Opinion

12 Hours As British High Commissioner To Fiji

Today, I write my piece in appreciating Her Excellency, outgoing British High Commissioner Hopkins for the opportunity to shadow her for a day and for the British High Commission staff at the residence and the office as well.
27 Jun 2020 14:48
12 Hours As British High Commissioner To Fiji
From left: Youth environmental activist, AnnMary Raduva and British High Commissioner Melanie Hopkins.

Shadowing the British High Commissioner to Fiji for a day has been the realisation of a dream I never knew I had. In March this year, Her Excellency, Melanie Hopkins invited me to shadow her for a day as part of the High Commission’s 2020 International Women’s Day celebrations – a marked opportunity to highlight gender issues, promote gender equality and to empower young women leaders.

Today, I write my piece in appreciating Her Excellency, outgoing British High Commissioner Hopkins for the opportunity to shadow her for a day and for the British High Commission staff at the residence and the office as well. I did not only meet a Head of Mission – Her Excellency Hopkins was a mother figure that guided and mentored me throughout the day and made shadowing her for the day easy, enjoyable and a memorable one.

In the short time I spent with Her Excellency Hopkins, I was very fortunate to learn about diplomacy, international relations and most importantly, a brief about the British-Fijian international relations and experiencing first-hand the life of a diplomat.

We briefly discussed climate change and how young advocates are re-shaping the global climate change movement and this was an issue very dear to me. I was also happy to share my brief interactions with the UK BBC Newsround team that was recently in Fiji to do a documentary on climate change and how young activists were using their space to mobilize climate action and advocacy.

I was also fortunate to meet the President of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Dr Tijjani Muhammad-Bande who was visiting Fiji on the same week I was shadowing Her Excellency Hopkins at an evening function hosted by the Fijian government at the Fiji Museum. Her Excellency Hopkins also introduced me to many heads of missions, senior government officials and members from the civil society.

From early morning breakfast meetings, midday coffee catch ups, lunch meetings, afternoon briefings to evening functions, I somehow think diplomats are super heroes without capes! Their schedules are never ending.

I have recorded my day in a diary entry that I would like to share here.

5:00AM

I had set the alarm an hour earlier than the usual time. I am very excited to be the “Shadow British High Commissioner for a Day” today and to be mentored by Her Excellency, Melanie Hopkins. I have always admired the heads of missions and their diplomatic postings and to be part of the diplomatic circle for a day was an opportunity to learn from the best.

Started my morning with my usual morning prayers, then a hearty English breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, sausages, grilled tomatoes, a bowl of baked beans, toasted brown bread and a nice cup of Earl Grey tea with a very different good morning greeting! My parents greeted me as “Your Excellency” and it was such a lovely gesture.

6:30AM

My parents brief me with this new role and the opportunity, privilege and responsibility that comes with it. I am wearing a purple traditional Fijian “sulu jamba” – the theme colour for International Women’s Day. I am also briefed on protocol, the do’s and don’t’s and everything I needed to know about diplomacy and international relations. We have another family prayer before my mother drops me at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Suva. My parents also arranged for my pick up.

I accompanied my younger sister Faith to the bus stop on her way to school and she wished me well for the day. She also understands what gender equality is and the reasons we stand in solidarity with women leaders who have championed this very important issue.

7:30AM

I walked through the gates at the British High Commissioner’s residence a little nervous but the security guards made me feel so welcomed. I tried not to show my nervousness but it was still too new a role for me so I asked my mother if she could stay and hang around with me for a while. We paid our taxi and walked towards the residence and I was reminding myself of the task and the reality of becoming the first local Shadow British High Commissioner for a Day.

At the residence, Her Excellency Hopkins met us with warmth and I could also sense a little excitement too. We were greeted by our host, exchanged introductions and I bid my mother goodbye. Her Excellency and I did not waste any time and jumped straight into our day’s schedule and briefings. At this stage, I did not feel any nervousness and I was eager to understudy Her Excellency.

I enjoyed the morning briefing and our “talanoa” session on climate change, the COP 26 preparations in the UK (this happened before the coronavirus pandemic and the postponement of the climate change conference), the youth climate movement, a bit of colonial history and the diplomatic ties between the two countries. I was very engrossed in our historical conversation because I am also a History student in school.

10:00AM

Our first meeting for the day was with the Fiji Times publisher. Her Excellency and I were picked up from the residence and we went together to meet the newspaper publisher. I felt a sense of closure because my parents were both former journalists with the newspaper and I was always nicknamed the “Fiji Times baby”. We talked about the mock UN gathering for high school students that International School in Suva hosts and the relevance of the meeting especially with the youth climate movement that was the highlight of 2019.

10:30AM

I accompanied Her Excellency to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Nasese for the condolence signing for the late Fijian diplomat and Police Commissioner, His Excellency Esala Teleni. I also met other heads of missions and senior Fijian government officials at the condolence book signing. It was a sober occasion and I was very fortunate to be part of all of this.

11:00AM

We were back at the residence and I was introduced to the British High Commission staff by Her Excellency and she was too kind to introduce me as “Your High Commissioner for the Day”. I was warmly welcomed by the staff and I enjoyed the very brief interaction until the fire authority brigade arrived at the residence for the High Commission scheduled fire drill.

12:00PM

We were driven to the Makoi Women’s Vocational Training Centre to officiate at the graduation of 43 women from vocational training. Her Excellency was the chief guest and I was very happy to be at this event because it gave me an opportunity to learn from these women and to be empowered by them too. Life is full of hard knocks and I admire them for their perseverance and dedication to be agents of change in their families and communities.

Her Excellency Hopkins is a natural and she continuously empowered the women gradates and I felt that the message was also for me too. A scrumptious lunch was also provided and we were happy to join our hosts and the families at the graduation ceremony.

1:30PM

From Makoi to the Fiji Sun newsroom to meet Mr Nemani Delaibatiki for a brief catch up on media issues. I also have memories of the Fiji Sun newsroom when the newspaper was operating from Walu Bay and my mother was a journalist with the newspaper.

2:00PM

Her Excellency and I went to meet the Honourable Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation and her team at the Minister’s office. Hon. Vuniwaqa is also an elegant and lovely person to talk to and it was a pleasant meeting with power point presentations on gender inequality in the country and the strategic measures government has taken to narrow the inequality gap. I thoroughly enjoyed the presentations because it was something I am quite passionate about – gender and its various prejudices.

3:00PM

We are back at the residence for a debrief. I marvel at how Her Excellency manages her tight daily schedules. She gave me the afternoon off to prepare for our last engagement for the day – an evening event at the Fiji Museum.

4:30PM

Her Excellency’s official driver dropped me off at home in her official vehicle and I was to be picked up again in an hour for our evening engagement. This was exciting and since I was a minor, I asked Her Excellency if I could be chaperoned. I arrived back at home and had a quick look at my very limited and budgeted wardrobe for an evening wear. My sister was back from school and was too eager to hear about my day. I also received a lot of messages from my friends from school and they too were keen to know about my day and the excitement of being a shadow high commissioner for a day.

6:00PM

I was chaperoned by my mother and we were kindly picked up from home by Her Excellency’s official driver. He was very prompt and friendly. We picked Her Excellency at the residence and then headed to the Fiji Museum to meet the President of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Dr Tijjani Muhammad-Bande and his traveling officials at a reception hosted by the Fijian government. The Attorney General, Honourable Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum officiated at the event. I was very honoured to be introduced to the other diplomatic heads, international organisation representatives, senior government officials and members of the media too. I enjoyed meeting people and having brief chats with everyone.

After the formalities, we stayed for a few minutes and exchanged contacts and networked before we said our goodbyes and called it a night. I jokingly told my mother that I had homework and school the next day and we both laughed because she also had the same thought too.

8:00PM

Her Excellency kindly gave us her official vehicle to drop me off at home and we were very appreciative of this kind gesture again. My experience as Shadow British High Commissioner for a Day” is a real privilege and to be in Her Excellency Melanie Hopkin’s shoes in Suva is an added honour. I ended my day with a thanksgiving prayer with my family for a beautiful day and a memorable one too.

Being the UK’s top diplomat to Fiji (and the Pacific) for a day has given me an opportunity to network with dignitaries, meet people and appreciate the range of work and tasks diplomatic heads do on a daily basis to strengthen bilateral and multilateral relations in trade, investment, socio-economic issues, political and press work.

Moce Mada

Today, I join the Fijian government and the diplomatic corps in saying moce mada and sota tale to Her Excellency, Melanie Hopkins and her family. Her Excellency has given me and other young girls an opportunity to look beyond the fringing reefs of our Pacific Islands and to be goodwill ambassadors in life. Fiji and the Pacific will surely miss your engagements and we wish you the very best in your next posting.

Ni sa moce mada!

Feedback: rosi.doviverata@fijisun.com.fj

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