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Postcard from Fiji

The EPLD Study group (Fiji) - including Renee Liang (centre) visits Koroipita, a cyclone-resistant village.
Renee Liang writes from the Emerging Pacific Leader’s Forum in Fiji, where Cyclone Tomas has just


Renee Liang writes from the Emerging Pacific Leader’s Forum in Fiji, where Cyclone Tomas has just passed them by. Renee says what makes a good leader seems to be the same thing that pulls people together during a disaster, a deep sense of humanity.

“Cyclone Tomas as a unifying force?  Strange concept.  But what it demonstrates is the power of human relationships.”

* * *

I’m writing now from Fiji, where Cyclone Tomas has just passed us by.  Luckily I have been in the West of the Fiji island group, which escaped major damage.  Curfews and restrictions on road travel have meant we were largely confined to our comfortable hotel, though. I’ve dealt with the tension of waiting (and it has been pretty tense) by catching up on emails, checking out the large storm barricades around the place and taking guilty dips in the hotel pool. 

Cyclones, it seems, are just part of the business here.  Apart from the large noticeboard with storm updates erected in the foyer, and the aforementioned barricades and curfews, the staff continue as if everything is normal.  And the band (literally) plays on in the hotel garden.

With Tomas last seen heading towards NZ, I now have to deal with a strange sense of disappointment that I haven’t seen much damage from where I am, although the reports and pictures have started to come in.  But time to get to the point of why I’m talking about cyclones.  After a quick word of explanation, of course.

I’m here in Fiji as part of a contingent of young(ish) leaders from around the Pacific, in what is called the Emerging Pacific Leader’s Forum (EPLD).  The aim is to bring us together to talk about regional issues, to see some of the problems and solutions in action by touring various countries and to form long lasting networks that will help us in our future activities.  And we are a diverse bunch – doctors, lawyers, financiers, trade unionists, government officials, NGO leaders, engineers, marine biologists, environment and sustainability specialists – the list goes on. And, er, writers.

One of the things we talk about often is what makes a good leader, an issue which – and I hardly need to say this - is pertinent in many countries including NZ. 

Some words I heard tonight from a Fijian journalist really hit home.  She said that despite what the world sees - Fiji as a divided nation – when a disaster like a cyclone hits, everyone will immediately pull together to help. Neighbours will help neighbours whatever the race, and even strangers will be welcomed in and fed. Cyclone Tomas as a unifying force?  Strange concept.  But what it demonstrates is the power of human relationships.

What this wise woman then said made a lot of sense to me.  She said (and I paraphrase here) that a deep sense of humanity is what people look for in a leader – someone who puts their passions into practice and really lives their ideals. 

And that’s what I think many of us on The Big Idea do quite well.  What I think we’re often bad at is taking the next step – finding support for our ideas.  Finding someone (or even better, a crowd) to walk the walk with us, to make the dream a reality.

So here’s this woman’s advice when I asked her how to do this. She said:

- Use personal networks to spread the word.  Then through them tap into other networks.

- Learn as much as you can.

- Admit when you don’t know.

- Never accept that you have reached the peak of your potential. There is always further you can go.

- Whenever possible, communicate face to face.

These things we all know, but I found it was really great to have them spelt out for me.  So now I share them with you…. enjoy.

Written by

Renee Liang

18 Mar 2010

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.