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Young Samoan wins with inspiring climate change speech

A New Zealand-based Samoan teenager has won the national story teller high school public speaking competition champion of 2019 with an impassioned speech on climate change in the Pacific.

Sixteen-year-old Aigagalefili Fepulea’i-Taupai, representing Aorere College, went up against nine other finalists speaking on topics ranging from identity, cultures, climate change and more.

Her winning speech, 'Waiting for water', which called climate change a Pacific genocide, inspired many online when the Pacific Media Network (P.M.N.) aired her speech live on 531pi radio on Monday

The year 13 female student is from the villages of Fai'aai and Sagone, Savai'i.

In the interview with P.M.N., Aigagalefili said she was humbled when her name was called out as the winner, saying all she thought about were her parents.

"So many emotions at once, I couldn't really react straight away," she said.

The teenager, spoke about the effects of climate change in her speech, with sea level rising and the need to take action.

"Well I've been involved in climate change activism for a few years now, just going to different events and learning more about it," she said.

"But the thing about events in Auckland is that they're very palagi-based, they don't realize that climate change is actually affecting the Pacific Islands the most right now."

Aigagafili wishes to have more youth learn about and be involved in the fight against climate change.

"And I think trying to bring that around to the youth and trying to get that message out to them is so important, that's why I'm so passionate about it because the idea that our islands would die before my generation does is crazy," she said.

In her speech, she mentioned how she wanted to physically confront the Minister for Climate Change at one point when she asked him a question about what he is doing for the people of the Pacific.

"At the Auckland Climate Change Summit, in a room full of hundreds of people, I was the only one to ask the Minister of Climate Change what he was doing for our people," she said. 

"And the response started with the words: ‘When the Pacific Islands sink’... The key words in that sentence being ‘when’. 

"And when I heard it, I wanted to square up with him on the spot.

"Because just like that, he could talk about the death of our culture so easily, like it was nothing, like we were nothing.

It’s no secret that south side and the Pacific is almost never included in conversations about climate change, said Aigagalefili.

She also told of her fears in her speech as well as her anger towards the lack of action towards combating climate change.

"And my biggest fear is that one day, one day my island will become nothing more than a story to tell, words to enter the ears of children whose eyes will never get to see their motherland. My mother’s hands becoming the only connection left for me to hold," she said. 

"You see I’m angry, and I’m scared because I don’t want to have to lower between my grandparents headstones and ask them to forgive me for letting the sinking of our island become their second death".

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