Beauty, sharks, oceans and plastic bottles

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Plastics are a threat to marine life as well as the livelihoods of communities who depend on the ocean. Hence it is somewhat fitting that a project to protect sharks in the Beqa waters off of Viti Levu in Fiji also contributes innovatively to addressing plastic pollution while empowering communities to become more economically self-reliant.

The My Fiji Shark project implemented by SPTO and UNDP in Galoa to protect oceans and sharks by addressing the issue through a more holistic approach working with the women of Galoa.  The activity aimed to empower women by teaching them new skills to bring out their creativity and natural talent for income generating ventures and improve waste management in their community. The initiative has allowed the women of Galoa to set up their own cooperative and given them an avenue to pursue financial security for themselves and their families whilst also encouraging a more sustainable lifestyle.

The essence of the project was captured beautifully by one of the participants who wrote the following, “My name is Mereadani Pei, I am 37 years old, married with four beautiful children, I am from Galoa village in the Province of Serua. I felt compelled to put my career and studies on hold for four years now because I need to be home full time looking after my children. I did this because I did not want to miss out a lot in their lives and I want to be beside them, moulding and encouraging them every step of the way.

My husband is the only one working and gets weekly wages which I budget and manage it wisely so everyone is happy. But at times it can be quite a struggle because the cost of living is so high, including some village activities which of course needs money to cater for everything. And as a woman and mother I have to face reality, to actually choose which one comes first especially when it comes to money.

I always contribute my strength and wisdom to my village. I am an active member of a social committee that works very closely with the Ministry of Health to ensure that the village is a healthy place to live in.

One pleasant day, a free 25 minute bus ride from my village to the Coral Coast Christian Camp changed my life and the lives of the women from my village. I believe the South Pacific Tourism Organisation and United Nations Development Program made the right move in bringing this workshop to the community. A community like ours that uses a lot of plastic and have very little knowledge of its effect on the environment and our livelihood.

The two day workshop opened a door of opportunities for us, the trainer showed us new skills and helped us understand how plastics are affecting out environment. The skill of making artefacts from waste plastic enables me to be self-employed by earning money from making plastic crafts.

The workshop has helped us discover our potential talents, the atmosphere enabled us to come out of our shells and explore multiple ways to create masterpieces. The trainer provided us with the tools and we were confident to create what we once imagined.

As the saying goes ‘Beauty is in the eyes of the Beholder’ and this is true for this workshop, in order to maintain and save our environment we can turn the very things damaging it – plastics into useful things.

It also made me realise the way our forefathers used to live was far better than how we are living today. We are using too much plastic for cooking when we can replace it with leaves and less people get sick. I will relay the message to all the people in my village. This is another way of saving money.

I would like to thank the staff of South Pacific Tourism Organisation and UNDP for making it possible for us to acquire the skills without any charges. Vinaka Vakalevu from the women of Galoa village.”

Initiatives such as the My Fiji Shark project not only benefit the environment and educate communities, they also improve their lives by providing them with new skills and income generating opportunities. SPTO firmly believes that through innovative partnerships and sustainable tourism developments, the pacific region will be empowered to become economically stable and live in harmony with the environment.