Climate Change Advocate
Selina Leem (UWC Robert Bosch College, 2014-2016) is no stranger to the UWC community. We already shared her efforts to raise awareness about climate change when she spoke at Skoll in 2016 and at COP21 in Paris in 2015. More recently, on 6 July 2017, she spoke in front of many thousands of people at a G20 protest in Hamburg, Germany. Here are her words.
So, does anybody here know where the Marshall Islands is? Or have heard of it? Or seen it on the map?
Ich heiße Selina Neirok Leem. Ich komme aus Marshall Inseln. And that’s just about the only few German I remember but we, Marshallese, along with our other Pacific sister nations are all the way down in the Pacific. Marshall Islands is located half-way between Hawai’I and Australia. We like to call ourselves a large ocean nation. We do not have much land. But we do have lots and lots of water and that is our ocean. And unfortunately, it has become a frequent scenery that waves from the ocean comes crashing into our coconut, breadfruit, and pandanus trees. The little local plants that we have to live off. Either unearthing it from the earth or killing it due to excessive salination. We have watched our houses and seawalls that we had just put up again the day before crashed into and crumpled down almost hopelessly onto a shore no longer crawling with crabs but awashed by angry waves.
It is scary. It is scary when you realise you only have one road on that one single island. It is scary when you realise that the highest point in the island is a bridge, except now we think it is our huge amount of waste piling on top of each other, and that is your only means of escape. I remember that fear as a young child listening to my grandpa telling my grandma to take us to a hotel that was ‘far’ from the water and keep us save. I protested. “No way was I going to leave my jimma to face the waves alone. They will take him away and if they do, then they will take me too.”
That is a feeling one never forgets and it is a feeling that is replayed upon many from small island nations. It is said in 2050, my islands and other island nations will be gone under the water. However, we refuse to accept this prediction. I am here on behalf of my home and my people to say to all here in Hamburg, to the G20 leaders and nations, we stay. And you are going to make sure of that. It is unjust that we leave first. We want global justice. And that means, my home, our home stays. We are trying and doing our part. We expect you all to do your part as well. We all cohabit and share the same planet. What happens here affects those of us down there in the Pacific, places you have never even heard of or knew existed. Places where people live, actually live in. There is so much overwhelmed feelings of frustration, fear, amongst those of us in our island nations but also fierce determination that we will make it through.
Our land is sacred. It is gifts bestowed upon us from our forefathers. That is our people buried there. That is the stories of our ways being whispered upon our ears late in the night. That is our traditional medicines. That is our coconut, breadfruit, and pandanus trees. That is the laughter of childhood, cry of growing up, and seriousness of adulthood. It is the relaxed vibration all across the islands. That is so many things of us, our richness. We are here to stay. You and me have a responsibility to keep it where it is."