Going ashore with Doina (Jimmy Cornell’s daughter) is interesting. She has contacts here. As a child she was here in 1978 when the country became independent. The Cornells made a lasting connection with a local family. And Michael on Drina has connections as well from sailing here decades ago. These connections led to a referral to the Finance Minister. Bob and I followed Doina and her son Dan to the Finance Minister’s office, and watched and smiled and nodded and shook hands as Doina explained about Jimmy and the BPO and we are on visiting yachts sailing around the world and we want to call attention in our little ways to the plight of Tuvalu… “The Prime Minister is very focused on climate change,” he said. “Have you met with him?”
“No,” says Doina, “Could you arrange for us to do that?” Wow, she’s good at this! We come away with a tentative meeting, to be confirmed the next day.
When Bob and I take Doina ashore the next morning, we are met at the dinghy dock by a messenger. “The Prime Minister would like you to attend the workshop today.” No, the messenger doesn’t know anything about the workshop, only that he was to invite the people on the yachts.
With no idea what to expect, we go to the same pavilion where families were watching loved ones board the airplane yesterday. It is now filled with chairs. The chairs (with lettering on the back saying they were supplied by the Mormon Church) seem to be absurdly far apart…until you factor in the size of many Tuvaluans… We are told that the PM is going to sign the accord for the United Nations Conference Against Corruption.
We got to listen to speeches in Tuvaluan, peppered with English terms like “public sector” and “bribe” and “leadership and management” and “contextualize.” The PM’s speech was largely understandable from the English phrases, and I found it very interesting. The gist of it was this:
The spirit of the United Nations Conference Against Corruption is “Do the right thing. And do things the right way.” Tuvalu is doing the right thing, in the right way, and we are happy to sign the accord. However, we must also call attention to the problems facing Tuvalu. Tropical cyclones are our biggest threat. We have “development partners” who offer to help us. But these agencies are not democratized. They are controlled by powerful governments and commercial interests. The World Bank must be reformed. The Agency for International Development must be reformed. The development partners think of their efforts as charity. It is not charity for Tuvalu; it is a survival fund.
I found this rather inspiring. Here is a man willing to stand up for what he believes is right, and ask the world to stand with him.
There was a break for tea, which turned out to be a feast of interesting food, and weak hot chocolate. The Finance Minister joined us and said he would ask the PM over. And so we got to chat with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu. He asked about Jimmy, and he appreciated our concern for Tuvalu. He hoped we would help raise awareness of his country’s situation. He said his motto these days is, “Save Tuvalu, save the world.” He lamented that although there are funds pledged to help places affected by climate change, the “bureaucracy and paperwork is higher than sea level rise.”
I offered that raising awareness is the main thing we can do, and maybe we should make T-shirts with his “Save Tuvalu, save the world” motto. He liked that idea, though he quipped that the industrialized countries have scheduled the upcoming Paris climate change conference when it will be too cold for T-shirts…and when global warming will not be present in people’s experience.
I found the entire event fascinating…and it leaves me face to face with a familiar personal dilemma. One the one hand, I like this place, and I like the people I have met, and I like what I have seen of their culture. If/when sea levels rise, and cyclones hit, this country is going to be destroyed — the people will become “climate change refugees,” and their culture will almost certainly be lost along with their homes. I would be proud to take a stand with Enele Sopoanga, PM of Tuvalu, demanding that all the countries of the world “do the right thing” in limiting climate change, and minimizing the effects.
On the other hand, change happens. Forces are already in play that will impact Tuvalu and the world climate. I believe that mankind is generating some of these forces, and I believe there are “natural” (non-human) variations also at play. Is the “right thing” to try to preserve Tuvalu? Or is it to help the Tuvaluans adapt to the coming changes?
Either way, here I am trying to raise awareness. Now you know a bit about nine South Pacific atolls and reefs called Tuvalu. I would be delighted to read your comments — what you think is “the right thing” about Tuvalu, about climate change, about related policies of industrialized and developing countries, about renewable energy sources, and about what actions an individual can/should take. Or, like me, what questions you have that leave you uncertain about what to think and what to do.