It's good to be back in the Cook Islands
Kia orana Cook Islands!
After two years of COVID travel restrictions and border closures, U.S. Mission returned physically to the Cook Islands to engage and expand U.S.-Cook Islands relations. U.S. Consul General Sarah Nelson and team met with a wide range of stakeholders including government, civil society organizations, local community, and American citizens residing in the Cook Islands.
To understand the cultural and environmental history and contemporary context of the Cook Islands, our trip started off with a tour of Te Ara Museum of Cultural Enterprise with museum director and International Visitor Leadership Program alumni Stan Wolfgramm.
Stan recently launched the Moana Pasifika App in partnership with the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Missouri, USA through a U.S. Public Affairs Section grant. The Moana Pasifika App is an ocean conservation platform to raise awareness of Pacific people’s voices in the global climate crisis and #OurOcean. Through the app, you can discover the significance of marine protected areas as you become a guardian of your own virtual ocean sanctuary, connect with respected Pacific storytellers, meet with others to share ocean experiences, support sustainable blue commerce, and play games to learn about the indigenous story of the Pacific ocean. We are pleased to support the Moana Pasifika initiative!
Courtesy of the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, our U.S. Mission was able to engage with a wide range of Cook Islands government officials on protecting #OurOcean, climate adaptation and mitigation, combating illegal fishing, marine science research, security and more. We exchanged stories of historical U.S.-Cook Islands partnerships and ideas for future collaboration.
While in the Cook Islands, we hosted an Our Ocean: Pacific Regional Youth Talanoa Dialogue in the lead-up to the Our Ocean Conference in Palau. The Talanoa featured youth ocean climate activists from Samoa, New Zealand, Hawaii, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Australia, Tuvalu, and the Cook Islands. They identified solutions, challenges, priorities, and opportunities in addressing the ocean climate crisis. To watch a recap of the Our Ocean talanoa, check out the Facebook event. The event provided a platform for youth voices who were unable to be present at the Our Ocean Conference.
Following the regional Our Ocean event, through a partnership with Te Ipukarea Society we hosted a local Cook Islands korero on #OurOcean. We discussed ideas for better international cooperation on ocean and the challenges of marine protected areas.
Also while in Rarotonga we joined National Geographic Shark Researcher Jessica Cramp for a shark expedition. Sharks Pacific is on a mission to understand the importance of sharks in Pacific communities and to advocate for the conservation and responsible management of sharks and the related marine environment through research, outreach, and advocacy. Later this year Sharks Pacific in partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology Open Ocean Initiative will be providing marine science research and training for Cook Islanders to use various camera technologies to explore marine ecosystems around Rarotonga from shallow depths to the deep ocean. Students will be trained to construct equipment, collect and analyze data, identify shark species and report their findings. This will spark curiosity about science, technology, engineering, and math opportunities while affording practical experience in the Cook Islands. We’re proud to support this program through a U.S. Public Affairs Section grant. We look forward to this partnership and program happening in October!
We also had the pleasure of meeting with members of the Cook Islands private sector. With the Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce, tourism and hospitality industry, and others we discussed trade and business development in a COVID era, sustainable tourism, supply chain issues, and diversifying the economy. It has been a challenging two years for the business world, nevertheless we are optimistic for economic recovery. Together we can build back better!
U.S. Consul General Sarah Nelson hosted a lunch for a few of our Academy for Women Entrepreneurs Cook Islands alumni and partners. The U.S. Department of State’s Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) program gives enterprising women around the world the knowledge, networks, and skills they need to launch and scale successful businesses. AWE uses a hybrid model that combines the online Arizona State University DreamBuilder platform with in-class mentoring and facilitation by Taki Tahi Entrepreneur Development, led by Ana File Heather (an International Visitor Leadership Program alumni who spend three weeks in the United States and brought lessons back to the Cook Islands).
Earlier in May 2021, AWE Cook Islands ran a startup weekend with youth to create business networks, business concepts and models, developing skills and confidence for Cook Islands youth. The start-up weekend got young people thinking about business ideas and practice pitching to established companies for mentoring opportunities. The top two business concepts were Peu Maori (a Cook Islands language and activity-based learning app) and Birds Eye (a digital monitor and app that tells fishermen where the fish are. We’re proud to support these local initiatives and social enterprises!
While in Rarotonga, COVID cases were on the rise with increasing numbers in isolation and many struggling to make ends meet and feed their families. To address this need the Cook Islands Red Cross Society in partnership with the Ministry of Internal Affairs packed and delivered food parcels to those who qualified under the COVID-19 mandatory isolation orders. U.S. Consul General Sarah Nelson and staff volunteered alongside local Cook Islanders to pack food parcels. To date Red Cross volunteers have packed over 950 government welfare hampers. Read more about this important initiative here: Volunteers giving service to the community.
Finally, U.S. Consul General Sarah Nelson threw gatherings to connect with fellow U.S. citizens and nationals. We discussed needs, challenges, and opportunities for U.S. citizens resident in Rarotonga.
It was an action-packed engaging trip! We look forward to returning soon.
Ka kite, Rarotonga!