Remembering Polikalepo Kefu
Many of us working on climate change, disaster risk reduction and disaster risk management are often talking about risk. And for those that try to ensure that all people and their rights are at the centre of these conversations, we are often talking about how the risk of climate change and disasters can exacerbate other underlying risks to our wellbeing and human security. But far too often, we are talking in abstract terms about the needs of particular groups, or the way in which the system needs to change to better address diverse priorities.
As women, when we talk about gender equality and climate change, we have some sense of shared reality, despite the fact that we are personally in positions of privilege relative to many women that we work with. We have access to safe and secure housing, employment, income, networks and information that many women that we work with don’t. But we see the unequal burden of care and household responsibilities. We know family members and friends that are victims of violence and the helplessness of trying to support them as best we can. We’ve experienced being overlooked for work or not listened to in decision making spaces.
But when it comes to risks that lesbian, gay, trans and non-binary friends and colleagues face, because of their sexuality or their gender, we cannot know what that feels like. We do our best to be allies, but recognise that we can never speak from a perspective of experience. Today, on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia 2021, we stand in solidarity with all of our friends and colleagues that have faced discrimination, violence, inequitable access to jobs and networks, because of their gender identity. We pay tribute to the many people working tirelessly to effect change despite the personal risks they face in doing so.
Karishma shares below a tribute to a former colleague, Polikalepo Kefu. We were shocked and deeply saddened to learn of his violent death – a painful reminder of the need for everyone in our communities to stand in solidarity. We add our voices to the many voices calling for action to end hate crime, discrimination and injustice.
“I was distraught at learning of the violent death of a dear friend of mine, an activist, a champion, and a humanitarian colleague Polikalepo Kefu, known to many as Poli Kefu. Poli was known to many in the Pacific and across the globe as a Red Cross family member, a human rights activist, the Tonga Leitis Association President, a friend, an inspiration and a lot more. For anyone that has worked with Poli or crossed paths with him, they would often describe him as a dedicated, humble, selfless and caring person, very passionate about his work and committed to serving his community always with a smile.
“Poli was serving as the Dissemination and Communication Officer with Tonga Red Cross Society but was known to many in other spaces. He was the Tongan Red Cross’s Youth focal point, and was also active in the International Humanitarian Law and Restoring Family Links spaces. Poli was also known in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) space and had regional and global networks. His friends and colleagues would describe him as a selfless and tireless worker who was always approachable and did not know how to say “No” if you’d ask him to do anything, regardless of how busy he would be. He would voluntarily take on a lot because he was passionate to serve.
“I had the privilege of working with Poli and it was easy to make friends with Poli if you met him just once. He always had a smile, was very sociable, would always greet you with a hug and would look after you. Whether you were just hanging out together and or visiting Tonga for work. He was a strong advocate and was never shy to speak his mind in public spaces, workshops and forums. He was also not shy to lead discussions in these spaces and was always open to learn from his peers and colleagues, he was very respectful to his peers and was very well respected. Poli was so full of life, it is hard to believe how his precious life was taken away from him so brutally. We hope justice prevails. We wish for strength and comfort to his family and loved ones and hope his legacy for what he believed in continues. Poli will forever be in our hearts.”