She is a beautiful yet ominous mother, commanding respect at all times. Three days out from Suwarrow and sailing towards Rarotonga, I had never been as physically, mentally or spiritually challenged as the last five days had already been. The challenges our forefathers faced traversing across the Pacific as they did was ever more apparent than it had ever been, and a new admiration and connection had definitely spawned in my heart from this experience. Voyaging is a learning, the ocean the classroom and we her students.
While I was on watch and holding the oe, trying again to push back my sickness, Captain Peia spotted a buoy floating in the water. Though eight of us were on board, only his keen trained eye had seen and he called our attention to this object floating in the water.
At first I could not see it, slapped between the swells and ocean waves, then finally it caught my eye. “You see that,” he said, “if you fall overboard, that is all we will see of you, something that looks like this tiny speck of a ball pushed around by the ocean.”
Inside my heart girded up as my mind became acutely aware of how little of me you would see if I fell overboard. We watched this buoy, tossed around by the ocean until we could see it no more, gone from view. There was silence on the deck, as we searched, but could not find that buoy again.
What do we do when life is like that? When we fall overboard, and struggle to keep our head above water, slowly sinking into the depths of the blue haze, our head, just above water, our lungs slowly filling with fluid, our breath short and our families not seeing us, those that we know not noticing us between the waves, slowly disappearing till we are gone.
A young man took his life last weekend. After only a little more than a week in Rarotonga, he disappeared through the ocean of despair and waves too ominous to bear.
He featured only a few paragraphs in this week’s paper amidst the paragraphs on political reform, nominations and who should be the boss. He could not afford a full page spread to say what he believed and why and what he stood for, so I hope this in some way brings some light to his life, and a life worth honouring.
Can we all at this juncture, express our sincere condolences to another family and parents that must carry this burden with them? Our thoughts and prayers are with you all here, and in Australia who knew and loved this boy.
His name was Valmein Vakapora and he was born in Rarotonga. He was 1 of six brothers and sisters and he grew up in Rarotonga till he was nine, then moved to Australia. He stayed there for three years then returned to Rarotonga again for a year, later returning to Brisbane till he was 14. He then made what would be his final journey home.
Those in complete shock at Deception Bay High School, felt numbness as to what had happened to Valmein. He was loved by his teachers and favoured by so many. He was known for his gentle spirit, good behaviour and his writing. He wanted to finish school he told his teachers, and he told them, “I’ll be back.” While on Raro and at primary school years earlier, he was interviewed and said in the paper
“I want to learn things at school and college. I want to make more friends at different places. I want to behave myself and be smart. I want to be a pilot so I can travel the world. I want to go to Australia to see my Dad. I want to be a school teacher.”
Potential must never be buried before its time and life is worth living, even though for some it is as if they are a buoy floating on a sea of endless pain. We must look out for each other, we must talk, we must ask the hard questions at times, and we must invest in the lives of those around us. We must wherever we can sit in the dark with those that find themselves there and listen.
Valmein is the second life taken too early this year and for those of us who work with the aftermath of suicide, it’s a life of pain for those left behind. There is no reprieve, as they search for answers, grill themselves over again, asking, “how did I miss this, what could I have done and how the hell did this happen?”.
We must be vigilant, like our good captain Peia, and see the buoy in the water early so we can respond quicker to the trouble that befalls those around us and at this time our Cook Islands National Youth Council are doing exactly that. I have been privileged to support their efforts to raise the profile of those in need and they are working hard at getting the message “YOU MATTER” into our schools and our communities.
Meitaki maata to the Ministry of Health and Liz Iro who supported their venture, finding the funding to literally save lives. We are partnering with the Ministry of Health, Bluesky and Air Rarotonga to bring our school-aged children and community together, most importantly to celebrate life, and to let people know wherever they are, no matter what they have done or has been done to them, that they matter.
Thomas Tarurongo Wynne