Island nations in the Pacific are at a critical risk from climate change, a risk that challenges the core of the international political system. Without intervention, these nations face the prospect of disappearing beneath the sea and relocating their communities, with their distinct national identity and culture, to another country. The potential failings of reintegration inspire fear for the region’s most prosperous countries, notably Australia. Reintegration is also a challenge for islanders moving between islands of their own country, as each island community possesses a proud local culture.
This is not a hypothetical future for the people of the Carteret Islands. The irreversible effects of climate change are an inescapable reality as they relocate to Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Bougainville itself commonly receives attention for all the wrong reasons. When Palms’ Kevin Wilson visited Bougainville, where he had formerly volunteered with Palms, in 2018, he noted that he experienced an air of hospitality and welcome that overshadowed the challenges.
Here, Kevin shares his insights on visiting Tulele Peisa, the organisation in Bougainville that is managing the relocation of the community from the Carteret Islands. The experience of Tulele Peisa exposes the flaws in assuming reintegration will fail, as the community has successfully found a place among the mainland town.
Despite Bougainville’s own problems, this hospitality extends to those who are probably the world’s first climate-change refugees. The community of the Carteret Islands to the north of Buka are relocating to Tinputz in northern Bougainville. On my visit it is evident the Carteret Islanders’ resettlement and integration has been very positive and productive. The young thriving gardens the community have established to be self-sufficient and generate income symbolise they are setting down roots.
Another key development is the establishment of St Dominic Savio School to educate the community’s youngest members and which has requested a volunteer Early Childhood Educator through Palms. Ursula Rakoya, a Carteret Islander and Executive Director of Tulele Peisa which has managed the relocation, hopes Palms can supply a volunteer teacher in early 2019 or sooner as the need is great.
Chris Runes, Head Teacher of St Dominic’s and the Carteret parents agree. The local teachers have good capacity but they and the students will benefit from additional mentoring provided by the volunteer. Having a Palms volunteer will encourage confidence in spoken and literate English, emphasising phonics, grammar and develop resources. As I have noticed elsewhere, there is a determination by families that the children’s education includes a strong English focus, as this is seen to provide better opportunity in future. The school is already expanding and a library is planned for increased learning materials.
The re-settled islanders are integrating very well into the established Tinputz community; A strong indicator of this is that children educated at St Dominic’s Preschool are then enrolled in Sacred Heart Primary at Tinputz. Fr Robert Torosi, of Tinputz parish is glowing in his praise of the two community’s integration and the social enrichment it has already brought. A timely lesson that welcoming others has benefits for all.
The placement of a volunteer in Tinputz will be one of the most sustainable projects involving Palms. Bougainvilleans have deepest wells of hope and motivation. While some of the community schools I once knew there have closed, those partners who were mentored are now building capacity in new grass-roots organisations. Students and teachers of Tinputz will continue to benefit from an exchange of skills with the volunteer, wherever the future takes them.
If you are a teacher looking for a rewarding experience working with Ursula and the team in Tinputz, contact Palms Australia