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Tongan navy on God-sent mission to answer girl’s prayers

BY Ilaitia Turagabeci

The Tongan navy silently entered Fiji waters during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown on a secret God-sent mission.

Not to wisk away any asylum seeker, as it had done previously in controversial circumstances, but to grant a little girl’s dying wish to be buried in her homeland and take much-needed medical relief donated by the Chinese Government stored in Fiji back home.

Natania Camellia Sanft, an Year-Eight student at Dudley Intermediate School in Toorak, Suva, died on April 9 from an “aggressive” brain tumour.

When the restriction on church gathering was lifted on Sunday, June 28, Telesia Kauvaka Sanft sat and stared where her daughter had sat each Sunday for Sunday School.

The resumption of worship in Fiji was significant for the mother of three, who had mixed emotions as she praised God for her beautiful gift of a child.

“My daughter brought us to this church because she was a member here first,” Mrs Sanft said, adding she found it hard to attend church that day because of .the memories it brought.

Mrs Sanft, who brought his family to Fiji last June while he studies at the University of the South Pacific, said they had prayed and decided to make a request to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Tourism, who is the MP from Vava’u.

“My daughter wanted to go back home where she had been brought up. And we wanted her home too so she was close by and we could always visit her,” she said

Natania was admitted for a month to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital before she died.


The Tongan Cabinet met and decided to send the VOEA Neiafu to Fiji to repatriate the girl’s body and pick up the medical assistance.

The ship arrived on June 10 and left after her parents said their final goodbye at the Walu Bay naval jetty.

In an interview with Radio and Television Tonga New, Tonga’s Health Minister, Dr ‘Amelia Tu’ipulotu, explained that it was a special circumstance that the ministry and the family had worked closely together on to ensure the return of the girl back to Tonga.

The minister said it was the family’s wish that she be buried in her home country but with the borders being closed since late March, this was the only option, which meant the body of the deceased would be repatriated alone while the young girl’s parents and siblings remain in Fiji.

It was initially planned to have her burial in Tongatapu but the family requested she be taken to Va’vau.

“It was tough for us. We wanted to be there for her final rites but we had to respect the rules of the border closure,” Mr Sanft said.

“We’re grateful to the Tongan Cabinet for allowing the navy to do this for our special girl and take her to Va’vau.”

Dr. Tu’ipulotu says they established the process for the arrival of the body, with only a few representatives of the family in Tonga being allowed to join a health official to identify the body before it was released to the family.

However, the minister said the family were not able to have an open-casket funeral wake due to the special circumstances.

Officers aboard the VOEA Neiafu were also given strict instructions for the repatriation and the minister said they did not need to be quarantined upon their return because they had followed instructions.

Her dad, Kolesi Sanft, said, they were saddened by her death but rested assured that she was ready for her maker in heaven.

“In the days leading up to her death, she was reciting her Bible verses and tried to sing her favourite hymns,” her mother added.

“She was a daughter of God who feared and loved him and she loved to read her bible verses even when she's in pain.”

Her Sunday School teacher, Deaconess Siteri Ratakele, said Natania was outspoken when given the chance to speak and always encouraged her younger siblings to take active part in Sunday School activities.

Fellow Sunday School mate, Tony Prasad, who attended school with her, said Natania was quiet but smart

Her class teacher. Richard Emmanuel, said Natania was honest, reliable, hard-working and intelligent.

“We had wanted to move her from Dudley Intermediate to Nehru Primary School next to home but Natania loved it there for the comradrie she had forged with her classmates.” Saids Mrs Sanft.

“She loved that they always shared lunch and loved to sing with them.”

Natania was to turn 13 on July 23. The family said they would now just hold prayers in her memory and thank God for 12 years of her life.

“We had so much planned for her but God’s plan for her far exceeds anything we would have ever done.We praise and glorify him for the joy she was to us.”

The Tongan Government completely shut down its borders with no more inbound flights allowed to enter the country since March 23 and the country has no case of COVID-19..

The medical assistance from China included personal protective equipment – PPE for health officials - to boost Tonga’s preparedness level for COVID-19.

In a statement, chief executive officer for health, Siale 'Akau'ola, said it was a measure to prevent the introduction of Covid-19.





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