As the sun broke through the wet season clouds at the Forestry Training Centre in Colo-i-Suva, 29 fresh new forest wardens, proudly wearing their crisp new uniforms and shiny boots, were eagerly waiting to graduate from their year-long community forestry training program conducted by the Ministry of Forests.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) supported two forest wardens from Kilaka Village during their training program. The Kilaka Forest Conservation Area, covering 402 ha, is situated on land belonging to Mataqali Nadicake (land owning unit) in Kilaka Village, Kubulau District (Bua Province). The conservation area is protected under a 99 year conservation lease between WCS and the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB) to ensure the long-term protection of the highly biodiverse forest and its water sources. Mataqali Nadicake has been protecting their forest since 2006, and has been working closely with WCS and TLTB for the past three years to establish the Kilaka Forest Conservation Area. Let’s see what the new Kilaka forest wardens have to say about their forest.
Meet Joeli Matai
Joeli grew up surrounded by the forest in the village of Kilaka and acknowledges the food and water resources the forest has provided throughout his life – “life is the forest”. He joined the forest warden program to explain to future generations the benefits of maintaining a healthy forest. He thoroughly enjoyed the course, and notes that learning how to “sustainably manage” the forest was his favourite module. Now that he has graduated, he hopes to stop all illegal logging activities that damage the ecosystem in Kubulau District and has already started sharing what he has learnt with his children and the wider community.
Meet Jona Cati
Jona, also from Kilaka Village, joined the forest warden program to protect his “place (land), village, water and to contribute towards climate change education”. From this course, he learnt about the “importance of protecting the forest, the role that it (forest) plays, and the interconnectedness between the forest and the coast”. Throughout this course, Jona has shared what he learnt with his village and mataqali members, and the role that each person plays in relation to forest protection. He was beaming with excitement after graduating and the first thing he wants to do as a forest warden is to “sit down with the old mataqali members, discuss what was learnt and how it applies to our forest”, then start assessing the Kilaka Forest Conservation Area and make plans for the future.
“We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children”
These were the sentiments of this indigenous American saying the President of the forest warden, class of 2017, echoed in his speech, while expressing the class’ gratitude towards their educators and excitement towards their new roles as forest wardens, protecting and managing the forests for the future of all Fijians.
This graduation ceremony, while significant, is just the beginning. Over the coming years, these forest wardens will be the eyes and ears of their community, of the Ministry of Forests, to ensure special places like Kilaka Forest are there for generations to come.
We wish them all the best and vakanuinui vinaka, meaning good luck in Fijian!