Tonga: Betty Blake

E pau ke fai . . . he’ikai toe toloi – Commiserate through action."

— Betty Blake

Betty Blake, the only legal rights training veteran in the Kingdom of Tonga, is an intense bundle of energy packed into a 61 centimeter frame. The retired primary school teacher turned human rights activist, mother of five grown children, taught for 33 years and studied as a mature student at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. Her formerly quiet life as teacher and mother in mono-cultural, patriarchal, and hierarchical Tonga was totally transformed when she decided to become a paralegal trainer and human rights counsellor, less than a decade ago.

As Tonga’s first Legal Rights Training Officer, President of the powerful Catholic Women’s League, and head of the League’s pioneering Center for Women and Children, Betty battled with harsh criticism from opinionated, extremely conservative Tongans, with failed clients, red tape and lack of finances and support, but always persevered: "My 33 years in the classroom were nothing compared to the work stresses of the last seven years. But the rewards of seeing peace settle into an abused woman’s face, of reconciling a family after conflict, can never be equalled. My husband warned me that the women coming to the center might just be using me, but when, one evening, we heard cries outside our home and my husband finally met one of our clients, bleeding all over and accompanied by crying infants, our house became theirs. My husband became their spokesman and protector. My passion has now become his. Another client I met when she was only 13. She visited our center as a client but also as a burglar! I had stocked my room with food, clothes, and a pillow to make her feel at home there. She broke the law, broke my windows, broke into my room, stole from me, stole from the center – just to find solace for her tired head and feed her hungry body. She is 15 now and in prison for three months. She breaks my heart – I feel for her out there – so young, so lost, so unwanted. I will not have peace until she regains hers." When three of Tonga’s princesses endorsed the work Betty said: "I felt so good, grinning from ear to ear – even with tears streaming at the same time – relishing the moment of having these Princesses, so rare in the history of our tiny, rank-conscious Kingdom, pledge their full support for this event, but also for peace . . . yes, for peace and understanding in our hearts, in our bedrooms, in our offices, in our streets, in our land."

Catholic Women’s League (CWL) Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) Pan Pacific and South East Asia Women's Association (PPSEAWA)