Today I went to church for the first time in years. I found myself asked by the chief of the village on Makongi to attend their weekly sermon. You see, later that afternoon we were meant to teach the village kids about sharks, so as is custom, they wanted to bring the guests into their Sunday morning festivities.
The room was bursting with excitement for the foreigners – 60 Fijians thrilled to welcome us into their special place. A single-roomed building that serves as the town’s classroom, church and meeting hall with a grass mat on the floor. And as the room filled with the most beautiful hymn, my eyes filled uncontrollably with tears.
I looked around the room of about 30 young children, smiling, happy and singing at the top of their lungs and thought to myself – it is you who have the most to lose. And looking at their poverty, their lack of anything we in the western world give our children, I thought, it is you who cannot afford to lose your sharks. It is you who is depending on sharks to put food on the table – as the oceans keep your village alive. It is you who will be affected the most when they are gone. It is you who is easily taken advantage of by the Chinese businessmen eager to buy fins. It is you whose future we are stealing. And I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks.
The sermon was about the light. How we need the light in our lives to keep going and stay on the right path. I began thinking of how often the darkness fills my thoughts – how this issue feels so big that I cannot possibly make a difference. That no matter what I try (legislation, outreach, working on demand, enforcement), it just feels no progress can be made. How often I feel like I should just give up. I mean, here I stood, with a genuine passion and desire to do good in my heart, now classified as a supposed political activist, working against a government and a people.
But I need to stay in the light – and the 30 young faces whose futures depend upon healthy oceans were bringing me back. Being in the field always brings me there as I connect with not just the issue, but also the people it affects first. Warmly accepted and welcomed by the people of Fiji – it didn’t matter what the government thought. And after a day spent celebrating sharks, snorkeling, playing and talking about their importance, maybe I couldn’t save all the sharks, but maybe I’d planted at least one seed of change.
Yes, I need and love the light. I love the hope. And when I look into the faces of the kids who will be affected the most – the kids who can least afford it – I know that I have to stay in the light and keep fighting for their future… and for their sharks.