THIS week, 10,000 people pledged to make a stand against bullying in Fiji, joining many like-minded individuals around the world at 10am on August 20 for a silent reflection on what they can do to end bullying in their communities.
Now, you may think of bullying as physical abuse, someone older from school picking on persons who are too vulnerable to fight back either because they're not physically able to do so or because they lack the confidence to stand up for themselves.
But bullying can take on many forms like verbal abuse or harassment, physical and emotional intimidation. At some point in our lives, most of us have been bullied into doing or saying things against our will. Sometimes when the abuse is constantly repeated over long periods, it could lead to psychological effects on a person's holistic development.
Anti-bullying ambassadors in Fiji include a wide range of professionals and artists in their own right. One of them is Ratu Eroni Dina, a popular face on one of the Vodafone MIC contests, singer/artist and music director for Pasifika Voices - who at point in his life faced bullying from his family circle.
"It wasn't from my immediate family but from relatives, cousins who would occasionally giving punches and thinking it's right because they're a ‘cousin'. They don't understand how hurtful it is. When it's constant, you may find yourself going to a corner to deal with your emotions, asking yourself ‘why is this happening to me'," Ratu Eroni told Kaila!
"When it comes to family, there's the perception that ‘it's alright' to bully a family member. The major reason I became an anti-bullying ambassador is because of my testimony. My form of bullying was verbal abuse, constantly being passed comments while walking down the street or even during a performance on stage.
"You have to try extra hard because of the ‘norm' - the way people want a message to be put across, the kind of person you're expected to become. They judge you as an individual and how different you are from everybody else. Verbal abuse is everywhere.
"This place (the University of the South Pacific's music centre) creates opportunities for anybody anywhere. There are a lot of ‘googoos' here but any guy in our group now can testify about how their perspective has changed because they've understood us better.
"Every time they see a ‘googoo', their first reaction is someone standing on the streets but what they do not know is the human side to the individual. Some of them are talented performers or fashion designers - it's just that they're a bit feminine but that's alright. The guys now see how brotherly we can be, how safe it is to be in each other's company, how much we laugh and have fun; they stand up for us in public too. When people call us names, we ignore it like they say ‘ignorance is bliss'. Instead of us being responsive, the guys stand up for us. It really moved us."
He shared the experiences of a dear friend who died recently who hid his emotional distress after suffering bullying at the hands of his own family and church group. Ratu Eroni says his friend was constantly targeted by his father and shun by the church community.
"My friend Sailosi, was one person who had spoken a lot to our group about how he was bullied within the church who literally shunned him. I guess that is why we are so close-knit because of his testimony," Ratu Eroni said.
"He couldn't do anything because of who he was, he wasn't allowed to worship and the fact that it was made ‘right' made it even more depressing. He had to look for places outside his family unit to express himself. Most people did not identify that as bullying but he was emotionally stressed and he internalised a lot of things.
"He would cover up his feelings by helping other people but those who knew him better, knew he was covering something internal. When he finally came out with the problem of bullying in the church led by his family, his own father being the head of the church, it was literally heart-breaking. If he couldn't be accepted at home, by his own family, where else could he go?"
"Every single person has been through some form of bullying. Personally, my testimony would be taken seriously if people recognise you for what you're doing instead of whose doing it. In those cases, you have to do your best and don't let people put you down. They will see it's not about the person but what they can do."
On his role as an anti-bullying ambassador, Ratu Eroni says he will always advocate against bullying especially on children, teens and young adults although the peer abuse could extend to people much older. He said bullying can even take place at work, at school or within a certain clique. Learning to deal with bullying is another issue Ratu Eroni says needs urgent address apart from identifying the root causes.
"As anti-bullying ambassadors, our lives are our testimonies. We do not subordinate or try to redefine a person or how they should be. I am who I am and I will do good in whatever form, attire or job - I will see the good out of it," he said.
"When you are being yourself, good will come out of it - it's when you're being pretentious that you lose yourself. Live the life you want instead of being someone you're not."
Another form of bullying that has claimed the lives of young teens is cyber-bullying especially in this age of technology when people tend to degrade and demean their peers through online social networking sites. In 2006, an American teenager committed suicide by hanging three weeks before turning 14. It turned out her suicide was linked to cyber-bullying through MySpace, a social networking site similar to Facebook.
Thirteen-year-old Ryan Halligan was another American teenager to commit suicide after being bullied by his classmates and cyber-bullying attacks in 2003. Associated Press reported Halligan was repeatedly sent homophobic messages and "threatened, tauned and insulted incessantly".
In Suva, reigning Hibiscus King and activist Peter Waqavonovono and a growing list of supporters plan to continue raising awareness on the need to end bullying. He recently visited Cathedral Secondary School to share his thoughts on the issue.
"Bullying is an immoral act used to demean others who are different. As we have learnt through current trends, bullying is a crime that can carry heavy sentences given the severity of the act and an even damaging effect on the school," he said.
"This is why it is important that from the school management to the students, anti-bullying measures are taken and we respect each other for their differences."
Meanwhile, registration for pledges towards the Make a Stand against Bullying can be made via online address email@example.com and through their Facebook page. Last year, the event registered 12,000 people who did all they could to put an end to bullying.