by NIE COLUMNIST: Jorim-Paul
YELF (Youth EnviroLeaders Forum) is a New Zealand based program initiated by the Ministry of Environment and carried out by the Sir Peter Blake Trust. It was designed to bring together students from all around New Zealand and a few from the Pacific who are passionate about the environment for an action packed, weeklong adventure.
It is a fully funded program that allows the students to not only meet likeminded people, but also to learn about, address and help solve topical environmental issues that are affecting New Zealand. This year’s forum was held in Auckland; from the 18 to the 24 of April and the theme that they had chosen for this year was ‘Our Ocean’. I am so blessed to have been one of the first Samoan delegates ever chosen. What follows is an overview of what my week was like:
On the first day of YELF, I was transported with a few other delegates to Saint Kentigern College. The college was huge and really beautiful and for the whole week we would be sleeping there in the school dormitory. It acted as our base. Every day we would go out and do something awesome and then come back to a really good dinner, a briefing and a seminar. When we got there we waited for the rest of the delegates to arrive.
To be honest, it was a bit hard making friends with the NZ delegates at first (as supposed to the other Pacific delegates, in which I felt an immediate bond and friendship), but after the introductions we all became good mates.
After everyone had arrived, three people dressed in Navy suits walked in. They told us about what the navy does, its relationship to the ocean and its role globally. Then they confiscated our phones and they gave us 15 minutes to pack over 60 bags in a bus and get on.
We then drove to one of their Navy bases in Auckland. There we dressed into long-sleeved overalls and were taught how to use a life jacket. We jumped into an Olympic sized pool and we learned how to survive when stranded in the ocean.
After soaking in both the water and the lesson, we changed out of the wet overalls and jumped back onto the bus. We were transported to their Devonport base where we found out that we would spend our night camping in Navy-grade tents.
Not only that, we also had to put up the tents ourselves! I was so excited and it was also a great team building exercise. After a great dinner, we spent some time in a seminar on leadership lead by a Navy officer. When that was done, we cleared off to bed at an early hour.
It was so good that we got an early night because at 5am we got woken up. A Naval Officer stood outside shouting that we had to be lined up outside of our tents in two minutes! The ground was muddy and the air was cold, so we spent the next hour doing an intense non-stop workout.
Afterwards we were given a clean pair. We had a hearty breakfast in the faint morning light and when it had gotten a bit brighter, we folded back the stretchers that we had slept on and packed down out tents.
By the time the morning sun was fully out, we were in our groups getting ready for the adventure ahead. The day’s events were called ‘evolutions’. The first evolution was called a ‘R.I.B Ride’. R.I.B stands for Rigid Inflatable Boat and is a very powerful and fast, Navy-Grade speedboat.
We put on a helmet and a life jacket and jumped into this boat. We zoomed around Auckland Harbor doing doughnuts in the water, jumping off of waves and learning about the different naval boats that were in the harbor (some of which were HUGE!). It was a thrilling once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Next was the ‘Seamanship Training Authority’. This building had a makeshift Naval Vessel inside of it and is where people get trained. The most interesting thing was how the New Zealand Navy has become the first navy in the world to utilize videogames in their training. This was in the form of a boat driving simulation, which I got to experience. Next was a Fire Fighting drill.
I was surprised to learn that the Navy had its own fire-fighting department (incase of a ship fire). I got the opportunity to put on real firefighting gear and put out a fake fire with a real fireman’s hose! It was awesome! The next one was a ‘Master chef’ cooking evolution. We had a navy ‘rat pack’ (basic emergency food supply) and we had to create a dish from it. It was hard to do with seven other people trying to give their ideas, but in the end it showed me how important communication is. And finally, we had a lecture on leadership.
Today we were going to ‘Orakei Marae’. I had never been to a Marae (Maori tribal meeting grounds) before, so I was excited. We had to learn ‘Waiata’ (which are Maori songs). This wasn’t that hard since there are a lot of similarities between the Samoan and Maori language.
When we got there, we entered the Marae traditionally, with both parties calling out to each other in song. The building itself was covered in carvings and the walls were made from hand-woven flax mats. It was very beautiful. There we had our official opening and even though half of it was in Maori, I was still fascinated by everything.
At the end we lined up and did a ‘hongi’ with our hosts (a Maori greeting where people press their noses together). Afterwards, we learnt the history and heritage of the Marae, its connection to Auckland’s natural environment and the projects that they carry out.
Then we had a lesson on recycling and how almost everything we use can be returned back to nature. We got to see the many ways this Marae is protecting the environment and all the methods they use to live sustainably. When the lessons were done, we had a ‘Hangi’ (the Maori equivalent of out umu) but honestly, I still prefer our umu.
Next we went to the University of Auckland to participate in a ‘Science through art’ communication lesson, where we expressed important issues affecting the ocean in the form of a shadow puppet show.
We also participated in a science laboratory experiment, where we learnt about micro plastics and how they impact the environment. One type of micro plastic is called ‘micro beads’. They are found in cosmetics and we used a microscope to compare them to plankton. Their similarity in size was shocking!
We ended our day in a media workshop where we talked to scientists and journalists about how the media can be used as a platform for science.
On this day we traveled to the first ever ‘no-take marine reserve’ in the whole world, ‘Leigh’ or ‘Goat Island’. There we participated in a Ministry for Environment (MfE) workshop, where they taught us how a marine reserve gets established as well as a lecture on the Goat Island reserve and how it has impacts the surrounding marine environment. My highlight was when we got to snorkel around the island despite the freezing water and the extremely tight body suit.
When we got back, the MfE representatives held another workshop. We all were placed in separate groups and we experienced a little bit of what it’s like to establish a marine reserve, which I found to be very difficult.
We woke up extra early this morning because we had to be at the harbor, ready to catch a ferry. The ride we caught took us to Rotoroa Island, a wildlife sanctuary that houses only native New Zealand plant and animal life. After a brief biosecurity check, we listened to two lectures; one on whales and the other on seabirds. Both of which were very interesting.
We then separated off into our groups and went on a beach clean. It was surprising to find so much rubbish, even though at first sight the beach looked spotless. After a successful clean, we jumped into the cold water for a swim and had a sausage sizzle.
That night we got introduced to our presentation topics.
Today was spent preparing for our presentations. We stayed at the school all day, but there was an unexpected surprise. A representative of New Zealand Geographic came to launch the first ever introduction of ‘virtual reality’ into schools. This new inexpensive technology allows students to learn and experience to world around them in 360° through their smart phone without leaving the comfort of their seat. It was amazing! The rest of the time was spent preparing for our presentations and hanging out with the other delegates.
It was very sad to realize that YELF 2017 was coming to an end. I learnt so much over this past week but I was ready to come home. Our presentations were delivered at the Auckland University of Technology in front of friends, family, my fellow YELF participants and the mayor of Auckland. When it was done and I had received my certificate of participation, we said our final farewells and left the grounds
My whole experience at YELF was amazing! I am so blessed that I was chosen to not only to represent Samoa, but the Pacific as well. I am brimming with new information and I am ready to make a difference. YELF has inspired me to not only live a more eco-friendly life, but to also take care of our environment. This trip has made me realize how beautiful and important the ocean is to us. So far I have led a beach clean up at Vaiala Beach and I can’t wait to do so much more.
If you are in college next year and you are passionate about the environment, look out for YELF 2018. It will be an amazing experience for you to participate in and you will definitely come back inspired.