In the wake of tragedy, many paths open up to us. Our reactions in vulnerable times sometimes send us down a destructive path because we are too steeped in our own pain, fear, and sadness to recognize where the path we’ve chosen will ultimately lead. Often, we react in fear and pull inward, rooting ourselves in mentalities of scarcity, attitudes of exclusion, fear mongering propensities. We’re seeing this today in the attitudes of many people following the acts of terror and tragedy that are occurring more and more frequently. In this tense and scary climate, people seem less inclined to show love and extend olive branches of peace right now, and in the aftermath of the unthinkable, I think that it is natural to want to turn away, to want to rid your circle of others who seem unlike you in some key way. It’s natural to choose isolation and to allow anger and fear to guide your actions. But, is it right?
In October, a man named Sione Mangisi was killed in Bountiful, allegedly at the hands of my high school acquaintance, Heneli Kaufusi. When this event occurred, paths opened up. The most natural path for Sione’s family and friends was probably one of anger, bitterness, and callousness born of pain. Retaliatory violence, often par for the course in the Tongan community when violence takes one of our members, wouldn’t have been surprising, and, frankly, was probably even expected following Sione’s death. And, yet, as I watched via social media from my little corner of the Lone Star State, another path was chosen, and something truly magical and inspiring began to unfold.
It takes almost super human strength to choose love in the face of devastation, to choose kindness when faced with cruelty, to choose to breathe life into others when you’ve been dealt death and destruction. And so, seemingly against all odds, I watched from afar as Project ‘Ofa Atu emerged. Project ‘Ofa Atu is a non-profit organization cofounded by Sione Mangisi prior to his passing. The overarching goal of the project, according to cofounder Jamie Malungahu, is to “unite our Polynesian people to help others and find creative ideas to keep our youth involved and interested in the art of giving.” What an amazing and much-needed response to the tragedy and violence that surrounds us today.
I’ve been so impressed with the reach and scope of this movement. In the very short period since Sione’s untimely death, projects in LA, San Francisco, Arizona, Hawaii…even as far-distant as Australia, New Zealand, and Tonga, began popping up. I looked up some of them online by following the hash tag #ofaatu, and I was moved to tears. One of the first posts that I saw was from Dinah Jane (of Fifth Harmony fame), who gave her wardrobe away to those in need while she was on the road touring. People from all over the world are spreading goodness and kindness – projects range from feeding and clothing the homeless to filling backpacks with school supplies for underprivileged students to gathering and wrapping gifts for children in need – and they are doing these things in the name of Sione Mangisi.
Innumerable paths opened at Sione’s death, and it would have been easy to choose hate. But, in the face of that great tragedy, so, so many people have chosen a path of love over fear and kindness over anger. As a nation, we could learn a thing or two from those participating in Project ‘Ofa Atu. Great miracles happen when we turn away from hate and we bring love to the table.
**If you want to support Project Ofa Atu, please visit their facebook page (OFA ATU Non-Profit) or just spread goodness in your area and use the hash tag #ofaatu so they can see your support!**