My work with the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) provides me with many memorable experiences and opportunities. One of the greatest rewards is meeting and working with such diverse groups of people and building strong connections with the communities in Fiji.
Following Tropical Cyclone Winston, l discovered just how passionately connected to the Kubulau community I had become. I wanted to do more to help, and in July, I had an amazing opportunity to connect on a much larger scale at the inaugural Melanesian Spearhead Group, Emerging Leaders Program. Here, I learned about new ways to help community’s recovery from devastation and hardships caused by such a catastrophic storm.
During the Melanesian Youth Leaders Forum, I met people from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji. We all shared our successes and challenges and along the way, we gathered valuable and shareable lessons.
Forum Snapshot: Sharing Knowledge to Make a Difference
We were welcomed by the President of Vanuatu the Honorable Baldwin Jacobson Lonsdale in a traditional welcoming ceremony. The four-day program was in two broad parts: presentations by different organizations in the morning and traveling to field sites to see how the work is carried out in different parts of Efate.
The most inspiring session was with the Minister for Lands, the Honorable Ralph Regenvanu. He spoke eloquently about his experiences growing up in the midst of Vanuatu fighting (to gain independence), and how they shaped and influenced his decisions. He realized early the importance of culture and traditions and that led him to study anthropology. When he saw that the work he was doing was being undermined by the way land issues were being handled, he returned to school to study law and then went into politics because the only way he felt he could make real changes was from the inside.
The biggest takeaway emerged from the afternoon field site visits and the work being done by Wan Smol Bag, Activ, and Lapita. These three companies have managed to continue to work despite the challenges faced during and post-Tropical Cyclone Pam. Compared to Fiji’s recent Tropical Cyclone Winston, there are many similarities in the adversity they faced and how they are working on recovery.
Activ is a company that sells local handicrafts and teaches those in the community how to make quality goods. Lapita is a bakery, owned by an indigenous local, who sources products within the community. Visiting these businesses, I immediately imagined how we could replicate these ideas in Fiji. These local practices perfectly pair with CORAL’s conservation work to create and support marine protected areas in an effort to create alternative livelihoods and lessen the reliance on coral reef resources.
A unique lesson I learned is how theater and arts are used to share messages, or even provide meaningful alternative activities for young people. At present, much of the recovery effort has focused on basic necessities such as delivery of food, water, and rebuilding materials. Moving forward there is an opportunity to provide more support for emotional and psychological support for victims of Tropical Cyclone Winston. In Vanuatu, I saw the positive impacts that theater and arts played in helping communities cope with trauma. A lesson I can take back to Fiji.
This forum is a powerful example of what can happen when you unite people from various communities from around the globe. I left the forum with new friends and ideas about how to help Fiji communities continue to recover from disaster. I look forward to sharing this knowledge with CORAL and the communities at the forefront of local conservation efforts here in Fiji.