Man of many hats

David Ateti Teaabo. Picture: SUPPLIED

PRIEST, teacher, activist, civil society advocate and diplomat.

David Ateti Teaabo has come a long way from his days growing up on his island home of Kiribati.

Since crossing 2147km across the ocean to take up his role as Kiribati High Commissioner to Fiji, he is using his experience dealing with ordinary people to propel the role of his office to engage with governments and the global community to work towards improving the lives of his people back home and elsewhere.

Kiribati, the first Pacific Island State that raised the alarm on rising sea levels and has since been pushing for the plight of its people as its islands slowly disappear beneath the waves, continues to contemplate its future and works with its neighbours to improve on issues of development, livelihoods, food security and most importantly, climate change.

Mr Teaabo was born in Nauru and attended primary school there, where he saw the difficulties island people faced.

He attended secondary school in Kiribati, moved to New Zealand to finish his studies and returned home after high school to pursue his dream.

His parents thought otherwise and sent him to theology college in Kiribati that was managed by the Uniting Church.

It was to lead him to his first real interaction with people. He became a pastor, where he had to nurture the lives of his congregation and deal with their everyday problems.

Listening to his flock developed his skills of problem solving. Later, he became a chaplain for five years.

Things changed and he left the ministry to become a teacher in a mission school.

Then he had a change in career and went into project management, joining Kiribati Red Cross as secretary general.

He later joined AusAID, after which he went to Australia to join his wife and pursue his post grad studies. He returned home upon being invited by his church.

That’s when the Kiribati Association of NGOs (KANGO), the umbrella body for CSOs in Kiribati, approached him for help as a consultant with its projects in 2008.

“I had known of KANGO for some years because of our association while I was with Red Cross and I was on the KANGO board,” he said.

He went on to become its deputy executive director and NGO development officer.

“That’s when my career in the CSO sector really took off and it’s been with me since. Between work and his other commitments over the years, he juggled studies to build-up his capacity in diplomacy. But when KANGO collapsed in 2012, Teaabo stepped back in and “got really engaged”.

His hard work paid off in 2015 when KANGO was revived.

“That was the highlight of my work with CSOs. The fact that we worked so hard to enable this platform for the people to have a voice,” he said.

Since taking up his appointment as Kiribati High Commissioner to Fiji this year, Mr Teaabo continues to keep listening and offers advice where it’s needed.

“That CSO feeling of saving the communities. It stays with you forever. “That’s what I bring with me to this position. I may be a diplomat but what it really means is I’m a servant of the people. It has been built up over the years. Since my days as a pastor, as a teacher, touching base with the people,” he said.

“That’s the only thing driving me to excellence. This knowledge that I work for the people, you take satisfaction from knowing that the people will benefit.”

Mr Teaabo said the key thing for human existence was the voice.

“There’s something very powerful about the voice. Especially with our developing island states in the global arena, in the context of climate change, our voice is small. But when we are united, our voice is amplified,” he said.

“In our diplomatic circles, there’s a saying, mutual benefits, mutual understanding, mutual interests. Sometimes they become a cliche.

But I think that CSOs are not cliche makers but demonstrators.

That’s what we really want to pursue and maintain, the voice of the CSOs.

Civil societies can today salute one of their own.

It is a tribute for themselves and for the voiceless without whose stories the existence of civil societies will mean nothing.

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