Thursday, November 13, 2014

PEOPLE PROFILE: Meet Gaualofa's Female Assistant Captain

Fealofani Bruun, Assistant Captain, Va'a Gaualofa

By Kevin Dayonga, Member of the Pacific Emerging Environment Leaders Network at the World Parks Congress.

She’s known as Fani to most of her friends, a young female voyager from Samoa. I met Fani when we were in Apia in October 2010, forming the Pacific Emerging Environmental Leaders’ Network (PEEL), an initiative of SPREP, which comprise of young professionals who have a shared vision for improved environmental management and sustainable development.

In 2012 I met with Fani in Honiara for the Festival of Pacific Arts other voyagers. She was among the many voyagers that sailed in to Honiara harbour to be part of the festival. I was privileged to get on board the Gaualofa, which is Samoa’s voyaging canoe.

Like any Pacific islander, Fani’s front or backyard is a beach and she always finds enjoyment in this particular spot any time of the day.

“As an Islander, it’s imbedded in my DNA, the smell of the ocean, the sounds of the birds, the flowers and vegetation that colour the beach front – this is paradise.”

She started sailing when she was 5 years old and grew up on a yacht. In 2009 she joined the Samoan Voyaging Society as one of the crew members. The Voyaging Society has the aim of promoting positive Samoan cultural values, respect for the ocean and nature, individual and social responsibility, discipline and integrity. This is what Fani aspires to do.

During our short chat she said, “The reintroduction of traditional sailing in Samoa will provide opportunities for youth development (sports, leadership), environmental awareness, cultural development and, potentially, tourism opportunities such as whale watching and adventure tours.

”Fani is keen to develop hands-on educational and training programmes in traditional sailing and navigation for young Samoan youth including school children, school leavers and other interested groups. The task of learning traditional sailing and navigation skills also develops leadership and discipline among the youth, leading to well-rounded young people capable of contributing positively to the growth of her beloved nation.

PEEL members with Voyagers

Voyaging has changed her as a person and within a few years she rose from a normal deckhand to one of the senior members of her vaka; not only that but being one of the captains in a male dominated field as perceived by many, she says, ”It’s a privilege and honour and very challenging. The lives of people are in your hands, you have to think about everyone else and not yourself. I’m very honoured to have such a great crew’’. 

The crew that she’s currently with is made up of Tongans, Samoans, Fijians, Cook Islanders and an American.

Coming to Sydney is part of her role as an environmental advocator. As an islander whose life revolves around the ocean and the little land she has.

“From my personal opinion, it is about inspiring the leaders to think for a moment and be proactive of what they are doing. The message that is brought is for them - I may not think like a scientist or talk eloquently like a politician but I and other members came with our hearts, we bring with us the voices of our people with the sails – with the backing of our ancestors. We are front liners, we will be affected first with sea level rise, ocean acidification is happening and we would like our voices be heard.”

But there are always challenges and it’s never easy.

“One of the challenging places is Australia especially when delivering climate change or environment related issues – maybe because of their mindset and how they see these issues differently. From where we are, it was not as challenging as when we were in the Californian coastline or in Mexico, but in Australia I was challenged by a yachty, who asked ‘you believe in climate change?’ and I was bit taken aback as they seem to think it’s a theory thing. I turned around and said I’m here. That’s why I came.”

With such a strong self-determination and will, she has moved mountains of waves to come to where she is now.

”My challenge to others is take ownership of what you have, be proud of it, look forward don’t look back, your ancestors will help guide you into the future. To young women, nothing is too the waves, you don’t go through the wave you go over the wave. To my crew that I came with especially Samoans, I trust that they will return with a different mindset and new approach and attitudes towards their environment’.

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