2021
This Auckland Young Adult Helped Establish Tonga’s First Public Library
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This Auckland Young Adult Helped Establish Tonga’s First Public Library

UN World Youth Day shines a light on a young achiever.

When Loniana Fifita wants to make changes in the world, she begins with recognising her passion, and being mindful of those around her, then starts using her skills and talents wisely.

Along the way, she seeks to align her plans with what God wants her to do, accomplishing what He has given her the talents and opportunities to do. And above all, she does it with love.

The United Nations Youth Day on 12 August had the theme, “Youth Engagement for Global Action”—seeking to highlight the ways in which the engagement of young people at all levels is enriching institutions and processes, and thereby enhancing youth opportunities for influence.

Loni’s talents and love have changed the world for many Tongan children who now have access to a public library—the first in the country.

Loniana Fifita is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Auckland, New Zealand. She was born in Ha’apai Tonga and moved to Auckland with her family when she was nine years old.

Loni has been engaged as a youth advocate since she was 15 years of age. She served as a youth representative on the Maungakiekie-Tāmaki local board, one of the 21 local boards of the Auckland Council.

While attending University of Auckland, Loni also served on the Auckland Council Youth Advisory panel, working alongside Auckland mayor at the time, Len Brown.

With her focus and passion on youth, she explained, “I wanted to make my area [Maungakiekie—Tāmaki] liveable . . . because that's the whole purpose of council.”

Loni started looking at projects and preventions for many issues facing Pacific youth. She kept asking herself, “What can I do?”

Because of the rising number of social issues in the community, she joined a passionate group of community change makers in creating initiatives to help solve social issues concerning youth. One of the key initiatives was “Phenomenal Young Women” which focused on building young women’s well-being in all aspects of life.

Phenomenal Young Women creates “safe spaces for young women in Tāmaki to connect, grow well-being, feel confident to try new things, and have fun.”

These experiences, Loni’s connections within the local and city councils, and her ability to connect with people, prepared her to be the librarian at the local board’s library in Tāmaki. But when approached about taking that post, she hesitated.

Loni has always wanted to work as a humanitarian. She never thought she would be a librarian, and she didn’t go to the library when she was young.

“I felt like Heavenly Father just handed me opportunities, but I was trying to ignore it, because it was not part of me,” she said.

“You know how you have your own plan, and He gives you His plan?”

After praying and fasting about it, she decided to take the position.

“My dream was to be a humanitarian, and this was the door to it,” Loni reflected. “Working in the library, I always wanted to give back . . . but I didn’t see the [opportunity] until Cyclone Gita hit [Tonga].”

It was in the aftermath of Cyclone Gita, that Loni’s engagement on the national level began. Being a librarian and also Tongan, and well-known for her work in the Tāmaki community, she was asked to help establish the first public library in her beloved island nation of Tonga and serve as the first librarian.

With schools and educational resources destroyed, Loni worked tirelessly with founders, Kahoa and Brendon Corbett, as donations of thousands of books from over 50 Auckland Council libraries, as well as computers, and even bicycles, were brought to the renovated community fale (centre).

The library opened in October 2019, in the village of Kolovai, with plans for a second library underway in a nearby town.

Loni paid her own fare on her trips to Tonga, lived by herself, and donated her time and talents to establish the library. She started weekend English classes, children’s programs, computer and family history classes, job application skills classes, and even bicycle rentals.

She says, “Tongans now understand that a library is more than a building—it is a safe place for growth and development, connections, and learning for many different reasons.”

For Loni, the definition of humanitarian is: “Love for humanity, doing things for the well-being of the human being without price . . . no matter what it is . . . or where [people] are from, or what their circumstances are. And so, my drive for humanitarian projects is the pure love that service brings.”

“Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the greatest things,” says Loni. “If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t understand my Heavenly Father’s plan and my plan, to align [them] together and it will be bigger than what I think it could be.”

UN Youth Day is an opportunity to celebrate and reinforce the achievements of young people. Loniana Fifita’s accomplishments and achievements are great examples of what a young person can achieve with passion, talent, and lots of love.