Youth leading the way for our Ipukarea

Leaders of the 56 commonwealth countries have declared 2023 as the ‘Year of the Youth’. A year to inspire young leaders of the Commonwealth but also a year for youth-led movements to come up with solutions to the Commonwealth's development hurdles.

Te Ipukarea Society has had its fair share of young Cook Islanders volunteering and working for the Society over the years. In fact, our very first paid employee was the TIS Youth Coordinator, back in 1996.  That position was filled by Ewan Cameron, who has since then moved on to working in Samoa and is now back here at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) This movement of youth within the Society has been carefully cultivated by the values and knowledge of its original  members and staff who established the society back in 1996. 

It was 2015  the Society took on young returnee Cook Islanders Liam Koka’ua and Alanna Smith straight out of  university, growing the  office from two staff to four. Working under the guidance of Technical Director Kelvin Passfield, the pair were introduced quickly to the various environmental areas that are of importance to the country.  After 4 years with TIS, Liam went on to gain his Masters in Indigenous Studies in New Zealand and is now a senior Pasifika specialist at Auckland Council. Alanna also went back to New Zealand to complete her Masters in Conservation Biology, and returned to a more senior position at TIS.

The credibility of the society allowed the young guns to develop environmental programmes that were of interest to youth at the time, and they were exposed to campaigns that were of value to the society. These included coordinating the petition and protest march against purse seine fishing to restoring island ecosystems through rat eradication programmes on Suwarrow Atoll. A current major campaign is in support of the need for significantly more time to research the deep seabed before deciding whether to mine or not.

The Dame Margaret Karika Internship, in memory of our first and longest standing patron, was established in 2017  to provide opportunities for young Cook Islands to work with the Society.  These interns have been introduced to a range of environmental issues and those grass-root solutions to creating positive behavioral changes. Internship recipients have included aspiring young leaders  Jessie Nicholson now at the National Environment Service, Chris Benson at Victoria University, Charlee McClean, at James Cook University, Andrea George now at Brigham Young University in Hawaii, Jade Teirney, now at Otago University and Itirangi Pennycook soon to be studying at Waikato University. 

For a short time, TIS was fortunate enough to have had the skills and intelligence of recent Cambridge University graduate Teuru Tiraa Passfield, to assist with our ocean health advocacy. Teuru is  now based in MFAI looking after their Oceans Governance, and also recently a member of the 2022 Young Pacific Leaders Cohort.

The tenacious and fit Ieremia Samuela has been an active volunteer for the Society for several years. He lived on Suwarrow with his family when his parents were park rangers, and this  has given him  a wealth of knowledge with his understanding of the plants, marine life and behaviour of birds during our Suwarrow campaigns. He also represented the Soicety internationally at the most recent BirdLife International Congress in the UK.

Now, rolling into the new year the TIS office is made up mainly of young staff members. Returnee young Cook Islander Terena Koteka-Wiki, a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, has been with the society for almost 2  years, playing an active role in school educational programmes.

Summer interns include the very skilled and very proactive Itirangi Pennycook returning through a sustainable tourism fellowship in partnership with Cook Islands Tourism. Esther Short will also be interning with the society until she returns back to Tereora College for her final year.

Long standing youth staff member Alanna Smith who has been with the society since 2015 will kick start the new year as the new Director of TIS, filling the heavy weighted jandals of previous boss Kelvin Passfield. 

“I am honored to take on the responsibilities as the new Director of Te Ipukarea Society which has been led by strong well-respected conservationists before me. The far-reaching works and efforts of these previous leaders have and will always continue to inspire me to do better and also ground me at all times. I have been supported by our driven staff, a dedicated executive board and mentored by our out going director who has truly played a significant role in my career and life! Kelvin, I have learnt so much from you. You are quick to the mark, you back yourself and always offer alternative ideas that haven’t been thought of. 

I am further encouraged by the fruitful discussions I have today with multiple young Cook Islands this nation has. They question topical issues and are not swayed easily by what they read. Their ideas are innovative, they have practical solutions to discuss as they know our best years are still yet to come. Our chapter is only really just beginning, so here's to the year of the youth”.