Mark was born in Fiji, the eldest of 7 children to parents of Tongan descent. His family immigrated to Sydney where he attended Homebush Boys High School. Mark then completed a diploma of business and later a degree in business management (majoring in accountancy) in 2007. He was also enjoying playing grade rugby for the West Harbour Pirates.
On 13 May 2008, during a routine training exercise Mark tragically suffered a C4 injury and became a tetraplegic, requiring 24-hour care. Since that time, Mark continues to amaze and inspired those that know him because of the difference he strives to make in the community and by the person that he himself has become.
When discussing his injury, Mark has been quoted as saying “It’s the best thing that ever happened”, “I have lost friends, but I have gained better friends”, and “I have a purpose now, to help other people. Prior to my journey I did nothing”. Mark certainly lives his life with a purpose now and he has become a committed volunteer and advocate for the disabled community and disability services.
Mark was awarded the ClubsNSW Heart of the Community Award from Castle Hill RSL in August 2013, and his current roles include:
- Director of People with Disability Australia.
- Director of Para Quad NSW.
- An ambassador for Life Start which provides early childhood intervention and school age services for children living with a disability or delay their families and carers.
- A committee member of Willoughby Council’s Access Committee..
Hearts in Union is very fortunate that Mark is also a Liaison Officer for the charity and he is a valued asset in this volunteer role. The charity has been privileged to witness the impact that Mark has on the people that he meets and shares his story with.
Mark’s ultimate goal is to effectively lobby government on behalf of those with a disability to make big changes. Mark is currently actively campaigning with the NSW government for the inclusion of a much needed lift at Artarmon Railway Station, as well as conducting an ongoing campaign to increase the Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme (TTSS). At the moment the rebate for people with disabilities is 50 per cent of fares up to $60, which hasn’t changed since 1999.
To achieve his goals, Mark is intent on continuing his personal growth by learning and studying as much as he can, including attending governance workshops, leadership programs and public speaking workshops. Mark’s next big step is to study an MBA to understand the business world better and improve his negotiating skills.
“The disability landscape is changing and people with a disability need to get involved” says Mark.
“A lot of bureaucrats make decisions but they don’t know what having a disability is like. As part of my journey I want to get up-skilled and help make those decisions”.
Mark Tonga’s inspirational journey as disability advocate wins award
Source: Bev Jordan, Hills Shire Times, August 21 2013.