It’s 5:30am in Vunisavisavi, a small village on the coast of Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second biggest island. The sun is starting to rise, birds are beginning to chirp, and Catalina, 11 years old, is awake. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, she’s up with a spring and heads to the bathroom to brush her teeth.
“Every morning, I wake up early, have my bath, put my uniform on and have breakfast. After breakfast, I walk up to the school bus stop and I wait for the [school] truck to come at 7:00am.”
The sight of the sea greets Catalina as she walks out her front door every day. Unlike other coastal villages across Fiji, Catalina’s village has been hit hard by the impacts of climate change.
Unpredictability of the ocean
Sea water levels have risen rapidly in the last ten years, something only her parents and older siblings would’ve particularly recognised.
The youngest of three, Catalina is often home alone with her mother. Her sister attends boarding school in a nearby town, and her brother is away with her father, a farmer, who has travelled to neighbouring island Viti Levu to work in sugarcane farms. The soil in their village has become too acidic for farming, due to rising sea levels.
“My father is a farmer, my mother stays at home doing mothers work, and I always go to school every morning. What I love most about my family is we talk about what’s happening – our timetable, family budget, family problems – and what will happen the next day. I laugh the hardest when my father makes funny stories and does things that make me laugh. They [Catalina’s parents] always want us to be happy.”
Catalina’s parents are in their fifties, and despite having to spend significant time apart, they do their best to create a tight knit family unit. One of the brightest students in her class, Catalina’s mother smiles with quiet pride as she flicks through a folder of Catalina’s tests, showing average scores of 70% and above. An ambitious student, Catalina says that aside from school, her favourite time of the day is when she’s able to go fishing with her mother when returning home from school.
“After school, I sometimes go fishing with my mother for dinner. I like swimming with the fish because they make me laugh and happy. I noticed the fish and turtles have declined. We just catch enough fish for us, and we leave some to grow. I love to see fish swimming around me. But during high tide we see some dangerous things. When the weather changes, then we see that the sea is scary.”
Scares of the sudden change in weather
In the indigenous Fijian itaukei language, there is no word for climate change. Most people, including Catalina, refer to climate change as “visau ni draki”, directly translated to “a change in weather”. Unfortunately, Catalina knows all too well how devastating and how frequent a sudden change in weather can be.
The impacts of climate change – the sudden storm surges, and devastating natural disasters like Tropical Cyclone Winston – are becoming more common, and more worrying, especially for someone like Catalina, one of the youngest members of her community.
“If you see the sea and there is bad weather, like when it rains the seawater pours out into the village, a lot of scary things happen. Questions come up in my mind, like what kind of accidents can happen?
When the weather is really bad, the seawater can reach my house [50 meters inland]. If the weather changes all of a sudden it can reach up to here [knee height] and past this house. I’m scared and worried because I don’t know what to do if this house is destroyed. I don’t know where we will go.”
Dreaming of a solution
Despite the devastating effects of climate change, Catalina has bright hopes for the future of her community. A forward thinker, she dreams of building a sea wall, something she believes will protect them from increasingly high tides, and sudden storm surges.
“I always think that when I’m older, I want to construct a sea wall for the village, to protect the future generation of Vunisavisavi, and also to make the people happy.
The sea wall will change the look of the village and make it look better. But right now I’m thinking, when younger ones are older they will follow my footsteps by building a seawall. Then [when it’s completed] we will have a big thanks giving celebration. The seawall will stop the waves from entering the village. It will give peace and assurance to people and they will no longer worry about the waves.”
*Name changed for child protection reasons.
Our Home, Our People is a storytelling project produced by the Fijian Government, in partnership with the World Bank, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and the ACP-EU Natural Disaster Risk Reduction Program.
Encompassing a 360° virtual reality video and this site, Our Home, Our People explores climate change vulnerability and resilience in Fiji through the stories of our people. Combined with findings of the Climate Vulnerability Assessment 2017, the memories, hopes, fears of Asmita, Rai, Rupeni and Catalina show us how rising sea levels and extreme weather impact Fijian people today, and what support is required in the future. Photography and photo captions by Alana Holmberg, words and storytelling by Arieta Tora Rika.