I have plans, grand plans! I am doing a slow reveal of the wonderful things happening here in Fiji and abroad in the movement to restore Fiji to a pristine paradise, as while I am working, the support from others is taking shape, and ideas are being added and refined in this new grouping.
People from island communities in Fiji have started to contact me regarding organising recycling on the islands. I was contacted for local insights by a BBC TV producer, and tomorrow I have the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed on Australian Radio 4BC Brisbane by Catherine McGeorge. Catherine spent time yachting around the Pacific, and witnessed some of the pollution and changes to this wonderful place that I am now seeing. The live feed is available at http://www.4bc.com.au/afternoons the Moyd and Loretta Show. The interview is scheduled for 2.05pm Brisbane time, and 4.05pm Fiji Time.
Background: Since I came to Fiji for the first time in February last year, I was struck by how little it resembles the travel brochures, and the ads on TV. In fact, it is nothing like that. The resorts are an anomaly, a little microcosm of their own, cloistered away, and often on islands of their own, or walled completely. On the island of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, which has the international airport at Nadi, and the present day capital, Suva, the resorts are enclosed by high walls and lush gardens, and just outside, or across the road is the “village”. The village is often no longer the quaint romantic picture postcard we have in our minds while sipping Fiji Water, or trawling through the internet looking for the best flight deals.
Very few Fijian villages still have the traditional bures (huts with thatched roofs). The bures have been replaced by concrete block or corrugated iron houses, with corrugated iron roofs. Perhaps they are judged more cyclone proof. Perhaps a lot of the old skills are dying out. Perhaps, as one Fijian man suggested to me, the missionary culture that helped to shape the modern Fiji imposed the idea that God’s house is made of concrete with an iron roof – to be closer to God, the idea that one’s own home should be modelled on the European style “church” building took hold.
Perhaps it is just a sign of modernization or becoming “developed” as Fiji identifies itself as a Developing Nation and one of the SIDS (Small Island Developing States).
Another by-product of “developing” is apparent in the enormous amount of plastic and other rubbish, including recyclables that are thrown anyhow, anywhere, everywhere. I started thinking about the cause. At first I was angry, and then disappointed, then disbelief set in, then denial, sadness, anger again, and so on. It occurred to me that my emotions resembled the famed “7 stages of grief” and I realised that most of all it saddened me.
I am married to a Fijian national, and love my life here, with all its ups and downs. Life is physical, I feel younger, and even though I miss my friends from home, I have come to think of Fiji as Home now. Home is where the heart is I guess.
I started to think of a solution. It is mind boggling as the problem is endemic, and systemic. The system just can’t cope with the amount of rubbish there is (44 million PET bottles in Fiji in the year 2003 – the mind boggles!), and there is no plan. There are initiatives such as the 3R’s (reduce, reuse, recyle), but no community education or strategy to actually implement any of the initiatives.
So, first I just started cleaning up my own street. I went out in the afternoons, rain, pouring rain, torrential rain or blistering heat (the only weather there seems to be) and started picking up rubbish out of the 2 feet wide, 2 feet deep open drains that run on both sides of the street. These drains take all waste water from the homes, except for sewage which goes into septic tanks. All of the drains were full of plastic bottles, broken thongs (flip-flops) and coconuts. Regularly I would pick up so much rubbish in 50kg bags that I couldn’t drag it home, and had to get a taxi home with it. Once I got it home, there was nothing to do with it. That is why most Fijians either throw it in the drain, or burn it, or bury it.
I started to become a bit of an oddity in the neighbourhood. Then I organised a clean up day on the street – 300 volunteers collected 10 tonnes of rubbish on a 5km stretch of dirt road!
I also started a blog for the sake of my friends and family as I can’t often send photos by email. The blog started to get a readership of like minded folks from most places in the world. I started a facebook page www.facebook.com/cleanupfijiprotectingparadise at the suggestion of a reader, then a twitter account @cleanupfiji.
You have borne witness to my private thoughts, blasted out over the internet, and if you want, you can also hear my views on radio tomorrow. I would love your support. Fiji has a way of life and an abundance of natural beauty and resources that can’t be matched. If we all do the little bit that we can, we can achieve great things I am sure! Someone once said, “Boldness has a genius to it.” Another person said, “If I can so something and I do nothing, I have failed”. Personally, I know that what I am doing may amount to not much, but if I do nothing, I will certainly die with regret. If I do what I can do, I have the opportunity to make a difference in developing island nation that I now call “Home”. If you do whatever you can do to help, you also have that opportunity, no matter where you are.
It could be volunteering to do a few days’ repainting a village school, or a day replanting coral or mangroves, or just picking up some garbage around the hotel or on the resort beach while you are here. It could be helping to fund what we need to do, or helping with research and contacts at your home location for where Fiji can send their recyclables for the highest price. Now, we need a way to fund this project. Even sending clothes and unwanted things from home with the next visitor can help. These items can be either donated to those in need, or sold to raise funds.
I look forward to working with you all, and to your input and ideas. Thank you for your support so far, and thank you in advance for what you are going to do.