UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST SERVICE COMMITTEE: Kioa Island Community Organization

Maina Talia

Located across Buca Bay from mainland Fiji, Kioa Island is resplendent with steep volcanic slopes and brightly wooded mountains. Fishing, handicraft, root farming, and copra processing for coconut oil generate just enough revenue to support the island. 

Although Kioans are citizens of Fiji, they have a history and culture all their own. In 1947, residents of Vaitupu, one of the nation of Tuvalu’s eight coral reef islands, purchased Kioa and resettled to the then-uninhabited island, bringing their culture and traditions with them. 

“Kioa Island, our new ‘home away from home,’ maintains the practices, language, cultures and the social norms inherited from Vaitupu,” explains Maina Talia, the co-director of Kioa Island Community Organization (KICO), the only non-governmental organization established and led by the people of Kioa.

Given Kioa’s relatively recent history, its people are still working to establish a secure footing and resilient future for generations to come, for example through improving farming yields and access to fresh water. “We want our children and our grandchildren to have access to clean water, electricity and so forth,” Maina explains. KICO is helping support these goals through creating, with community input and leadership, the first-ever strategic plan for Kioa.

But it is not just their own future the people of Kioa are working to preserve. Kioans are preparing for the possibility that many more people from Tuvalu might need to relocate to Kioa – not by choice as they did, but because of the worsening impacts of climate change.

In the face of this potentiality, KICO is helping prepare Kioa to be more climate-resilient and migrant-ready, and to ensure sufficient food is available if people from Tuvalu’s low-lying islands are forced to relocate to Kioa’s higher elevation. 

“Up until now there are no major developments on Kioa,” Maina shares. “However, in the context of climate-induced migration that potentially threatens the security of our people in Tuvalu, Kioa must be well prepared. The island must provide agricultural support, moral support, and have climate-proof structures to ensure the continuality of our people.”  

KICO is working towards this goal by training community members in agroforestry, an agricultural technique that helps yield climate-tolerant crops and cleaner water through strategic tree planting. “Foremost and very important in this training is helping the community to finally reach their aim of attaining a more improved living standard,” Maina explains. 

Another important benefit of agroforestry is that tree cover helps prevent soil erosion, supporting Kioans in their resiliency and adaptation to climate change. 

The challenges Kioans face are exacerbated by a dearth of funding and lack of recognition of Kioa’s needs and culture as distinct. “We want people to know that we really need their financial support to develop our island,” Maina explains. “We have settled this island for 75 years now and have no major developments implemented in Kioa. One of the reasons could be the fact that the island is owned by the People of Vaitupu in Tuvalu but fully operated under Fiji’s jurisdictions and laws of governance.” 

Striving to respond to this gap in support and bolster Kioa’s desire for self-determination and cultural survival, UUSC is providing funding to KICO while amplifying Kioan stories and priorities at the global stage. As UUSC is for many grassroots organizations around the world, UUSC is KICO’s “first funder,” meaning that UUSC is the first organization to provide financial support to KICO. “The support from UUSC to Kioa via KICO is the first ever funding to be received by Kioa for the past 75 years,” Maina shares. UUSC’s funding is helping support their strategic planning and agroforestry efforts, as well as helping cover office equipment and internet access.  

UUSC hopes that, with additional support and more awareness about Kioa, the island will be able to achieve their vision of improved quality of life and resiliency to climate change. “Our vision is to build community resilience,” Maina explains. “There are a lot of things Kioa could offer for the future generation, if we continue to strive for it now.”

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