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Sixteen young leaders from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia have started two weeks of training in the South Pacific island of Tonga to help their communities adapt to climate change. The course will aim to improve their resilience in the face of the disasters, such as cyclones and flooding, that climate change brings.
The intensive training flows from a youth exchange gathering last December – which focused on ‘Climate Action’ – and on the 2016 General Synod, which passed a resolution calling on the Anglican Missions Board to develop “a clear resilience strategy that would strengthen (the church’s) response to any future natural disaster.” That resolution also called for the development of a “cadre of Church Community trainers who are then tasked in training the youth groups of the parishes in disaster preparedness.”
The resolutions passed by the General Synod followed in the wake of the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam to Vanuatu in March 2015, and by Cyclone Winston to Fiji and Tonga in February 2016. The representation in Tonga is weighted towards training young Pacific Island Anglican leaders – ten from the Archdeaconry of Tonga will be attending, plus three from Fiji, two from Samoa and one from Aotearoa New Zealand.
Fei Tevi was one of the key drivers of the 2016 General Synod motion – and he’s also had a big hand in choosing All Saints church, Fasi, in Nuku’alofa, as the venue for the training. He did so, he says, because two of the congregation at All Saints Fasi – Mr Tevita Fakaosi and Mr Sione Sunia – are specialists in geographic information systems, or GIS. GIS are cutting edge satellite-driven mapping tools employed to manage land which is susceptible to hazards and natural disasters.
The idea is that the young leaders will pick up the basic skills of ‘reading’ a landscape – which they, in turn, will be able to relay back to their parishes and communities, so they can take measures to minimise their exposure to climate disaster, and improve their resilience. The young people will also be trained in the use of a tool kit developed by the University of the South Pacific, which has been specifically developed to assess Pacific Island communities’ vulnerability to climate change, and climate disaster.
Isaac Beach, who is based in Gisborne, is one of those making the journey to Tonga. He sees the training as “environmental discipleship:.” “We are going to learn and train under experts in Tonga – and it’s our job to return and release that matauranga, or understanding, back into our communities,” he said. “It’s about upskilling a focused few, who can then go back to their communities and then up skill another focused few – who can in turn go and do that again.”
The 2016 General Synod resolution also called for the development of a “Diocesan Rapid Response Plan” for the Diocese of Polynesia – and the young people’s training in Tonga will feed into a regional consultation on disaster preparedness that will be held at ‘MAST’, the new diocesan training centre in Suva, in August.
The AMB is linking up with a couple of Australian church-based development experts to develop a programme to train priests in the Diocese of Polynesia in disaster preparedness at that consultation.