While Swedish 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg has been in the news of late, credited with raising global awareness of the risks posed by climate change, Pacific youth in New Zealand are starting to voice their concerns on the issue, which is drastically affecting their homelands.
Ensuring her voice is heard and her message is understood, is another 16-year-old, South Auckland youth leader and climate change activist Aigagalefili Fepulea’i-Tupa’i.
The Year 12 student at Aorere College recently won the 2019 New Zealand Story-Tellers Competition, with her emotive speech Waiting for Water.
Aigagalefili, of Samoan descent says she has become more and more interested in climate change and the effects it is having, and will have, on her generation as well as those who come after her.
“The New Zealand Story-Tellers Competition was a great space to speak and draw attention to the issue, and the inequalities in the places climate change is hitting hard,” Aigagalefili says.
Having also taken part in various climate change forums, Aigagalefili says she is often the only Pacific person attending them.
“This is shocking, as climate change is affecting us…we should not be letting other people tell our story.
“It is time for us to take this back, learn our history, and believe in our own voices and in those of our peers.”
A global day of action against climate change took place in March, with the School Strike 4 Climate staged at the same time.
“The strike was held as the same day as ASB Polyfest, and there was a feeling brown people were not included,” Aigagalefili explains.
As a result, 4TK – an indigenous South Auckland high school environmental group - was founded at the second climate strike, in May, by Aigagalefili and 19 other students.
“Currently, our group is working towards more School Strikes 4 Climate and getting more Pacific people involved, and presenting at various events so people can hear our personal stories, and we can encourage them to see through a cultural lens.
“So often, these stories are looked at through a science or political lens – but Pacific people find it challenging to separate their heart from their head.”
While Pacific people in the region are being directly affected by climate change, with their homes being swallowed by rising warm waters, New Zealand faces its own set of problems, Aigagalefili says.
“With gentrification there is an issue of displacement, we have a housing crisis, and we are being pushed out of our homes and like Pacific people in the region, we are questioning where we will go,” she says.
For Aigagalefili, her work in this space is just beginning.
Her passion to create a better world for future generations is contagious, and she will not stop until achieving her goals, she says.
“I owe it to everyone and the village who raised me.
“A lot of hands have worked hard to get me to where I am, and I have the moral obligation to speak and to spark the voice of others.”
Aigagalefili is just one of the growing number of resilient and confident youths throughout Aotearoa, who are leading by example, for the betterment of Pacific peoples.