Water is Life: Story of the Kiribati Children Campaigners Network

Kiribati – There are 33 low-lying coral atolls of Kiribati that straddle the equator; have a total land area of 849 sq km and a population of about 110,000.  According to Pelenise Alofa, Coordinator of the Kiribati Climate Action Network; “Kiribati Is Water Land”.  The coral atolls are just some 3 meters above sea level except for Banaba which is a raised island.

Youth make up 30% of the population and their unemployment situation is worrying. Every year, too many young people leave school prematurely and are vulnerable to risks of being unemployed and socially marginalized. They are at risk of substance abuse, teenage pregnancies and exploitation. In the Pacific, youth unemployment rate stands at an alarming 23% according to the studies conducted by SPC in 2011 and young people are 6 times less likely to secure jobs relative to older workers as predicted by the ILO.

KCCN Youth participate in mangrove replantings throughout the year. Mangrove trees help reduce beach erosion.

KCCN Youth participate in mangrove replantings throughout the year. Mangrove trees help reduce beach erosion.

It is estimated that 54% of Kiribati youth want to work, are ready to work or are currently looking for work and are unable to secure a job. As a singing youth group of friends, some of whom were unemployed and disengaged, we felt that we could do more with our talents but there was no space. We were neither academics nor a technical group of youths. We simply had a heart for music and the amazing things voices can do through self-learning and without formal training to become well known home grown recording artists and singers. We were singing for local companies on promotion events, at motels and guesthouses – everywhere! This has changed! In 2014 we recorded our first Climate Change Song calling on World Leaders to take actions and not be threatened on Climate Change discussions. The following year we also recorded the SDGs song – Leave no one behind. Our voices have sent out important messages and have found true purpose.

The KCCN uses the love of music and art to help reduce poverty, increase young people’s competency, their contribution to society and the economy and combat the effects of climate change, Corruption, and educate the public on the importance of Education, caring for the Environment, Civic Education etc.

As young I-Kiribati we could see climate change undermining development and threatening livelihoods and security. From coastal erosion to destruction of seawalls and houses, increase in temperature, more frequent droughts, fish migration disturbance, brackish water in wells, dying fruit trees and plants, reduction in marine resources, increase in health related problems like diarrhea, coastal erosion, increase in fish poisoning and sea level rise.

At the time, a group of friends from Betio were challenged to do something to get a better go for young people. Thus, in 2013, from a well-established network with a love for music and art and a heart for youth development emerged the KCCN. 

Having identified the gaps for us young people, made us think differently of other issues in the country that no one was doing anything about. KCCN’s thematic areas expanded to Child Protection, Domestic Violence against Women and Children, Education, Climate Change, Health, Decent Youth Employment, Civic Education, Corruption against Youths, and promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals.

KCCN conducts workshops with students and community members on South Tarawa, the capital island of Kiribati

KCCN conducts workshops with students and community members on South Tarawa, the capital island of Kiribati

KCCN conducts workshops with students and community members on South Tarawa, the capital island of Kiribati

In dialogues and workshops young people come together to discuss current issues. Through media training, production of campaign clips and music, youth members engage with the media on key issues. They also collect information and analyze data on youth issues, take part in human rights training, civic education, community based entrepreneurship, youth employment counseling, and other life skill training.

We shared a common dream and a goal for talented and skillful artists and singers – to expose and make the power of our talents a campaign tool to address pressing issues faced by Children. From feeling bored, unneeded, unrewarded and a burden to the community young people who have joined up with the KCCN now have opportunities to become fulfilled and valued members of the community to stand up against social injustices, including Climate Change.

According to the United Nations, the most deadly environmental problems facing the nation are Climate Change and the rise of sea levels. Climate Change is a cross-cutting issue for us young people in Kiribati. It undermines our development. Because of the on-going Climate Change crisis, our water supplies have become contaminated with scientific predictions that possibly by 2100 our islands could become inhabitable. For us young people, we are fighting to remain our islands. We do not want to leave our home – the home of our fathers and ancestors that gives us our identity.

“Everyday our biggest challenge is access to safe clean water. Children are affected, women and the communities at large. Climate change crisis is rapidly destroyed our water lenses leaving it brackish and salty for us to drink.Today we are learning to live with less fresh clean water and you can fight Climate Change with us. Water is Life so let’s keep our waters clean and keep the coal in the ground, invest in renewable energy and heal this World and make it green for all the future generations starting today… No Water, No Life”, Teabo Kianteata, KCCN youth advocate aged 24 is calling on all developed countries to take actions.

The Founder and CEO of ForeverGreen Social Enterprise, Mr. Kato Yeeting, aged 23 says and I quote “There is so much to life and the youths need to stand up to fight for their future. We cannot just sit back anymore and relax while our future is being robbed”

Very close to Ami and Mikaela’s heart is the same message – Water is Life. “We use water for drinking, washing, cleaning, cooking and growing our food as well as many other things” – Ami Kataotao, 9 years of age.

“All living things would die if it weren’t for water. Water is our most precious resource” – Mikaela Kwong, 9

“Much of our water is also used outdoor for watering flower beds, vegetable gardens, as well as washing cars. Therefore, we must be careful not to pollute our water”, Ami Kataotao & Mikaela Kwong, both 9 years of age.

KCCN Youth Coalition on Climate Change in the Republic of Marshall Islands, 2014

KCCN Youth Coalition on Climate Change in the Republic of Marshall Islands, 2014

It is therefore our plea that you remember all the children and women around the world who have less access to safe cleaning water today as we celebrate the International Day of Youth around the world. For us in Kiribati we are learning to live with less fresh water, but it is never too late for you to help us by urging your Leaders to commit to the Paris Agreement and ensure that it divest and invest in renewable energy.

“Please think about conserving water whenever you can, for the benefit of everyone”, Mike Roman, Humans of Kiribati.

Rae Bainteiti, aged 26, is a Banaban from Kiribati and was raised and educated in Fiji. He has worked for the Local Government for 3 years and is the co-founder and President of the Kiribati Children Campaigners Network. He is currently in Auckland, New Zealand studying Social Work at Massey University.

Photos: Raimon Kataotao, Humans of Kiribati & the KCCN Archives

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