Her nation of Tuvalu is expected to be under water in the next 50 to 100 years but even when totally submerged, and she's without a land to speak from, not even the terrible forces of climate crisis will silence the voice and language of Fala Haulangi, a proud Tuvaluan.
Haulangi's Tuvaluan language is categorised as “definitely endangered” on the Unesco List of Endangered Languages, which means children don't learn it as a mother tongue in the home and, according to experts, the world loses an indigenous language every two weeks.
Haulangi, a union organiser and well known champion of minorities in New Zealand society feels that now, in this Tuvaluan language week, more than ever, must their voices be heard.
'We may be a minority among the minorities, but our people are always punching above their weight,' said Haulangi recently.
'We need to value our language, it is dying as fewer and fewer young people are speaking it. That's the reality.'
'The responsibility is back to us and we need to do our part to maintain the language.'
‘Fakatumau kae fakaakoi tau 'gana ke mautu a iloga o 'ta tuā’, means 'preserve and embrace your language to safeguard our heritage identities'.
This is the theme of the 2023 language week and Haulangi, as ever when speaking up for the underdogs of society, is forceful.
'We have a very important role to play here as long as we continue to have a voice,’ she said.
'And that's where the power of the collective comes in.'
'But that's also why we need allies around us to make sure that we speak the same language and sing from the same page.'
Here she cites the importance of Cyclone Gabriel and the resulting flood damage that wreaked New Zealand in February and the newfound, but welcome, empathy from some Kiwis towards other sufferers of the climate crisis such as the Tuvaluans.
'We Kiwis used to be in denial before, but now with all the flooding that's been happening right on our doorsteps, we started to wake up and go, 'Yeah, this is what you people (from Tuvalu) have been talking about all this time.'
‘All this time’ is how long Haulangi feels they have been at the coalface, pickaxe in hand, grinding away for the cleaners, the airport luggage handlers, the service industry workers of the world, for them all to be granted the living wage, for migrant workers not to be exploited by precarious contracts, to encourage Pasifika people to vote, to demand basic rights for age carers and home support workers, for fairer legislation … The list goes on and on, just like Haulangi’s boundless energy. Unlike her islands, there is no danger of sinking Haulangi. Her spirit and fight are too ingrained.
It goes too far back, right back to when she was a child in Nauru and her father was literally using the pickaxe to excavate phosphate for the rich Australian and New Zealand companies that exploited Nauru’s minerals.
Seeing her father paid in boxes of corned beef, sugar and toilet paper, she recalls, stirred something in her.
Image: By INABA Tomoaki via Flickr, cc-by-sa-2.0