Story of a Shrinking Nation
22 Aug 2011 | Blog | Kiribati | Long-term Development
Stephanie Lalor, Program Coordinator for the Pacific Islands, recounts her recent visit to Kiribati, where she visited a group of young people Caritas Australia has been supporting to raise awareness about climate change.
I didn’t know quite what to expect when I landed in the small island of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean. The airport was just a small shack, and customs involved having a chat with staff before they waved you through. Within minutes a young woman had appeared at my side, asking me if I needed any help. She was closely followed by a man, asking me if I was ok.
I was really struck by this kindness and concern for another human being, which is evidently a big part of what it means to be i-Kiribati. It occurred to me that this is a strength which they will need to ask others to demonstrate, including Australians, as they face the threat of climate change.
Kiribati is home to roughly 90,000 people, who still live in traditional huts and survive off the land. Most of Kiribati is less than three metres above sea level and on average only a few hundred metres wide. There was no illusion for me about what holds the balance of power on the main island, with king tides pounding the shoreline right near the only road and link between villages.
I had come to meet a group of young i-Kiribati people Caritas Australia has been supporting to raise awareness about climate change. They work with local communities to identify ways in which they can overcome negative impacts, which include the intrusion of salt water into fresh drinking water supplies and the contamination of crops which they rely on to survive. Climate change and its effects are very real and very dangerous for these communities.
The program has already worked with 20 young people, some of whom have taken some time to develop their confidence, as youth are often expected to take a back seat within the community. Claire Anterea, a member of the group, told me, “At first, I was scared. Why should they listen to me? But then I realised that I know a lot and I can help the community, that’s when I felt good enough to do this.”
Through the project and with the support of local community elders, the young people have clearly found the voice they needed, leading them to become advocates at climate change forums around the world and bringing awareness to the international community about the challenges their nation is still struggling to address.
Meeting the young people confirmed for me the reason why I work for Caritas. This program gives opportunities to people who previously would not have had a strong place in the community, to gain skills and confidence, and to contribute to making a real difference. This group has really made me understand what change can be created when we empower those in the communities with whom we work, and how powerful this can be.
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