Everyone has that one experience that changes their perspective on life. Epeli Waqa’s life-changing experience occurred when he moved to his village in Mabula, Cicia, Lau, to complete his secondary school education from Year 9 to Year 13.
Born and raised in Raiwaqa, Suva, before moving to the village was daunting for Epeli. However, this move changed and influenced his outlook on life, teaching him to appreciate the small things and to be kind.
While spending time in his beloved village, his adventurous spirit, which included hiking, fishing at night, swimming at the waterfalls with family and friends, and taking in nature’s beauty, had a calming effect on him.
Epeli began his bachelor’s degree at The University of the South Pacific (USP) in 2016.
In 2020, he enrolled in the Postgraduate Diploma in Climate Change, which he completed. He is pursuing a Master of Science in Climate Change at the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD).
The first time he heard about climate change was in primary school, when he was listening to the news and hearing about the devastating disasters happening worldwide, which was debatable at the time, according to Epeli.
“Over time, it is no longer a debatable topic.”
“Learning more about it is critical because it involves safeguarding humanity,” Epeli explained.
“Climate change is a cross-cutting issue because it affects every aspect of life, including food security, livelihoods, hazards, and finances.”
“As a USP student studying climate change, I get to learn about its complexities and consequences,” he added.
“I’d say I became aware at that point, rather than the first time I heard about climate change and realised for the first time the gravity of the issue involved and the urgency required to resolve them.”
During school breaks, Epeli would go to Lakeba, Lau, where he would spend his holidays whenever possible. During this period, he noticed the coastline receding and the seawall deteriorating, and even with a drizzle, the village would flood.
“I want to help vulnerable communities; I believe this was the challenge I set for myself and the motivator for continuing with the climate change programme,” Epeli said.
As a young future climate change leader full of energy and life, he enjoys surrounding himself with positive, like-minded individuals who share a common goal.
“While attending PaCE-SD, I came to appreciate the term ‘team’”.
“PaCE-SD is very practical, it provides its students with first-hand experience to ensure that what we learn is applied to the work we do to help communities and gives us opportunities to be a part of something big and abundant through teamwork, and I can attest to that.”
Nowadays, it is pretty simple to lose sight of what’s vital due to peer pressure, trying to satisfy everyone and the need for the latest technology and trends.
“My family and friends have always been my most ardent supporters and inspiration. They would occasionally encourage me to work harder and do better in my studies; also, my spiritual upbringing and trusting in God’s plan has been the driving force behind my progress,” Epeli stated.
We all face life challenges, and we must recognise that we are not alone in our struggles. Internal conflicts and external setbacks are unavoidable aspects of being human, and we could all benefit from some motivation now and then.
A kind act or an encouraging word can make a difference in someone’s day, whether at work, the office, school, the streets, or even at home.
Epeli’s kindness, teamwork, and determination are among the most powerful tools for overcoming the harsh effects of life, climate change, COVID-19, and other crises, sparking hope and change for a better, brighter tomorrow.
By involving communities and stakeholders, PaCE-SD fosters the development of a research and education culture that benefits the region.