Seaweed House – what an idea!

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Our old house in Koronivia, made of corrugated iron.

Here’s a thought!  Amazing what you stumble upon – apparently seaweed houses have been a traditional method of construction on some island communities.  A modern take on it is on Dornob.  Click here for more information.  Pictures of the seaweed house at the bottom of this post.

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Typical house in Savusavu, Fiji

Informal settlement in Fiji. Muanivatu, Central Suva.
Source: http://www.informalism.net

So many ideas for building in Fiji where timber is expensive.  Funnily enough though, mahogany or mangrove wood is used for firewood here, and the sawdust from the mahogany is sold for $2 FJD per bag to use in chicken houses or on the garden.  Banana crates are made from mahogany, but most Fijian homes are made of either concrete or corrugated iron.  So many of the homes even in coastal villages are corrugated iron loosely cobbled together.  So many (between 100,000 and 300,000) people in Fiji live in informal settlements or shanty towns. http://www.informalism.net/2010/04/asian-coaltion-for-housing-rights-in.html

Seaweed is apparently fire resistant and insulating, and also readily available in Fiji.

Modern Seaweed House 2

Source: Dornob

Calling Fiji – Environment wake up call on the radio

Update: for all who missed it, here is the link to the radio interview of 19th July on 4BC Brisbane Radio.  mp3 https://alicevstokes.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/alice-tamani.mp3

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.

IMGP5651People 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.

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My husband and I in Brisbane

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.

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Roni getting his shoes shined in Suva

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.

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Roni on our honeymoon in Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji

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.

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Roni at the hot springs, Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji

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.

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Saris on the washing line, Savusavu

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.

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!