Swimming, making huts, exploring the nearby valleys, mountains, swamps and beaches and never-ending adventures seemingly on a daily basis; who wouldn’t want to grow up experiencing such idyllic surroundings?
This was childhood on Rarotonga, for Jaime Short. Carefree and untroubled. A true community where everyone knew everyone and the sounds of ukuleles, singing and laughter constantly filled the air.
Which makes the topic of waste seem very out of place. Yet for Short, the reality of poor waste management – especially on remote islands – was an issue she first became aware of while still at school.
“At the time I was growing up, Rarotonga was a lot less developed than it is now. There was only one major tourist resort in our village of Ngatangiia and a few smaller boutique hotels. We didn’t really think about issues such as waste and wastewater. It was very much out of sight out of mind.”
This weekend, Short was named on the University of Auckland’s 40 under 40 list of graduates from the region’s biggest university who have made a significant community impact since graduating.
It celebrates success in the categories of business leaders, influencers, performers, entrepreneurs, humanitarians, and disruptors and innovators.
Given the University graduates some 10,000 students each year making the list is a significant achievement, organisers say.
Auckland University Alumni Relations Manager Joel Terwilliger says half the university’s 200,000 alumni around the world are aged under 40, so this list aims to inspire current university students.
“We see the 40 Under 40 programme as proof of the impact and efforts to push the envelope in a variety of fields, which our alumni are achieving as global citizens.
“We definitely look for graduates who though applying themselves make significant contributions to their profession, but we’re also looking at community involvement and social impact.”
For Short, finishing her final year of secondary school without the grades necessary to earn a scholarship to either a New Zealand university or the University of the South Pacific was a personal disappointment.
“Not getting good grades was out of character for me. I lost a lot of motivation in my final year of school due to the tragic loss of a close friend.”
Taking a year off, it was while visiting a friend who was studying at Auckland that going to university suddenly became a lot more appealing.
“I loved the independence she had along with the learning opportunities and the facilities and atmosphere. I quickly decided I definitely wanted to be a university student too.”
Enrolling in a Bachelor of Science degree with a particular focus on Geography and Anthropology, Jaime says she was part of a close-knit group of other Cook Island students who were very supportive.
However, steadily losing motivation by the end of the first year and falling pregnant in her third year created an emotional rollercoaster; though it came with an unexpected bonus.
“I had my first daughter on the morning of my first exam in 2005! Her coming along really kicked up my motivation and I became very determined to ensure I worked much harder for her benefit.”
Graduating in 2010 after the birth of her second daughter and returning to Rarotonga, Jaime secured a short-term position at the National Environment Service; a role that would soon lead to an unexpected new job as ozone officer.
“I was immediately plunged into the deep end but once I got my head around what needed to be done it was certainly the most inspiring job of my career to that point.
“The project itself was designed to control the import and use of ozone-depleting substances,” she explains. “These days fridges and air conditioners on Rarotonga that previously used gases containing ODS have now just about been eliminated.”
After a series of promotions and most recently appointed as the Director of Water, Waste and Sanitation in 2016, a role Jaime describes as her “dream job”, there is now an opportunity to take steps to improve a key aspect of the Cook Island’s long term environmental sustainability.
“For many years I have been working with a range of concerned individuals and groups on improving solid waste management. We are well on the way to progressing high level initiatives like a dedicated Act, sustainable financing and import bans which will see many solutions to the problems surrounding waste.”
Carefully strategising how to best connect with people when you’re communicating your message has been something Jaime has learnt to apply in her new role.
“You have to appeal to what people care about and get people to visualise the problem that is going to occur. Not everyone cares about the environmental impacts of poor waste management so if you start showing the very real connection to public health and the economy then the problem can be brought much closer to home.”