Climate activist Belyndar Rikimani reflects on her upbringing in the Solomon Islands

by Missing Perspectives
Wednesday 9 August 2023

Leading youth climate activist Belyndar Rikimani reflects on her experience growing up as a young women in the Solomon Islands – and how this shaped her advocacy. 

I was born in Auki, Malaita Province in 1997, in Solomon Islands. The Island that I come from is one of the most populated Islands in the Solomon Islands – as it makes up most of the country’s population. 

I am the eldest of four children and have three sisters and one brother. Most of my time growing up, we lived in Auki, where my father was a full-time primary school teacher, and my mother was a Women’s Development Officer, who was mainly responsible for managing women’s affairs in areas of development for communities in and around Malaita Province.

I got my inspiration for engaging in community work from my mother, as most of time was in communities speaking to women, young people and children – and had so many great engagements with them. I usually followed her on my school breaks to see all the amazing work that she was doing in various communities across our Island. 

There are times where my mother and I would spend a week in a village up in the highlands or a village near the Coast. One time, she asked me to join her for a two-week trip to Afio in South Malaita, which is very far from Auki. For that trip to Afio, we had to take a seven-hour boat ride to reach Afio Station from Auki, and by the time we arrived at Afio it was dark already. Whilst we were approaching the wharf, the boat was suddenly hit by a long log which was about six metres long, that was floating down from the river. Close to Afio was a long passage that connects from West Are’ are to East Are’ of Malaita. This passage was known as the “Maramasike Passage.”

I wondered why such big logs were being floated down the river – but little did I know that there was a massive logging operation was taking place along the Maramasike Passage.

It was the following morning that I saw huge logging boats going up through the river passage with a huge pile of logs – transporting it to Honiara, the Capital City of Solomon Islands. I was devastated by the loss and damage of the natural forest that I saw along the river. From a distance, I saw a huge area of land being logged, and muddy waters were running down from the highlands where the logging was being operated – and severely damaged so many of the nearby communities. Because of this, the communities had less access to fresh clean water for their families to use, and there were so many sick children at the nearby clinic with severe diarrhea due to the contaminated water that was being used and consumed.

It was in that moment that I thought to myself: what can be done for these vulnerable people who are experiencing the loss and damage? It was based on that particular experience that I told myself to involve more in community work and commit to advocate for these vulnerable communities in being a voice for the voiceless.

So since then, I committed to always support my mother in her work – and also be able to hear stories from these communities – with the mindset that one day, I will be able to share and be a voice for these communities – especially the women, girls and children that are being affected by these logging impacts that have led to severe environmental degradation which will affect their current and present and future generations.

In 2019, I started my first year in law school in Vanuatu and was introduced to Solomon Yeo and the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC). I was amazed by the power of their initiative and mission – which is to seek an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice focused on the obligations of countries to address climate change.

It made me realise how climate change has infringed the basic human rights of our people due to lack of clean fresh water to drink and cook, scarcity of natural resources, loss of biodiversity, coral bleaching, and sea level rise – which is now causing forced relocation. Then there are other human induced activities like logging, where I have seen the first-hand experience of its impacts towards community livelihoods. So, this was how I have learned to develop my advocacy and share the stories of vulnerable communities.

I believe that the Climate Justice fight needs all of us to put our hands together for us to make a difference for our communities and country. The change we need starts with us: we have the power to push for change wherever we are, and we just need to be connected with the like minded people who share the same mindset.

Also, now that the Advisory Opinion campaign is heading to the International Court of Justice – it is with great hope that new laws may safeguard our environment for our present and future generation.

Most importantly, it is my vision that we see our leaders take up the initiative to use their political power and to listen and invest in our young people who pushing for more ambitious climate action for our people and communities.