As we embrace another month of the year, it is always useful to look back at all the things that have happened in a short period of time that is 2018. Perhaps what stands out vividly is the fact that many Pacific island homes have faced exacerbated natural disasters across Samoa, Tonga, Fiji islands and most recently, Papua New Guinea. On 10 February, Tropical Cyclone Gita passed through Western Samoa and Niue by the 11th. It made landfall in Tonga on 12 February as a category 4 cyclone and left 4,500 people displaced with an initial report of 2,000 damaged homes. Only a few days later, Gita had also battered down on the southern parts of Fiji. Recently, on the 26 February as fellow writer Thelma recounts, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the Southern Highlands province of Papua New Guinea and neighbouring Hela, Enga, Western and Gulf provinces.
It is a painful experience especially for Pacific island nations who contribute the least to the effects of climate change yet bear the brunt of the impacts, annually. I believe that the hardest part of all of this is the fact that despite international negotiations and apart from continuous debate on climate change and whose responsibility it is; we Pacific island people have to be resilient for ourselves. This is significantly highlighted in a series called Raising Rural Women’s Voices in Tonga, created and published by the Women and Children’s Crisis Centre Tonga (WCCC) in partnership with UN Women. WCCC is conducting psychosocial support work to affected rural areas in Tonga post-Cyclone Gita and since mid-March has shared different stories that will run until the end of April and a short video will bring all these shared stories together to end the campaign This was created to coincide with the sixty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women that takes place annually at UN headquarters in New York.
The stories evoke the real experiences of Tongan women of varying ages and capabilities and how they had to endure TC Gita over one brief but difficult night. An incredible story of resilience is by ‘Amelia Ha’ungatau & ‘Ala Fataua. The opening lines are:
“People say we are just three old people living together but if you ask me we probably do more work than people 40 years younger than us – that’s why we survived the cyclone because we’re unstoppable! I’m 71 years of age living with my husband in Holonga and I also take care of my elderly maternal aunt ‘Ala Fataua who is 84 years of age and this is our story.” https://spark.adobe.com/page/YAwamD3zE5i4Y/
To date, there have been 7 stories shared of the resilience of Tongan women in their plight to care for their homes and loved ones during Cyclone Gita and adjusting their lives in the wake of the aftermath. The stories show real fear, helplessness at times, and facing uncertainty no matter how well prepared one can be. However, the common thread across all these stories is that in spite of it all, women are willing to rebuild their lives and homes. Despite often being labelled as the ‘vulnerable’ population during times of disaster, these stories give agency and voice for women to tell their own stories and lived experiences. Their accounts reflect the long-term impact of natural disasters and the tough road to recovery. The theme of Pasifika perseverance is unmissable in this series and one that will eventually be the stronghold force by which we can build back better. We are resilient.
Please like, comment and share the series made accessible on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/WomenOfTonga
The sparkadobe links to the stories are posted on its FB page where you can access the uploaded stories. Here is a quicklink to the first story by Malia Kado Suluka: https://spark.adobe.com/page/mel0hv6NwJINK/
You can also access the stories and updates on twitter by following @WomenofTonga