Introducing Tavake Pacomio (Tavi). Born and raised on the island of Rapa Nui, Tavi is working hard to reconnect her people with the ocean. As vice president of Te Mau – a Rapa Nui based NGO – she has taken the pandemic as an opportunity to make real change. As part of our Ambassador Spotlight Series we wanted to showcase this by telling Tavi’s Superpower Story.

In collaboration with Parley and their network of coordinators Tavi and Te Mau are hard at work restoring Rapa Nui’s coastline. Since returning from her voyage in the South Pacific she has been running island outreach and education programmes with the out-of-work hospitality sector and local schools. 

Scroll to read Tavi’s Superpower Story in full and find out what steps she has been taking to implement change. 

What does the ocean mean to you?

In my culture, we are not from Rapanui, we are Rapanui. Because for us, we are nature. We are the land and we are the sea. The ocean is part of who I am – part of who we are. In modern times, we’ve lost that connection. But I am working to help my people reconnect with nature; to remember that they are the ocean, they are the trees, they are the waves. That we are not separate. We’re not apart. This is what the ocean means to me – to us. I am working to remind my fellow islanders of that too.

The world went into lockdown just as you were finishing Leg 8 of the RTW trip. How did you feel stepping off the boat?

It was quite strange really. When we left land, life was normal and when I got off the boat 1 month later , in Tahiti, the world had gone crazy. I had a mixture of feelings. Initially I was just worried that I was not going to get back to Rapa Nui. I was frustrated that I would not be able to start implementing all the things I had learnt aboard the boat.

I had to wait in Santiago for a month, because there were no flights to Rapa Nui. So initially I was frustrated. But I have always seen problems as opportunities. I got thinking about how I could make things work, and quite quickly I was very excited again. 

And since you returned to the island, what have you gone on to do?

It’s incredible how many people don’t know about the damage plastic is having on our Island and our planet. eXXpedition has inspired me to change that and try to educate our community to understand. But to do this I knew I needed to raise my voice; I needed to share my knowledge and I needed others to hear about my adventure. So I got to work telling my story!

 

 “I knew I needed to raise my voice; I needed to share my knowledge and I needed others to hear about my adventure. So I got to work telling my story!”

The island was shut because of COVID which meant no visitors were allowed in or out. Whilst this was devastating for our tourism industry, it was also an opportunity. We have needed to change the way we do tourism for a long time; whilst industry is great for our economy it is also ruining our ocean and now was our chance to fix it. 

Recognising this, Te Mau – the charity I run – approached the leading hotel on the island. The hotel was honouring all the staff contracts but there was no work coming in. We asked them if we could use the time we had to run a 6 month environmental education programme for all 600 of their employees. They agreed. We taught them what plastic was doing to our island; what it meant for our culture and importantly how we could educate our visitors when they eventually returned. 

“My aim was to make our islanders masters of the plastic problem so when the island reopened we would be ready with a new mindset, and a new approach.”

Where did you work with Parley come into this?

In parallel I was working with Parley to run similar outreach programmes in schools- telling them my stories and educating the younger generation as well. My aim is to make our islanders masters of the plastic problem so when the island reopens we will be ready with a new mindset, and a new approach. 

Combined we have now intercepted 10 tonnes of plastic and that never would have happened if it had not been for COVID. There is always a silver lining ! 

What is your superpower and how have you used it to inspire your islanders?

I think my superpower might have to be my voice. eXXpediton gave me the confidence to use it and make myself heard. I realise now that my experience matters and my knowledge counts. There are people who want to hear my story. So many times we thought that this topic was for the experts. But who are the experts?…I’m the expert in my own community.  Yes, maybe in Harvard I’m not an expert, but here, in my community, my little community, I feel like I’m an expert. I have something to share. I have something to say. We all do. It is just about realising that and holding on to it. I have realised the power of my own voice, and I only hope I can empower others to realise theirs. 

“I have realised the power of my own voice, and I only hope I can empower others to realise theirs.”

What advice would you give to someone trying to inspire others to make change?

Emotion is key. When I talk to people I  really want to give them my heart. It’s so hard to forget an emotion. You can forget a word. You can even forget an experience. But an  emotion is something that stays in your heart forever. So my advice would be to think about how you feel and tell your story through that emotion. 

 

Tell us about your passion for working with young people? 

Working with kids is what I love most about my job. They are so smart, so clever, so creative. Kids see the world so clearly. They made me realise how complicated we make the world as we grow old.

I have a beautiful opportunity with Parley, even more so because our island is such a small community; I know that one day very soon the kids I teach will be the leaders of our Island. Knowing that brings me both immense responsibility but also joy. 

Kids see the world so clearly. They made me realise how complicated we make the world as we grow old.

This year I worked with Parley to establish the AIR Initiative for schools on the island. It stands for Avoid, Intercept and Redesign. It is our three step process for tackling ocean waste. We need to minimise the amount of plastic we are using;  clean up what manages to find its way onto our beaches, and innovate to redesign plastic in a way that does less harm and more good.

And how do you look to inspire them? 

They don’t need much! But generally I begin by painting them a picture. You need to make them think; make them curious ; let them ask questions. Then, give them a message. Tell them where they can start, and what things need priority over others. Other than that, leave them to it. You quickly realise that they don’t need much help!

Where do you think change comes from?

I don’t believe there is one right way to make change,  but I do believe that to do this – to tackle ocean plastic – we need to do it together. And for that we need information. And I have some. You have some. We all have some. It is just about finding a way to bring all those ideas together. So for me, change comes from education, information and collaboration.

If we don’t understand a problem, if we don’t work together, how will we ever find a way to fix it?

Where do we start though?

On the Island we think a lot about our heritage and our ancestors. We think about where they came from and what they left us. Our ancestors kept the world pristine for 1000s of years. We need to look back and see how they did it. So for me, a good place to start would be to ask questions to our indigenous communities. How did they keep our island and our oceans healthy? 

“Our ancestors kept the world clean for us to enjoy it. It is only right that we do the same.”

How do you stay motivated? 

Solving plastic pollution is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a process. It is as if we are building a house –  a big house – and we are starting on the foundations right now. The most important thing is that the process lasts. For me that is why my work with the younger generation is so important. 

Being a small community helps too. Whatever we implement has a pretty immediate impact. I am proud to be Rapa Nui and my fellow islanders are too. Our sense of pride and love for the island is definitely enough to keep me motivated.

What are you most proud to have achieved?

Having the ability to inspire people. That is my proudest achievement. I make people feel like they can do it. Regular and normal people can be the change. You don’t have to be a superhuman to save the world. I am proud that I have made my people realise that. 

Regular and normal people can be the change. You don’t have to be a superhuman to save the world.

Photo Credits – thanks to:

Rachel Lucas, Emily Penn, Bonita Baker-Robbins, Emma Rendle, Kristine Berg and Tavake Pacomio