NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga — An initiative to clean up the nation, paint schools and make other improvements to the community is helping to bring Tongans together after a period of unprecedented rioting in which eight Tongans lost their lives.

More than 13,000 Tongans in 25 different locations throughout the Pacific Island kingdom have participated in the cleanup event thus far, with many more expected. The initiative will continue until 15 September 2007.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is sponsoring the event under the name of “Helping Hands,” a community service initiative that operates all over the world. Other churches, the government, and corporate groups were invited to participate.

“After the strains of past weeks, we wanted to do something that would bring everyone together in a common cause,” said Elder Sione Fineanganofo, a Church leader in Tonga.

Prime Minister Feleti Sevele thanked the volunteers at Fa’onelua Park for working to beautify Tonga. Following his remarks, he and his wife began picking up trash that littered the park.

Mrs Ainese Sevele, wife of the Tongan Prime Minister, helps clean up a park during the Mormon Helping Hands community service day. © 2007 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

For Mormons in Tonga the cleanup efforts were originally timed to prepare for the rededication of the Church’s temple in Nuku’alofa.

“There will be lots of visitors to the islands because everyone is invited to our temple’s public open house,” said Elder Fineanganofo. “We want the island to look its very best.”

For the community cleanup, volunteers have participated in various projects that range from painting buildings to cleaning up and hauling trash from parks and the airport. Items needed to complete the projects, such as paint and trucks, have been donated by local citizens as well as business and government entities.

This article was prepared by the LDS Newsroom at lds.org.