My name is Ulamila Kurai Wragg [Climate Activist] and I am from the Cook Islands.
When invited to speak about how climate change is impacting my island home at the United Nations General Assembly and Climate Week in New York in September, I did not know what to expect.
But I felt positive because I was going to be part of this great team of people working to ensure that a fair, ambitious and binding deal is locked and sealed in Copenhagen come December.
I met the media and (as a journalist) I got a taste of my own medicine. Plus, I was more careful with my second language, English, and did my best to captivate whatever audience I had.
But nothing prepared me for what I felt when I encountered three inspirational women – Sharon Hanshaw from Biloxi, Mississippi; Constance Okollet from Uganda; and Ursula Rakova from the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea. I came with an open mind and I absorbed as much as I could from them.
We were part of the ‘TckTckTck Campaign’ as climate witnesses. The diversity in our representation gave life to our agenda to get global leaders to act and they must act fast.
They have to sign that moral deal because as climate witnesses we are testifying that we are now living and regularly dealing with rising seas, hurricanes, eroding shorelines, vanishing islands, flash floods and much more in our daily lives.
Constance’s story of hunger, Ursula’s fear of her island now ‘a paradise no more’ and Sharon’s life of rebuilding after ‘Hurricane Katrina’ moved me to tears. I could feel their fears and aching hearts because I am a mother of four children living on an island with receding shorelines.
My mother told me stories that I cannot repeat to my children because there is nothing here to prove that there was a creek that meandered around some swamp where they would catch little fish and feed eels. All we see today are dry beds half eaten away by the waves.
I live on the beautiful Vaima’anga beach in the Cook Islands, my fears are now mounting as we enter into the cyclone season. Yesterday we put extra nails into some new roofing irons and are stashing away emergency boxes in case we have to vacate our house. We have learnt to always “prepare to expect the unexpected”. Proactive rather than reacting.
We are teaching our children what to do when cyclones hit us, we are also warning them to stay away from the shores when they see big waves crashing pounding the lawns.
After New York, I felt that there was still more work needed to drive home the issue that leaders have to work on a fair deal and seal ASAP.
I now see that there are many layers to this issue of climate change but I am proud to hold up my corner as a climate witness. But I am not seeing the leaders working on theirs.
I will moan about the leaders and their moral obligations but I refuse to be a victim of the situation. We are standing up to do our own bit making sure that we stay alive to see this through.
New York taught me that to be heard is to be seen.
Ulamila Kurai Wragg (Cook Islands). Ulamila is a veteran journalist who has worked for the past 20 years in Fiji and the Cook Islands, witnessing first-hand the diverse impacts of climate change in both island countries. She is the interim coordinator for the not-for-profit Pacific WAVE Media Network and heads its Climate Change team. WAVE (Women Advancing a Vision of Empowerment) is a network of Pacific women media practitioners focused on empowering Pacific women as leaders in and through media. Ulamila lives with her husband and four children on Vaimaanga beach in Rarotonga.
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