Strength from the fragments of Nuku alofa – Kara

Strength from the fragments of Nuku alofa

Words Kara Guloien

It’s a blisteringly hot day in Nuku’alofa – where wind whistles through palm leaves and dogs chase one another through city streets. On a field day to a nearby island, I, alongside several students, board a water taxi from the inner harbor. From there, we sail through shipwrecks and watch the level island of Tongatapu grow increasingly distant.

We step off the boat directly into the shallow waters encircling our destination. The new island is reminiscent of paradise – it remains void of people with coconut trees scattered throughout the forest, and reefs with brightly colored fish colour the coastline. While the others of the group begin to hike the perimeter of the island, Asena and I stop for a climate conversation at the dock while watching a rainbow of fish swim among seagrasses.

Name? “ ‘Sena”

How old are you? ”16”

What is your favorite thing to do? “Sunday Umu – and pretty much eat food at any time”

It is not easy to choose a topic of climate change to discuss with her. The island of Tonga has faced several natural disasters in the recent past. Its limestone foundation is flat and offers no protection against the threat of sea level rise. Biodiversity remains challenged from coral bleaching events. Plastics are abundant on shorelines and drinking water is too contaminated for consumption. Simultaneously, social infrastructure remains a major barrier for mitigation, resources for building resilient infrastructure are lacking and climate literacy remains low.

Asena’s major duties involve helping her family in the management of the island we are visiting. She says she, being the few young people living 24/7 on this island, is responsible for most of the cleaning and maintenance.

Where were you when the volcano erupted?

For many in Asena’s community, the ash was the most memorable part. She recalls how the sky went dark and how she, at the time, sensed the apocalypse was upon them. The ash fell thick and blanketed homes and cars and streets. “I was so scared. – I will never forget it” she recalls.

Where were you when the tsunami hit?

It’s not an easy question to ask. For many, it is as if this moment happened yesterday. Homes across the island are still being rebuilt. Some local populations have yet to return. Debris is still an ever-present reminder of the losses of the people. For Asena, she recalls clinging onto the top of a palm tree for hours as the water washed over her family’s home. “My family lost most of their belongings – my parents had no clothes for ages.” Restoration remains ongoing.

In many parts of the world, the threat of climate change looms in the future and is measured against a backdrop of years to come. Here, it can be measured up against your own leg as you move into the ocean for a morning swim.

Asena and her family remain strong and are still fighting to recover the quality of life lost in recent years all while the ocean noticeably creeps up the height of the shore. For a place identified as a major hotspot for climate change, resilience building remains a major setback. We call for support to the naturally rich and culturally significant, Pacific Island developing countries through the implementation of climate literacy programs, political regulation, and natural solutions to climate mitigation. Much is dependent on the delivery of commitments made at the multilateral level. We thank ‘Sena for sharing her story.

Malo ‘aupito