WAVERLY, Iowa (KWWL) – Eastern Iowa and the Island Kingdom of Tonga are 7,000 miles apart. This week, it feels even farther for one family.
“It’s been kind of hard not having that connection right now,” Barb Corson of Waverly said.
After graduating from Central College in 2016, Barb’s daughter Carolyn joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to Tonga. She began teaching at a Christian boy’s school.
“She amazes me all the time,” Barb said.
Carolyn stayed in Tonga until March 2020, when the Peace Corps brought all of its people back stateside because of the pandemic. However, in June 2021, she was allowed to return to Tonga because of her status as a teacher.
She quarantined in New Zealand for three weeks and then rejoined her boyfriend Fine (pronounced “Fin-a”), who is from Tonga. The two got married soon after.
“We were able to watch a livestream of their wedding, and that was a five-hour ordeal,” Barb said. “There was a ceremony where his family welcomed her into their village and their lifestyle. That was a fascinating thing to watch.”
Barb and Carolyn stay in almost daily contact and they were talking Friday night (Saturday afternoon in the south pacific) when the volcano was erupting.
“We started getting Snapchats from her — that was her mode of communicating — and you could hear the volcano popping. It sounded like gunshots going off; these explosions. And so about 20-30 minutes into our conversation . . . all of a sudden . . . no more,” Barb said.
Tonga has a hard wire on the ocean floor that connects it to the trans-pacific internet wires in Fiji. That line was severed in two places, according to Reuters.
Barb went two full days without hearing from her daughter. Until she saw a Facebook post from the [RPCV] group Friends of Tonga which said “all Peace Corps staff are safe.” While Carolyn is no longer technically in the Peace Corps, Barb messaged this account and asked them to locate Carolyn.
The account administrator was able to find Carolyn and personally called Barb to say she and her husband are safe.
“It was a big relief,” Barb said.
Barb is still waiting for food and water to be sent to the island, but it is reported that will happen Thursday.
She hopes people will hear their story and realize that we live in an interconnected world with many different cultures.
Watch this YouTube of Carolyn in Tonga–her Peace Corps and Tonga story