As Peace Boat’s 101st Global Voyage docked in Lautoka, Fiji on July 13, 2019, a group of participants joined a study and exchange programme on climate and environment related issues with local youth. After a visit to the bustling Saturday morning market, the group moved to Saweni Beach to meet volunteers from the Alliance for Future Generations and Mamanuca Environment Society. These groups work in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 13 - Climate Action, Goal 14 - Life Below Water, and Goal 15 - Life on Land. Local environmental activist and youth advocate Eparama Qerewaqa, 22, had been on board the voyage earlier as an Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassador, and as the coordinator of this programme was warmly reunited with his Peace Boat family as they visited his community.
The tide was low as everyone set out into the mud, enjoying the hands-on activity. The group of local and Peace Boat volunteers together planted close to 600 mangroves, a protected plant in Lautoka which will go on to self-seed and plant even more. The stems were small and easily inserted into the ground, and small crabs and marine life jumped out of the way as the group squelched along. Mangroves absorb three times more oxygen than trees and have a strong root system, making them sturdy and offering a natural breaker to the waves. The plants support the local ecosystem and are part of the community’s livelihood.
Following this, participants wholeheartedly joined a beach clean-up of the surrounding areas. Joined also by local beach goers such as a 15 year old boy who said he wants to be an air pilot when he leaves school, the group covered around fifty meters of the beach in thirty minutes and collected a lot of rubbish: plastic, bottles, a tire, and even a television.
After a break to wash off the mud and enjoy some delicious fruit, the group then travelled to the Girmit Centre, host to the afternoon programme. Upon our arrival Peace Boat was honoured by a traditional welcome and cava ceremony, followed by a hypnotizing and stunning meke dance accompanied by strong and tight harmonies. Then food was shared, with hard working hands having prepared an incredible meal with fresh fruit and kokoda (raw fish), taro and cassava, coconut and papaya juice.
Everyone was full and content, and the ceiling fans circulated a warm breeze as the sun moved into the afternoon sky. Following this, two Fijian community leaders shared presentations with participants about the issues currently being faced in the country, and their organization’s related initiatives. First to speak was Lavetanalagi Seru, Coordinator for the Alliance for Future Generations (AFG) who travelled from the capital Suva to spend the day together, followed by Merewalesi from the Mamanuca Environment Society. AFG is a youth-led voluntary organization established in the last year, working for education and climate justice, while MES focuses on planting native trees, raising awareness about coral bleaching and methods of planting and transplanting coral. Both emphasised the current problem of leaders “putting profits before the people and the planet.”
Lagi defined climate justice as demanding justice from those countries that are producing and contributing to climate change. The Pacific region, excluding Australia and New Zealand, contributes just 0.03% to carbon emissions and yet is at the forefront of its impacts. Australia has recently approved the Adani Carmichael coal mine, which will produce three times the amount of carbon than all twenty-two Pacific nations combined. If nothing changes, by 2050 the sea will have risen three meters. A call for change was sung out - we need to do something, now. Within Fiji, three communities have already had to move inland due to salt affecting their farmlands, and another forty-three communities are said to need relocation. Lagi spoke with dedication and clarity, “Education is the key that unlocks the chain to many social problems we have. If we still have systems that are unjust, we cannot achieve change.”
These presentations were followed by a traditional Talanoa dialogue, where participants sat in a circle to share their thoughts, best practices and reflections on sustainability and ask questions. In conversation, a 26-year-old volunteer studying community resilience and counseling spoke of her work on the small island just in front of where Peace Boat docked. There were forty fishing households living there, who initially had no access to water, and had to go to the city to fill their water tanks to take back. Now they have pipes for running water and electricity. To build resilience she said, “first, we must look at their strengths and their assets. Then, to see if there is a political leader they can follow - it is much easier if there is a leader in power that the people will follow to work with.” She had worked with the small, flat island recently to implement emergency drills for managing disaster situations when everyone would need to move to the mainland. When asked the biggest problem facing youth, she quickly answered - peer pressure and social media.
Several days after the exchange, back on the ship participants joined a report session. Some spoke of how surprisingly easy it was to plant the mangroves, while another shared reflections on the benefit of mangroves to the environment in Lautoka, the amount of rubbish found, and the impact on the communities being forcibly moved. Scott Ludlam, former Australian Greens senator and anti-nuclear activist who also joined the programme, concluded that he was grateful on his first time in Fiji to have learned first-hand from the people affected by the impacts of climate change. He emphasised the damage the Carmichael mine would contribute and Lagi’s term of “climate justice,” where the countries creating the damage are far removed from those carrying the heaviest cost.
Web volunteer: Emily-Rose Reid
Photographs: Emily-Rose Reid and Isogai Miki