from different family homes. Now I am just excited to move to our new home.”

When asked about her plans for the new home she excited responded “I have great plans for our new home, since the building started, I come out with my daughter and mother and have been watching it go up. I get emotional all the time when I see the work progressing and thankful to God for this support. I can’t wait to do a garden; I am planning to grow vegetables and plant some root crops so I don’t have to buy it and just live off my land. We have built on my son’s land because it is on a higher ground, to relocate back to where we where is risky and it brings back daunting memories. We do continue to live in fear and knowing that our new home is on higher grounds is so reassuring. I was in destress for almost 2 months since the incident and panic when I hear any loud bang thinking we will be hit by a tsunami. Honest, this project has helped me to overcome my fears slowly knowing that we will have a home again.”

Thank you, Habitat, and TIST and I am also aware of Home Foundation supporting this project, I am so grateful to you guys for having my home built. For me, it’s not so much about the size of the house, because our family will make it a home, but seeing the efforts from the students in how they build my home, has just been overwhelming.