Is Paradise really a Possibility?

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Roni at Namoimada, a white beach near Rakiraki

My life in Fiji -I met my husband in Australia.  At the beginning of 2012 he returned to Fiji due to visa issues.  The day before he returned, my dad had an accident and landed in hospital for many months, so I stayed behind, working at a University in Queensland, and caring for him, traveling back and forth to Fiji over the year, traveling to SavuSavu on Vanua Levu (the second largest island), but basing ourselves in Suva.  In November 2012 we made the decision that I would move over to Fiji with our son so we packed what we could in suitcases and said goodbye to friends and family.  We landed in Fiji on 18th December 2012 and I have been here since.

Since I have been living here in Koronivia, my life has changed so much.  We live in a semi rural community on a long dirt road that runs along the Rewa River.  We live in a corrugated iron 2 bedroom house with no hot water, no fridge (although I did buy a freezer), no washing machine or dryer, a TV that only gets one channel, no stove or oven, (just a two burner camping stove), no bed, no furniture save a folding plastic table and three chairs, a bed for our son, no car, no high heels… you get the picture.

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We have time with family here, and friends, although I miss my family and friends from home so much.

We have lots of time to think and observe while traveling by bus.  We have a garden that grows almost everything we need – corn, bele (which is like spinach), pumpkin, rosella, dalo and more.  We have neighbours who know our names and consider us their valued friends.  I have internet – sometimes!  We have time to travel cheaply and in every place we go we seem to have relatives.

I have been to Levuka, Rakiraki, Suva, Nausori (our closest town), Korolevu, Beach Cocomo, Sigatoka, Nadi, Savusavu, Namoimada and seen every place in between.

Fiji is truly a paradise, but it is being drowned by rubbish.  No need for us to go and investigate the famed “garbage island” in the Pacific, it is right here!

To think is easy. To act is difficult.
To act as one thinks is the most difficult of all.
Goethe

Major corporations that are overseas owned are trading profitably here, but seemingly with little corporate responsibility for either community projects or packaging stewardship and recycling.  Is it because in other countries there are covenants such as the Australian Packaging Covenant and other regulations with respect to waste water, water efficiency, and corporate responsibility to adhere to, but those things are not developed here?  Is that what they mean when they call Fiji a Developing Nation?

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Mist on the mountains, Levuka town

Fiji, unlike what may be in the press and propaganda back home, is a peaceful and harmonious place to live, looking forward to a 2014 election, and hopefully democracy.  There is progress everywhere you look.  There are approximately 48% iTaukei (indigenous) Fijians, and 43% Indo-Fijians who have been here for many generations since they came on “Girmits” (agreements for indentured labour), with the rest “Other”.  “Other” includes Chinese, any other nationality, plus importantly, Fijians of mixed race.  This group are people who may have had a European great grandparent, but also who have lived here for generations.

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Our friends and neighbours, the Narayan family. We were honoured to be invited guests at the 21st and 18th birthday party.

Informal settlement. Source: http://www.usp.ac.fj/?id=10926

There are still many people living in informal settlements (which we would call shanty towns) of corrugated iron, tin, and wood, all held together with a hope and a prayer. Fiji is a nation of islands, with a surfeit of shipping containers.  Couldn’t we make safe and secure tropical homes from shipping containers?  Couldn’t we make mobile libraries and health centres from these resources?  The cost of buying a used shipping container here is approximately $5,000 FJD.  The cost of building a corrugated iron two bedroom house is approximately $25,000 FJD.

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Market Savusavu

We have fresh fruit and vegetable open air markets daily, but about 40% of women and children have anaemia.  There is an alarmingly high maternal and infant mortality rate. For some reason it seems to be a source of pride that Fiji was recently placed the 40th best place to be a mum out of 80 less developed countries in the Save the Children State of the World’s Mothers Index 2013.

Many Fijians live with boils, believing they come from a change in the weather.  Diabetes is a growing problem.

Paraquat (weed killer) is a popular suicide method.  Very few public toilets have toilet paper or soap for the fear that it might get stolen by the needy.  Suva City Library staff informed me that if you want to use the toilet, you have to go downstairs to the front counter and ask for toilet tissue, and that this, unbeknown to me, is a FACT, known by all others.

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Produce grown at home

Fijians all hope sincerely that tourists will return in droves after the election, but my fear is that intrepid travelers wanting to see “the real Fiji” will be saddened beyond belief when they see the refuse along every beach, waterway, road and path.  What will sadden them most is perhaps the feeling that they can do nothing, but they can!  Purchasing power is an immense tool.  If consumers when reaching home purchased only products from companies that traded ethically in developing nations, would that make a difference?

If instead of shaking their heads and returning to the hotel or resort after an excursion, each person picked up a bag of rubbish and took it back to the hotel for disposal, would that make a difference?  If before going out and about, each person asked the hotel staff for a bag and disposable gloves to do just that, would that make a difference?

If on a one week holiday, each person volunteered to replant coral on the reef for just one day, would that help?  If the resort organized the coral planting material which is available from the Department of Fisheries, would that help?  Should resorts also take a greater corporate and environmental responsibility and be proactive?

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Children walking to school, Savusavu

Couldn’t we recycle here, rather than baling up recyclables and sending to Hong Kong?  Couldn’t we create some “Spiral Islands” and use them as educational facilities?  Couldn’t we do something?  Is it possible to create a good news story from our situation?  With recyclables being worth $1 FJD per kilogram, and the cost of a year’s schooling for a child being $280 FJD, couldn’t we turn our problem into a solution?

Could we make recycling bins from recycled plastics? Could we have a total 100% recyclable solution?  Is it possible for Fiji to become a change agent and leader in the Pacific?

Which companies are going to stand up and do what is right, not because they have to, but just because it is right?

Please post your comments as you travel with me through Fiji, and perhaps, united, we can make a change!

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3 thoughts on “Is Paradise really a Possibility?

  1. Maybe you can organise a group clean up of your area on a regular basis. Our friends in Pacific Harbour, ( if you havent been there, it’s about 30 mins out of Suva ) did one last week of the beach & water way/mangrove areas, got people from all the different sections of the community involved.

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    • Thanks so much Jane! Yes, already on to it. Pac Harbour is a beautiful place also. I agree that at this point we do need to organise regular clean ups, but the reality is that we also need to actively work out what we are going to do long term with the plastics and cans (for starters). There is no cost for the bags. Coca Cola Amatil has the bags, and at this stage their only commitment to recycling is the following: 1. bags collected from Suva factory, 2. once the bags are full, they will arrange for collection, and pay 75 cents per kg for PET bottles and aluminium cans. I can send you the details of all of their products. They own Coke, Juicy, Pulpy, Sprint, Schweps, Bounty, Fiji Bitter, Vonu, Mother etc, and the list goes on. 3. If you somehow get the bags back to them, they pay $1 per kg. HOWEVER, I managed to convince them that if there is a delivery by them to your area (which there would be), they will arrange the drop off of the bags to a specific person, and then collect as needed in the weekly/monthly delivery cycle. They also in association with Fiji Water, take all Fiji Water bottles. I can send the full details by posting here, or by email.
      My aim is eventually to organise a better recycling solution, maybe using 100% recycled plastic bins as recycling bins. In the short term though, the aim is for every resort, village, school, church or interest business or community group to have access to the bags, and then Coke will pick them up. When they pick them up after the first time, they replace the bags. Best to get two bags at a time even if a small amount of beverage is consumed or washes up in your location, as it is better to keep one bag for plastics and one bag for cans. The reason is that they will take ALL ALUMINIUM CANS no matter the brand as they can be recycled infiinitely, but the bottles they sort by their brands plus Fiji Water and Sprint, and only pay you for the weight of those, but they tell me that they do responsibly dispose of the rest. Currently their retrieval rate is about 20%. My aim is to get this to over 70% within the next 12 months. It is also to create awareness amongst overseas guests as to the level of corporate responsibility that is needed by large companies trading profitably in Fiji, in the absence of compliance obligations. Not sure what washes up where you are, but if you check out the blog, you will see the pics of the recyclables that are drowning Suva and most of Viti Levu, Ovalau etc. It is EVERYWHERE!
      Long story short, no cost, just maybe a bit of creative thinking and networking as to how we get the bags over to you if you need. I am an Australian married to a Fijian. We live in Koronivia, near Nausori, and I am sure with a bit of networking, we can get it done. The bags are very light. They are like a feed bag, but very large (1,000kg). Best to have smaller recepticles maybe at the stores, sort, and then put in the bag which you keep out the back or something. They roll up small to about the size of a sleeping bag, so easy to transport. If you want to talk on the phone, let me know.

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