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10.10b.6 Testimonies of the Women of Tuvalu

Asian Development Bank
Text Excerpt

"Testimonies of the Women of Tuvalu," in Priorities of the People: Hardship in Tuvalu (Manila: Asian Development Bank, 2003), 11, 14.

These two testimonies from women living in the capital city of Tuvalu, Funafati, were written down by an interviewer working for the Asian Development Bank. The Asian Development Bank loans money to support economic development and "disaster resilience" in Asia's poor nations. Traditionally, Tuvaluan families have supported themselves by fishing, farming, and gathering fruits and nuts, without much interaction with the global economy or even dealing with currency. They were self-sufficient. Few needed paid income because they could grow or gather everything they needed. Tuvalu is their ancestral homeland, and Tuvaluans have their own culture and identity that they would lose if they moved away and spread out into different nations. Tuvaluans inherit land from their families. All the farmland in Tuvalu belongs to some family and it cannot be sold. If a family's land is flooded or ruined, they cannot farm. In these cases, they often move to the capital, Funafuti. What problems do these two women face? Notice that the source was written in 2003. Sea level rise at that time was already affecting Tuvaluans, who also faced challenges of a growing population and the lack of natural resources and money to pay for development. Today even more have lost their land to rising seas.


Niutao Fusi: Niutao is one of the nine islands of Tuvalu. Fusi is the Tuvaluan word for a cooperative store that serves the people of an island.

Ocean Island: This is an island in the nation of Kiribati. It is also called Banaba Island. It had rich deposits of phosphate that were mined for 80 years by British companies. The mining made the island uninhabitable, and its 450 residents were moved to Rabi Island in Fiji in 1945.

A$: Australian dollars. An Australian dollar is worth US $1.44.

remittances: payments from a family member working in another nation

Class 6, Form 6: In Tuvalu there are seven years of primary school that every child is required to attend. Then they take an exam for secondary school. If they pass, they study at the secondary school for six years. There is only one secondary school, Motufoua, in all of Tuvalu. The students board there and only go home to their islands for holidays. This woman did not pass the exam to get into secondary school, and she did not complete all of her sixth year in primary school.

Students should note that these women face unemployment, underemployment, poverty, and overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions. The root causes of these conditions are lack of land and the poverty of Tuvalu. Sea level rise may have caused one or both of them or their families to move to the capital, but poverty leaves nations and people with few options. Students will have to keep this in mind while they are considering solutions to sea level rise. Landowning represents a significant indicator of socioeconomic status and is a key part of Tuvaluan custom and culture. People who have migrated from the outlying islands to the capital city of Funafuti are likely to be the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, because they do not own any land in the capital. Wealthier and more educated people are more likely to emigrate to New Zealand or Australia as it provides them with better economic perspectives and a more comfortable lifestyle, while the poorest group of people may likely become environmental refugees. You may wish to search the internet for the short film Vanishing Island. It covers the same issues covered here, but for the nation of the Federated States of Micronesia. It is also important to frame this source by telling students that this source does not discuss solutions, only problems, but these are problems that people can solve. Later sources will have evidence about solutions.

Widow, 75 Years Old:

I am 75 years old. My father worked as a salesperson in the Niutao Fusi. I lived on Niutao ever since I was born. I got married at the age of 17 and joined my husband at Ocean Island where he was employed as a phosphate worker for 12 years. We have 13 children. Three are living on Funafuti and the rest are overseas. My husband died at the age of 36 while our children were still very young. They all attended school and I had difficulties paying their school fees. My brothers were very supportive and understanding; they paid for my children's school fees. In 1990, I came to live in the capital as three of my children got jobs here. Life here is very different to that of the outer islands. Everything costs money, nothing is free. There are 13 of us, six adults and seven children, all living in a 12 x 6 meter thatch-roofed house with a raised floor made of timber. We have a water tank, fridge, and kerosene stove. Two of my sons work with combined earnings of just over A$200 a week. My daughter in-law receives remittances from one of my sons overseas and she gets $100 a month. Life is basically expensive for us, as we have to buy all our food from the shops except fish. My sons fish for our family. We are not able to plant any crops or put up a farm around our house because there is no space — it is too crowded around our house. Ever since I came to the capital we have often experienced water problems. We collect very little water because we have a thatched roof. We do not have any toilet in the house and therefore we use the lagoon or the sea. Since it is a public place, we can only go to the toilet in the evenings. At my age it is very difficult to use toilet and bath in the sea especially at night. When we run out of water we get help from our neighbor. There is no water project in our village like the other villages. A government water truck can be hired but it will cost us $15 for 500 gallons. This is quite expensive and we cannot afford it. I hope the government or someone in our village can take the initiative to get a water project for our village to address the problem.

Woman, 30 Years Old:

I was born in Kiribati and have been living here in the capital for 29 years. I have 3 sisters and no brother. All my sisters were married and then divorced by their husbands. My education level was only up to Class 6 as I was not able to pass the entrance examination to Motufoua Secondary School. I have 3 children with different fathers, 2 girls aged 11 years old and 7 months old. My only boy is 6 years old. I have never worked since I left school because there are no jobs available and to make it worse I did not complete the minimum requirement of Form 6. I am a singer locally (not professionally). I never thought or was told that my talent could be developed into an opportunity. All along I have wanted to work, but caring and looking after my children is a real problem because my mum is 73 years old and sickly so she can't look after them. I look after my mum, my children, and my sister's children. I clean the house, cook, and wash for the family. The father of my youngest daughter is supporting her by sending money every month. My father and my two sisters, with their two children, are all working. Their total income a week is about A$370. There are 17 of us all living in one house that is about 11 x 4 meters wide. We do not have a water tank, so we fetch our water from the community tank. We do not have a fridge or washing machine. We only have a kerosene stove and stereo. We live mainly on food bought from the shops for we cannot grow any crops outside our house because the soil is poor and the land does not belong to us. Our father is too old to go fishing so we buy our fish from the market too.