Banabans of Rabi short climate change documentary chosen for Nuku’alofa

The trailer for Hele Ikimotu and Blessen Tom’s short Bearing Witness documentary. Video: Banabans of Rabi

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

A short documentary, Banabans of Rabi – A Story of Survival, by Hele Ikimotu and Blessen Tom of Auckland University of Technology’s Pacific Media Centre, has been selected for the 2018 Nuku’alofa Film Festival in Tonga next month.

This is a film produced out of the three-year-old Bearing Witness climate change project, a research and publication collaboration between the PMC and its documentary partner Te Ara Motuhenga, and the Pacific Centre for Environment-Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD) and the Regional Journalism Programme at the University of the South Pacific.

Banabans of Rabi: A story of Survival.

According to the filmmakers: “During the Second World War, the inhabitants of the island of Banaba were forcibly displaced to Rabi Island in Fiji due to phosphate mining by the British Phosphate Commission.

“The island of Banaba was decimated and the Banabans had to start afresh in Rabi. The documentary follows the people in Rabi and sheds light into the problems that they face now, especially with climate change.”

Film maker Blessen Tom said on the documentary’s Facebook page: “It’s an amazing news for all of us. The festival will be the first time the full documentary is screened in public.


“Super excited for the Pacific screening. If you’re in Tonga on November 22-23, be sure to visit us.”

Documentary maker and senior lecturer Jim Marbrook said: “This is great and it’s a very cool first step,” adding that plans should be made for other film festival entries.

Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie said: “This is a tremendous achievement for starters and a reward for the really hard work that Blessen and Hele have put into making this quality and inspirational doco.”

The 2018 Nuku’alofa Film Festival.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Pacific storytelling with a focus on the ignored and ‘untold’ issues

A video made by an AUT screen production graduate, Sasya Wreksono, marking the 10th anniversary of the Pacific Media Centre. Video: PMC

PROFILE: By Craig Major of AUT News

​Based at Auckland University of Technology, the Pacific Media Centre is a small team dedicated to telling stories from across the Pacific that you won’t read anywhere else.

Established in 2007 by Professor David Robie in AUT’s School of Communication Studies, the centre focuses on postgraduate research projects and publications that impact on indigenous communities across the Pacific.

“We’re a small team, but the scope of what we cover is phenomenal,” Dr Robie explains. “As researchers and reporters, we look at the repercussions that big issues like climate change, human rights violations and press freedom have on these small communities in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The team are active publishers, managing several platforms including the Pacific Media Watch and Asia Pacific Report news websites, the half-yearly academic research journal Pacific Journalism Review and its companion Pacific Journalism Monographs, the blog Niusblog and Toktok, a quarterly newsletter.

The centre has also secured a media partnership with Radio New Zealand – the first content-sharing arrangement between a New Zealand university and a news organisation – and hosts the weekly Southern Cross radio programme on 95bFM.

Some of the Pacific Media Centre team: Sri Krishnamurthi (from left), Blessen Tom, Leilani Sitagata, Associate Professor Camille Nakhid, Professor David Robie and Del Abcede. Image: Craig Major/AUT


Dr Robie, along with Advisory Board chair Associate Professor Camille Nakhid, sees the centre as having a strong advocacy role across the Pacific and further afield.

“I think it is a real strength of the PMC that the team can find issues in the Pacific that just aren’t covered in the mainstream New Zealand media, then explore them and report on them with authority and conviction,” Dr Robie says.

Beyond a travel brochure
“The team is skilled in identifying issues that are beyond the scope of what the public sees in a travel brochure.”

Dr Nakhid echoes this sentiment. “New Zealand’s media can be very insular when reporting on what is happening in the Pacific – even though there is so much happening right outside our doorstep.”

Internally the team takes a cross-discipline approach, working closely with students and staff in the School of Communication Studies (particularly Te Ara Motuhenga, the documentary collective) and the School of Social Sciences.

The centre also has international partnerships, such as with the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, and maintains close ties to Pacific communities based in New Zealand – and are sure to collaborate with community groups for events and seminars.

“Pacific Media Centre organised a seminar about the refugee situation in Myanmar recently,” recalls publications designer Del Abcede. “Through talking to the Burmese citizens that we had invited, we discovered a range of issues that only came to light in the mainstream after the Myanmar election.”

PMC reporting staff – mostly postgraduate students – are encouraged to uncover and explore the issues that interest them.

“Working with the PMC has been very illuminating,” says Sri Krishnamurthi, a postgraduate student who has covered Fiji-based news for PMC, and has interviewed two of the three party heads hoping to win Fiji’s general election next month.

“I have a background in communications and journalism, but doing this kind of reporting has been a real eye-opener,” says Krishnamurthi, a Fiji-born journalist who worked with the NZ Press Association for 17 years.

Film festival screening
And just this week two students from the centre, Hele Ikimotu and Blessen Tom, have had their Bearing Witness climate change documentary, Banabans of Rabi, accepted for screening at the 2018 Nuku’alofa Film Festival.

The trailer of Banabans of Rabi, a short documentary on climate change accepted by the 2018 Nuku’alofa Film Festival. Video: BOR

The freedom to pursue stories in the region is an opportunity for Dr Robie and the team.

“Students that work with us learn so much – and there really is no underestimation of their abilities,” Dr Robie said.

“Not only that, it promotes media and journalism as a viable career path for Pacific students, and leads to opportunities for international journalism projects.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Reviving the ‘lost skills’ of traditional waka Pacific voyaging

Waka (or va’a) voyager and environmental advocate Schannel van Dijken talks about the Pacific and Samoan ocean sailing traditions and the challenges of climate change. Video: Pacific Media Centre

By Hele Ikimotu

The president of the Samoa Voyaging Society (SVS), Schannel van Dijken, says humans cannot thrive without looking after our landscapes and seascapes.

As part of his work with the SVS, van Dijken and his team of volunteers sail across the Pacific on their waka, the Gaualofa – promoting the old tradition of navigating.

“Our mission is to revive the lost art of traditional navigation and voyaging but also to take this knowledge and stewardship responsibilities that we used to have – take these to the communities,” he says.

He also speaks of the challenges around climate change and the need to raise awareness about the issue.

This 4 minute video was made by Hele Ikimotu and Blessen Tom as part of the Pacific Media Centre’s Bearing Witness climate assignment under the postgraduate International Journalism Project at Auckland University of Technology.

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Strongest climate solutions ‘developed together’, says PaCE-SD chief

Blessen Tom’s video interview with PaCE-SD director Professor Elisabeth Holland in Suva. Video: PMC

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

The University of the South Pacific’s environmental centre spearheading climate change research believes in working together for shared solutions.

Director Professor Elisabeth Holland says the Pacific Centre for the Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD) has a culture of quality and shared “ownership” of projects.

“Don’t assume you know what the answer is,” she says in her advice to climate change researchers.

“The strongest solutions are developed together.”

Dr Holland is a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


She is an author of four of the five IPCC reports and has also served as a US, German and now a Fiji representative.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Fiji’s first climate change village forced to move from sea to ‘promised land’

Blessen Tom’s feature drone video of Vunidogoloa.

By Hele Ikimotu with visuals by Blessen Tom

Vunidogoloa was the first village in Fiji to be relocated – barely three years ago – due to sea level rise.

The village was in the Cakaudrove province and had backyard views of beautiful Natewa Bay on Vanua Levu Island.

The relaxing life for these villagers was however dampened by the impact of sea level rise.

Flooding was common for the villagers and so they needed to be relocated.

Their new village is 2 kilometres inland and was renamed by the villagers as Kenani (“Promised Land”).


The whole village of Vunidogoloa (pop. 130) moved to their new settlement in January 2014 and now have solar lighting.

We stopped by the old “ghost” village to see where the villagers once lived and also took some photos of where they are now settled.

1. Vunidogoloa’s “front door” to Natewa Bay. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

2. Vunidogoloa … now a ghost village. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

3. Vunidogoloa … an abandoned home. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

4. Vunidogoloa … overgrown. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

5. “Slow” … the “promised land” village coming up. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

6. Kenani … the new village. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

7. Kenani Village. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

8. The aid project kudos board. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

9. Hillside Kenani.

10. More Kenani houses. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Rabi landslide? Not a big problem, horseback and walking the answer

Riding on horseback is the main way to get around Rabi Island after the landslide blocked the road … or just walk. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

By Hele Ikimotu on Rabi, Fiji

The rebuilding of a road on Fiji’s northern Rabi Island is currently in the works.

Fiji’s most recent natural disaster, Tropical Cyclone Keni, destroyed many parts of the country’s main towns.

One of Fiji’s outer islands, Rabi, was also affected by the cyclone.

Although the cyclone did not pass through the 66 sq km island in the Vanua Levu group, heavy rain and wind caused the landslide, blocking a road which connects the main village of Tabwewa to the rest of the island.

The landslide has meant that it is unsafe for locals to use the road. They must either walk around the rubble – or ride a horse.

This is not the first time a landslide has happened in Rabi due to the impacts of harsh weather.


Janet Tawaketini, whose last time on Rabi was in 1995, is visiting the island and was shocked to see the remnants of a previous landslide, also in Tabwewa.

“That’s where my great grandparents’ graves were. Their grave and their bones are literally gone,” she said.

A building company from Savusavu has been sent over to Rabi to fix the most recent landslide.

Hele Ikimotu and Blessen Tom are in Fiji as part of the Pacific Media Centre’s Bearing Witness 2018 climate change project. They are collaborating with the University of the South Pacific.

The mudslide-blocked Rabi road under repair. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness A digger to the rescue on Rabi’s blocked road. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

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Life on Fiji’s Rabi Island – simple, peaceful and full of smiles

Hele Ikimotu’s “peace in Rabi” video reflections. Video: Pacific Media Centre

By Hele Ikimotu on Rabi Island, Fiji

Our trip to Rabi was a long journey, first starting with a bus ride from Suva, driving straight onto a ferry in Natovi and arriving in Nabouwalu. That trip alone was about seven to eight hours.

From there, my uncle picked us up and let us borrow the car to head into Savusavu. After exploring the area for a bit, we then caught another bus which drove onto Princess Moana in Natuvu – the final stop before Rabi.

Arriving in Rabi for the first time was a monumental moment for me personally as I am from Rabi Island. My parents managed to make it and came with us. My mother’s last time in Rabi Island was in 1995.

The island’s inhabitants are the Banabans, who were forcibly relocated to Rabi in 1945 due to the destruction of their island from phosphate mining. The people kept the four villages of Banaba and brought them with them to Rabi – Buakonikai, Tabwewa, Tabiang and Uma.

When we arrived in the evening, we were picked up by my uncle, my mum’s brother, whom she hadn’t seen since her last time in Rabi. Immediately upon arrival, his family fed us – we went to sleep with happy stomachs.


As the morning sun greeted us and after a dip in the sea metres away from the house we were staying in, we began our journey in exploring Rabi.

There are three main modes of transport in Rabi: walking, horse riding and driving a car. Walking is the main – having your own car is a rarity on the island. You can call a “taxi” which comes in the form of a pickup truck. As you pass people walking, they wave and smile.

Fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner
We visited many of my relatives and they all welcomed us with food. We had fish for breakfast, fish for lunch and fish for dinner. It is a staple dish in Rabi.

In between the visits, we interviewed people about the effects of sea level rise on the island and also heard personal testimonies about the move from Banaba to Rabi. You will hear and see this soon.

The island of Rabi is beautiful. The more we explored the island, the more we fell in love with it. In one part of the island, you will find kids fishing. In another, men are clearing the weeds outside their church, a young girl in a hammock is rocking a baby to sleep and people are swimming in the clear waters.

Rabi is a welcoming island. The trip may be long but it is worth it. If one plans to go, it is best they know someone and organise accommodation beforehand as there are no hotels. The island isn’t a tourist destination, which makes it that more special. It is simply a homely environment.

Hele Ikimotu and Blessen Tom are in Fiji as part of the Pacific Media Centre’s Bearing Witness 2018 climate change project. They are collaborating with the University of the South Pacific.

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USP students raise Pacific climate change awareness using cellphones

Bearing Witness talks to ePOP climate change video makers. Video: Pacific Media Centre

By Hele Ikimotu with visuals by Blessen Tom in Suva

Ten students from the University of the South Pacific have captured the effects of climate change on their smartphone devices.

The task was organised through an eParticipatory Observers Project (ePOP) workshop last month by members of the ePOP network based in France.

The ePOP project was established by RFI Planète Radio, along with the IRD (National French Research Institute for Sustainable Development). The project aims to raise awareness about climate change through videos produced by young people.

The workshop at USP was over four days, with the first part of the workshop developing the students’ filming and editing skills. The students then applied these skills to produce videos about communities affected by climate change.

USP journalism student Koroi Tadulala … passion for climate change reporting. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

Bigger platform
Koroi Tadulala, a third year Fiji journalism student took part in the ePOP project both last year and this year.


“I joined ePOP because I’ve always been keen about climate change and the environment. I had been writing climate change stories since I started first year.

“Ever since then, I’ve been following up stories on climate change and then ePOP came around. I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to put my skills to use and address this issue on a bigger platform.”

The Fijian student bears a close connection to the effects of climate change as his own village is affected by sea level rise.

He said it made him want to be an activist in spreading “the word of climate change”.

“As part of the ePOP project, we go to the grassroots level and sit down with a lot of community members and ask them to share their stories with us,” he said.

Tadulala said it was a great opportunity to produce and share the stories to a wider audience.

‘Amazing’ response
“We brought out some of the stories that we didn’t really know about and now people are reacting to it. It’s amazing to see how people take it in.”

Tadulala created a video story on the effect of the 2016 Cyclone Winston on food security and a story on how the Fiji village of Nabudakra thinks they should strengthen their faith with God to reduce the impact of cyclones.

He said a project like ePOP catered to the digital era and encouraged young people to engage with issues around climate change.

“We create short videos from two to three minutes long so it enables them to go through the whole video without being bored.

“We decided to put this out on social media, especially because most of the people are using social media networks and it’s only smart to use that platform to put out the word of climate change.”

USP law student Mia Kami … need for youth engagement regarding climate change. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

Filmmaking interest
Mia Kami, a law student at USP, also took part in the ePOP workshop out of an interest for filmmaking.

The student, of Tongan descent, said the ePOP team had shared that awareness of climate change issues faced by the Pacific was not as strong in Europe.

“Their [ePOP’s] goal was to spread awareness of climate change in Europe, so the videos that we did were based on climate change.

“I think because it was from a student in the Pacific, it would be a lot more heartfelt so people would understand it more from a Pacific point of view,” said Kami.

Kami and a few other students went to a fish market and interviewed vendors to get their perspective on how climate change affected fisheries.

She said she was surprised at what their idea of climate change was and how it affected them.

“The first lady we interviewed, her definition of climate change was that it’s bad weather.

Water pollution
“She believes that the bad weather is making the fishermen stop fishing, so they don’t fish and she doesn’t get to buy fish from them so she can sell. So that’s how she said that climate change affected her.”

Speaking of another vendor she interviewed, Kami said the vendor did not think overfishing was an issue and felt that it was water pollution.

“I feel like a lot of the media coverage that we do based on climate change, it doesn’t reach as far as their areas because a lot of the vendors are based in rural areas.

“I feel like the proper research on it doesn’t reach that grassroots level so I think if people took climate change into the more grassroots level, it would give them a totally different perspective.”

Kami enjoyed the ePOP project and the process of producing the video story. She said it was important for young people to make themselves aware of climate change.

“It’s our future. I think it’s important that we make an attempt to lessen the damage that we’re going to face in the future,” she said.

“What we can do now is so essential. If we know more about it, it makes so much of a difference. It all starts with ourselves.”

Hele Ikimotu and Blessen Tom are in Fiji as part of the Pacific Media Centre’s Bearing Witness 2018 climate change project. They are collaborating with the University of the South Pacific.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

USP celebrates 50 years and leads research action on climate change

Bearing Witness crew Blessen Tom and Hele Ikimotu’s video story of USP’s ongoing 50th anniversary celebrations and climate change. Video: AUT Pacific Media Centre

By Hele Ikimotu with visuals by Blessen Tom in Suva

This year, the University of the South Pacific is celebrating 50 years since its opening in Fiji in  1968.

The university’s first campus was established in Suva, with a student count of 200 – it now accommodates over 30,000 students across the different campuses within the Pacific region.

USP has campuses in 12 different Pacific nations – Fiji, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Chandra said USP has made a positive contribution to the Pacific region, including contributions in human resources, policy change and research.

He described the university as being “owned by the Pacific and serves the Pacific”. Professor Chandra emphasised the need for these Pacific countries to work together in advocating for Pacific issues.


“As small countries, we need to work together. One is simply too small to be playing in the big world out there. We need to put all of our voices together. We need to co-operate, work together and integrate,” he said.

Professor Chandra also spoke highly of USP’s efforts in tackling the issue of climate change.

Leading stand
Over the years, the university has become one of the leading tertiary institutions to make a stand against the issue.

Vice-Chancellor Rajesh Chandra speaks to USP journalism students in a training media conference about the 50th anniversary of the regional Pacific university. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

“The university has played this role of researching, advocating, supporting policies and disseminating knowledge around climate change,” said Professor Chandra.

The USP journalism school for example is consistently producing stories on climate change issues in their student newspaper Wansolwara. They have also partnered with AUT’s Pacific Media Centre to host two students every year for the Bearing Witness climate change journalism project.

This has seen significant stories about the effect climate change has had on communities in Fiji such as the award-winning multimedia story produced by Kendall Hutt and Julie Cleaver last year about Tukuraki village.

“I am also proud of the USP students. They have gone to the various COPs and have supported their own countries and have become senior advisers to their governments.

“I am quite proud and happy because the climate is central to the survival and prosperity of our country.”

The university’s 1999 strategic plan also saw the establishment of the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD).

Raising awareness
The centre was opened to implement more research of the region’s environment and has continued to raise awareness about climate change and sustainable development in the Pacific.

PaCE-SD offers a postgraduate programme in climate change, with currently 200 students across the Pacific enrolled in the programme.

The centre also implements community projects around climate resilience in the Pacific and has been involved in major projects such as the Community Coastal Adaptation Project (C-CAP) and the Future Climate Leaders Programme (FCLP1).

Since the centre has been established, it has been recognised as a strong part of the university’s fight against climate change and environment research in the Pacific.

PaCE-SD director Professor Elisabeth Holland said it was important to be on the ground making a difference in the Pacific region and local communities.

Bearing Witness reporter Hele Ikimotu, speaks with Elisabeth Holland about the climate change work of PaCE-SD. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

Deputy director of the centre Dr Morgan Wairiu echoed Professor Holland and said the focus of PaCE-SD was helping communities adapt to the changes in the environment because of climate change.

He said it was also important to provide students with the right skills to help them in their areas of research so they could come up with effective solutions to help communities affected by climate change.

PaCE-SD deputy director Dr Morgan Wairiu … providing the right mix of skills for students. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

Community projects
Professor Holland said: “We run community development projects. We have a locally managed climate change adaptation network that extends to more than 100 communities in 15 countries across the Pacific.”

She said that by listening to how communities were affected by climate change, it had taught their team to listen better and develop a more participatory approach in decision making.

“We have the opportunity to learn from one another and if we’re learning from one another, we’re in a partnership to serve whatever problem is in front of us.”

Professor Holland encourages anyone who is interested in learning about climate change to keep an open mind and said: “Don’t assume you know what the answer is.

“The strongest solutions are those developed together. The fundamental values of participatory listening and respect help solve most of the challenges that come up.”

Hele Ikimotu and Blessen Tom are in Fiji as part of the Pacific Media Centre’s Bearing Witness 2018 climate change project. They are collaborating with the University of the South Pacific.

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Solar panels the way to go for Pacific, says USP physics academic

The University of the South Pacific’s lower campus 45kw solar pv power system. Image: Hele Ikimotu/Bearing Witness

By Hele Ikimotu in Suva

Affordable energy enhances the livelihood of Pacific communities, says an associate professor in physics at the Fiji-based University of the South Pacific.

Dr Atul Raturi presented a seminar as part of the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD) seminar series about the use of solar energy in supporting sustainable development in the Pacific.

The deputy director of the centre, Dr Morgan Wairiu, said these seminars were a great opportunity for students to interact with.

“We encourage our students and staff to attend these to exchange their ideas and knowledge.

“At the same time are bringing the visibility of the programme to outside communities about what we are doing here at the centre.”

Dr Raturi’s seminar focused on global sustainable development goal SDG7 (access to affordable and clean energy). He said SDG7 was a main driver for many of the other development goals.

Dr Atul Raturi presenting his seminar at the USP campus in Suva, Fiji … multiple challenges. Image: Hele Ikimotu/Bearing Witness


‘Trilemma’ challenge
He said Pacific Island countries face a”trilemma” – energy poverty, climate change impacts and extreme fossil fuel dependence.

As a result, communities are suffering from the effects such as having a lack of access to clean water.

Dr Raturi said renewable energy development can help tackle these three challenges.

He spoke of how solar PV was on the rise and some of the USP community solar projects as examples of sustainable development.

He said it was important to be having discussions with small communities to understand where their struggles were.

“The challenge of these projects is that we have a good heart and good intentions and we know what we want to do, but the community doesn’t want it because they have other priorities,” he said.

Creating an opportunity
Dr Raturi said listening to helps create an opportunity to collaborate with them on aiding their needs.

“We need to have a discussion with them and then together form a project. This is why a talanoa is very important.”

The USP community solar projects has seen success in several Fijian communities – one significant project regarding solar energy and water in Yanuca Island.

The community had no access to fresh water and through the project, a solar thermal desalination system was installed in March last year.

This system was described by Dr Raturi as “simple” as villagers just bring sea water and fill up a tank which is pumped using the solar energy, then producing fresh water.

“On a good sunny day, the system produces about 200 litres of drinking water,” he said.

The solar water pumping systems have also been installed for some Fijian schools – Batiri Lagi, Namau, Korotolutolu and Kubulau.

Shared message
Dr Raturi shared what one of the head mistresses at Namau School had said about the project:

“The supply of clean and safe water without any fuel costs is recognised by the community and the benefits will be felt by the future generations of children attending this school.”

He said it was important to recognise how solar energy could play a vital role in tackling climate stresses in the Pacific, achieving some of the sustainable development goals and also leading towards aspirations regarding the Paris agreement.

Hele Ikimotu and Blessen Tom are in Fiji as part of the Pacific Media Centre’s Bearing Witness 2018 climate change project. They are collaborating with the University of the South Pacific.

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