By Dylan Kava, Eparama Qerewaqa, Lavetanalagi Seru and Davila Talemaimaleya
In the Pacific, we are connected to the vanua (land) and the moana (sea), marked by deep traditional and cultural practices that grounds us as stewards and custodians of our natural life giving and life sustaining ecosystems. It is where our ancestors have lived, farmed, fished, interacted, and built a closer and deeper spiritual relationship with nature for countless generations.
Today, we live in a country that is at the front lines of the climate crisis, an issue that has had an impact in every fabric of our social, ecological, economic, political and cultural way of life. Today, we also see a growing wave of young people who in pursuit of building a just, safe, equitable and sustainable future for all are moved to understand the science and the underlying causes of climate change, and are channelling their skills and knowledge to mobilise communities, inspire action and influence decision makers to bring about transformative change.
One of the unique and powerful tools for advocacy for us as Pacific Islanders is our ability to tell a story, that draws from the centuries-old tradition of storytelling (oral tradition). In our work, we create safe spaces to talanoa, which is to hold conversations, and share our experiences highlighting the impacts of climate crisis and linking it to the science. Storytelling is important to convey to the outside world, especially to the Western industrialised countries that the impact of the climate crisis that they hear in numbers and statistics translates to lives, livelihoods, and people’s cultures and traditions that have evolved over thousands of years.
The Alliance for Future Generations (AFG) helps articulate technical information, scientific data and government responses in a way that communities could easily grasp and use to inform community actions. The view of our network is that solutions for climate justice should come from communities who are impacted, and not only from our leaders – that all voices in communities are heard. A priority right now is to establish a seat in community decision-making spaces, including at sub-national and national level for young people to contribute to the formulation of climate change policies and plans.
The AFG was formed in March 2018 by a small group of like-minded friends who shared a common interest in building a better future for Fijian youth. The network was founded to address key issues confronting youth using a holistic, inclusive, intergenerational and intersectional approach. There were many youth groups at the time who were working in silos on issues of gender and human rights, transparency and accountability, mental health, environment and climate change, peace and security. In our work we integrate these issues, so as we are talking about mental health, we are also talking about the impact of climate-induced disasters like tropical cyclones and flooding and how these have had an impact on mental health.
We now have around 610 members, all of who are young people from diverse backgrounds (ethnic, race, gender, sex, social background, faith, political affiliation etc). One of the key things that we have done is to create a space that is inclusive of all youth, including youth with disability, youth formerly incarcerated, youth of diverse gender identities, sexual orientation, and sex characteristics, single parents, and other marginalised and vulnerable youth population.
As a result of the growth of our work, we are now working on strengthening our institutional and governance structures and systems, to enable us to operate autonomously as a youth-led, youth-centric organisation. This also sends a message of what young people are capable of, to implement actions and projects, plan long-term impact programmes and contribute to nation building and resilience building.
AFG hosts four thematic working groups, which include i) Gender and human rights, ii) Climate justice, iii) Health and iv) Oceans. Consensus building is one the key processes through which the Working Groups convene, clarify responsibilities, deliberate, decide, and implement activities and formulate key policy demands and priorities. Through these inclusive and consultative approaches, the groups have been able to lead transformative actions in communities, as well as influencing policy development processes and outcomes. In the process, members are learning from each other, developing, and strengthening their capacities, leadership skills and expanding their professional networks.
We have also organised community actions, such as mangrove plantings, coastal clean-up activities, food security projects and workshops and trainings. We co-design our projects, co-lead them with communities and in the process, it has enhanced transfer of skills and knowledge including in areas of project management, communications, advocacy and campaigns. Our work includes modifying training tools to best suit the local context, meaningfully engaging the communities and which would also build a sense of ownership.
A highlight of our work over the last four years, includes the Youth Climate Ambassadors Program which aims to build capacity of our members, with the support from experts in fields of climate finance, adaptation, gender, oceans, and other key themes. Through this, we hope that we can increase the engagement of young people in the climate policy space.
One of the key things that we have done is to create a space that is inclusive of all youth, including youth with disability, youth formerly incarcerated, youth of diverse gender identities, sexual orientation, and sex characteristics, single parents, and other marginalised and vulnerable youth population.
In Fiji, as in most Pacific cultures, “young people are seen and not heard”, and it is considered disrespectful when they offer opinions that is perceived or seen to go against their elders, and this has been a barrier. We observe this a lot, especially when we are out into the communities. Another observation is the imbalance where the number of men usually outnumber women in community spaces, and men would often be seated towards the front, whilst women and young women would be seated towards the back of the room. In our work at AFG, we weave gender equality and social inclusion in our trainings and dialogues, so that communities, especially young people (as future leaders) would recognise the benefits of equally engaging women and young women, as well as those people with disabilities, LGBTQI and other marginalised community groups.
One of the challenges we face as a youth organisation and as a Pacific organisation is the tokenistic approach from some of the key actors and stakeholders. For instance, we receive invitations to events or panels, but really, we are being invited to be there just to tick the box. At AFG we’ve continuously pushed for involvement of young people from project inception to implementation, to monitoring and evaluation. That’s really important. You can’t bring us in at the eleventh hour to get that stamp of approval from us. This is a global problem, but it’s starting to change – we are being assertive with who, how and why we are engaging with our partners and other key stakeholders. It is also important to learn that it’s okay to say no.
The geographic remoteness and spread of the Pacific also make collaborating with our regional neighbours a challenge, because of the diversity of languages, connectivity and the costs of travel.
The energy and passion of young people interested in doing something for the greater good is contagious. Our mission is to create a space to direct that energy towards a common goal. In the end we are all working towards the same goal: a better future for everybody.
While we fight for our future, for social justice, economic justice and ecological justice, it’s also important to protect our own health. Even though the movement work is urgent, we can’t afford to burn ourselves out. It needs to be a sustained effort, which means being aware of personal care and health, physically and mentally. It’s important to find kindred spirits. Whoever you surround yourself with, the energy rubs off on you, and generally the Pacific people tend to give off amazing energy.
Looking back at our little victories, and how those victories have impacted the work that we’re trying to achieve, really helps. It is important to be reflective and to constantly learn from each other. We cannot do all things at once, so it’s important to take a step back, allow others to come in and take the work forward without being territorial.
To help us, the small things count. Focus on your own community, lobby your own government. We’re doing as much as we can, and everyone is welcome to get in touch with us. We welcome all forms of support, partnership, technical assistance, and even financial support for our programs and activities.
To those residing outside the Pacific, our message is to look at your own circle of influence and where you have the power to act. Support the work that organisations like ours are doing in your country, particularly Indigenous organisations and people of diverse identities.
This blog is part of the Action Today for Tomorrow Series within SEI’s environmental justice research. The blog series highlights the work of activists at the vanguard of climate justice in 2022, with a focus on the grassroots and national environmental justice perspectives of those working to create climate solutions around the world. It is curated by Research Assistants on the Creating Just Food and Energy Policy project, Hannah Della Bosca (SEI) and Oli Moraes (RMIT)
The Alliance for Future Generations (Fiji) is a network of young leaders from diverse socio-economic backgrounds from across Fiji, united in vision and driven by our passion to build a sustainable future.
Founded in March of 2018, AFG has become one of Fiji’s largest collectives of young leaders working towards a fairer, equitable and more sustainable future for all. AFG recognises the interconnectedness of the issues that young Fijians face, and takes a coordinated, intersectional and human rights-based approach to identify and address the root causes of social, economic and ecological challenges.
Header image: floating mangrove forest on the sea, Fiji via Shutterstock, ID: 1457954315.