With the proverbial thick skin and a love of her village, Tarusila Veibi is a portrait of village determination.

“My role is to take up issues to the bose vanua on behalf of the yaubula (natural resources) committee,” said Tarusila, of Tiliva Village, in Bua. “I’ve been spoken harshly at, but I never let that be a hindrance to my work.”

Her work is helping her community and increasingly communities across Bua and Fiji better manage their natural resources to meet their food and income needs. As Fiji’s population has grown, as have the people’s needs, natural resources are declining making it harder for communities to thrive.

Tarusila is the secretary of the Bua Yaubula Management Support Team (BYMST) and also the only woman representing a tikina (district) at the BYMST meetings.

When she first started in her position, she was reproved by leaders and her chief for bringing in new concepts. But her knowledge of how life could be better for her community, through sustainable natural resource management, made her determined to promote better ways.

“When I asked them to at least have a tabu area in our qoliqoli (traditional fishing ground), it was hard for them to accept it. But I kept bringing it up,” she recounted.

“I also used indirect approaches when I could not get through to the bose vanua. I would bring up issues during grog sessions. And I would have talanoa sessions with the women when they were weaving mats because they will influence their families as they are the best communicators in the family.”

A marine tabu area is intended to let the fish populations recover from overuse, to let the fish get big enough to breed, so they could start replenishing the reefs. Communities across Fiji have done the same and seen fish populations increase.

“It took the tikina two years to finally agree on establishing a tabu on 31st December 2010,” she said.

The community agreed they stop fishing there for three years then maintained the tabu. The community has yet to open the tabu as they have seen it help replenish the reefs outside the tabu area. The tabu was now into its fifth year, she said.

Tarusila’s interest in yaubula management was sparked in 2008 when she was still working with Fiji Pine. At that time, she attended a yaubula management workshop. She started taking off time to attend more meetings. The basic concept of managing the land and sea to boost food and income made sense. As did the reasons why people were getting less from their natural resources.

“From that day, I have never looked back and now that I have retired and my two sons are working on Viti Levu, I have time I will help with awareness or surveys in the province on conservation work,” she said.

Tarusila has become so good at it the Fiji Locally-Managed Marine Area Network, which supports more than 450 communities around the country in yaubula management, has engaged Tarusila as the first woman representative to the network.

Tarusila, among other activities, helps ensure women’s views are included in community discussions about natural resources.

“Tarusila has been invaluable in her support for communities in Bua, and now will provide that support to communities across Fiji,” said Brad Carte, co-ordinator for FLMMA.

Tarusila says that to truly put community first, means first making sure her church duties and family needs are covered.

“If I have church obligations, I will prepare that and give it to our lay minister and I am also blessed with a loving husband who supports my work when I leave home,” Tarusila said. “Before I leave, I make sure I am satisfied that everything is OK.”

And putting community first also means not worrying about compensation.

“When I do this work, I don’t expect to be paid because I am doing this for my people and vanua. Sometimes I am given an allowance by the NGOs who request that I accompany them and other times I am not,” she said. “But I don’t care, this is my passion.”

Words by Alumeci Nakeke of SeaWeb Asia Pacific