Tonga trio spread retirement village cheer
Story and Photo: www.rugbyworldcup.com
WAIPU, 21 Sept. - It was the event of the month, or even the year, when three members of the Tonga team dropped in on Ranburn Rest Home Hospital and Village in Waipu.
The 57 elderly residents - some in retirement housing, others in full-time care - had been awaiting the players’ arrival with much excitement. Hours were spent making Tonga flags from crepe paper, banners and brushing up on the Tongan greeting malo e leilei.
Maria Win, originally from Samoa, had been teaching some of her housemates about Pacific Island culture. “My brothers’ children live in Tonga”, the grandmother said. “I don’t know much Tongan, but I know a little bit.”
The players - Kisi Pulu, Viliame Iongi and Sione Timani - were met by a rousing haka by children from Waipu primary school. Then they met the residents, some of whom suffer illnesses associated with old age such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
For prop Pulu, the visit brought back memories of home. “This is a real honour," he said. "Back in Tonga family is very, very important, so to meet these people here today is very special.”
Pulu demonstrated a natural affinity with some of the older members of the group, perhaps due in part to his own relationship with his grandmother.
“My nana is 97 years old. She’s still alive and is the oldest in the village,” he added. “These types of visits are something I really enjoy and I feel privileged to be here.”
Rugby fan Jean Hill has been following the tournament on television and meeting the Tonga players made her day.
“It‘s been wonderful. They join in so well”, said the 89-year-old. “I wish them well in the game on Wednesday, all the best.”
Ranburn administrator Sandy Williams said the visit had given everyone at the home a huge lift.
“Some of the residents are huge rugby fans. There’s been a great deal of anticipation and a lot of laughter while getting things prepared.
"It is great to see the Tongans here spreading a lot of joy.”
Tonga play Japan in a Pool A match at Whangarei's Northland Events Centre on Wednesday night.