The Voice of an Island launched by 12-year old Lupe Va'ai

Now in London to launch her book, 12-year-old Samoan student Lupeoaunu'u Va'ai won a Gold Medal award for her story 'The Voice of an Island' in the Voices of Future Generations Children's Story Writing Competition last year. As a Voices of Future Generations Child Author, she has committed to turning her book into a series, writing one story each year until 2020.

Lupe is writing blogs on her journey, which has been supported by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Government of Samoa and its Strengthening Multi-Sectoral Management of Critical Landscapes in Samoa project, Samoa Stationery & Books and the Principal, Staff and Students of St. Mary's School, Savalalo.

Lupe2 copyLupeoaunu'u Vaai with her book, The Voice of an Island, at the entrance to the
Houses of Parliament in London. 

"Hello again fellow blog readers!
Today was a very emotional day. I was finally able to launch my book after two and a half days of travelling just to get here. Firstly the other child authors and I had to sign a 'Voices of The Future Generation Declaration' at the Bloomsbury Publishing where they will publish and anthology of all the child author books including mine! (This is the publishing house for Harry Potter books!). After that we went for lunch at the 'Jubilee Cafe' in the Houses of Parliament. It is here at the Houses of Parliament in the Westminster Palace where we launched all six books from the child authors – my "Voice of an Island" was one of them.

After each Child Author said their speech, the audience including teachers and students from other schools in London were given the chance to give their thoughts on our books. Many people were interested in my speech about Samoa and how as small islands, we are the most vulnerable and threated by climate change and other environmental impacts. It was also a very exciting day for me as many people asked me to sign their books – it was really awesome! I even signed a book for Baroness Julie Smith who welcomed us to the House of the Lords and Westminster and explained the importance for our book launch and the panel discussions to happen at Westminster. After all the questions and the answers we were each awarded with trophies and our books launched.

It was so much fun being able to spread ideas with other children including the representatives of many other London schools, particularly as they do not often hear about Samoa. I was also very proud to wear my St Mary's School uniform and my ulafala to the launch. I was really proud to be Samoan on this day. I have added my speech if you want to read it. In the end it was a cheerful day as I got to make friends with all child authors. To end this beautiful day we had dinner together at the Commander Restaurant.

I am bringing with me many copies of my books which will be available in Samoa when I return. (We were not allowed to take photos in the Houses of Parliament so my mum took this photo at the entrance after the launch)" – signed Lupe!

image004 copy copyLupe (second from left) with the other Child Authors at the launch.

Speech by Ms. Lupe Va'ai upon the launch of her book – The Voice of an Island
Talofa lava and greetings. My name is Lupeoaunu'u Va'ai - you can call me Lupe.

I am from Samoa – a tiny island located in the Pacific, with a population of about 194,000. I am proud and honoured to be here today. I left my home in Apia, the capital of Samoa, through three plane trips, transit in two other countries, a train and a taxi ride over the course of two and a half days, to be here today because many people believed in me. This gave me the courage to be heard, to make a difference.

My story, The Voice of An Island, is based on a young Samoan girl named Katalina, who is depressed because of the state of the environment in her small island. In Katalina's story, her island was once her grandma's paradise but now it isn't. So she tries to do all she can to save it. I wrote this story to bring awareness to us all, everything we do from littering, to burning plastic, to cutting down trees, is affecting our world. I also highlighted in my story, that Samoa is only a small island, contributes very little to gas emission levels, yet along with other small islands in the Pacific and in the world, are the most threatened and vulnerable to impacts of climate change.

When you are living in a small island like Samoa, the impacts of climate change are so very real. Issues like sea-level rise, coastal erosion, extreme weather events such as very, very strong tropical cyclones, are serious threats to our livelihoods and to our heritage. In the Pacific, we have many unique plant and animal species, many cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. We depend on many of these plants and animals for food and habitat. However, our island biodiversity continues to be under intense pressure from the threats of climate change, pollution, loss of forests and invasive species. Our small sizes and isolation in nature make us more vulnerable.

I hope my story is one of many more that can bring hope to many of us young children. It is not too late to make a stand to protect our environment, however small our voices are. We must build our island resilience to protect our communities and our environment through natural solutions. For example, planting trees along our coastline will help protect us from coastal erosion, keeping our forests intact or replanting them, building capacity of our communities and farmers so they are able to undertake and benefit from integrated land and water management on their traditionally owned lands. The list of natural solutions we can adopt in the Pacific islands is long. On a more personal level, I lead the environmental group in my school to promote good environmental practices, particularly in educating the younger classes. We help with cleaning the school compound and spread awareness on issues like separating bottles and plastics from other waste. As children, these are some of the simple, everyday activities that we can do to contribute, no matter how small they can be, to combatting climate change and its impacts and saving our marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

Today, I hope that my small voice can bring awareness to my small island, Samoa, and to my Pacific region, on the negative impacts on our environment all of us cause. As a small voice, there is very little I can do, but with the support of people like you, in creating these opportunities for us to speak up, and to publish our stories, I hope that will give volume to our messages and stories. Whilst I am very humbled by these opportunities, I believe that further commitment to the involvement of children in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals should involve funding assistance from relevant organisations, to support these child author activities, particularly for those, like me, who have to travel thousands of miles to participate. It would also be super-awesome if at some point in time, these events could be brought to Samoa, or to the Pacific region, so you have a first-hand experience of our small islands.

I thank the Lord our God for his blessings on me and all the other child authors.
I hope you will enjoy my story.
Faafetai tele lava. Thank you very much."
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