Wallis, Futuna, Alofi and twenty other small islands in the southern Pacific Ocean form an archipelago, which has been part of the French overseas territories since 1961. Wallis is the largest and most densely populated island, being surrounded by lots of smaller islands and by an enormous coral reef. This area of outstanding natural beauty is being gradually spoilt by the accumulation of rubbish there. Everything from drinking straws, scrap, plastic bottles to tyres, glass and old furniture is either being dumped on the island or being washed up by the ocean, polluting the beaches and marine life.
Eva Pelletier from the Focolare community said, “The problem has worsened and has attracted a lot of attention from the media, including coverage by the RFO Wallis and Futuna channel. In 2015, in response to Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, we decided to launch a series of initiatives, aimed at both adults and children, to create greater awareness of the problem on our island. This ecological action created opportunities to collaborate and dialogue with a range of local organizations and groups.
The problem has caused division and tension among the three leaders in the area and even in the Governing Assembly. In fact, we were very surprised when, in November 2017, at the beginning of the week dedicated to waste reduction all over Europe (SERR), our Prefect, with the support of the Department of the Environment, wanted to take part in one of our initiatives on the little island of Nukuloa, to the north of Wallis. Given the significance of the occasion, they were joined by other ministers, the leader of the northern district and the governors of Vaitupu and Vailala. After the opening speeches and ceremony offering garlands and typical food to the participants, a child very spontaneously handed out gloves to wear during rubbish collection; and the first people to be given these gloves were the Prefect and the Prime Minister. That day, we cleared 500 kilos of rubbish from the beaches.
The Department of the Environment has supported this initiative since 2016 and has provided boats, trucks and workers. In May last year, we realized that we should not limit our work to just the collection of rubbish (more than 2,600 kilos so far) but that we should focus on the prevention of an epidemic of dengue fever that is spread by infected mosquitoes. We began to clean up the canals, drains, and riverbanks and even a very deep well. Everyone needs to do his or her part and even if they do not, we are not going to lose hope. As Chiara Lubich said, ‘In loving, what counts is to love.’”