The Director of the Pacific Theological College, Mr. Aisake Casimira;
The ‘Reweaving the Ecological Mat’ Coordinator, Ms Daphney Kiki;
Members of the Staff, Students, Family members and friends of the Pacific Theological College, Pacific Conference of Churches and the Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies of the University of the South Pacific;
Artists and Contributors to the ‘Voices In The Deep’ Exhibition;
Reverend Raki Tigarea;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen.   
Ni sa Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Asalaamu Alaykum, Ni Hao, Noa’ia ‘e Mauri, and a very good afternoon to you all.  
Ladies and gentlemen, at the outset, please allow me to acknowledge and commend the good Reverend Raki Tigarea for the short prayer and Divine/Spiritual presentation.
As your President, and Head of State of Fiji, I am extremely pleased, honoured and very thankful indeed to be invited and officiate as your Chief Guest to view and witness the Voices in the Deep (VOID) Exhibition and Presentations.
Ladies and gentlemen, it would be remiss of me if I do not at the outset acknowledge and thank our forefathers, particularly our church leaders and elders for their wisdom and foresight for establishing the Reweaving the Ecological Mat or REM Programme in 1999, to preserve our traditional way of life – our cultures and traditions, our pristine and tranquil environment/biodiversity – and equally important, to re-connect us back with Nature.
Ladies and gentlemen the issues of the debilitating state of the health and wellbeing of our people in the islands; the deepening depletion of our national and regional limited resources and biodiversity, the deterioration of regional and international bilateral relations due to a loss of multilateralism; and, the increasing social ills/dis-connect and the loss of Basic Values and Principles resulting in increased (domestic violence against women, children loneliness, suicides, etc.) and the deterioration to the state of mental and physical health of our people are Very Real and Serious issues that threaten social cohesion, peace and security today.
These global challenges require a global solution and the REM Programme is a commendable manner in which we as a Pacific Family of Nations and Peoples can contribute in our modest, noble and unique way.
Ladies and gentlemen, last weekend I was invited and officiated at the commemoration of the United Nations 75th Anniversary which was established after World War II in 1945 and charged with the primary responsibility of maintaining and preserving global peace and security.
National Security encompasses, Social Security, Food Security and the Security of our vast natural Resources as well and at this juncture, I wish to draw our attention to the reality that the issues of depleting resources and biodiversity, and the deteriorating international bilateral relations and the societal challenges we are facing, are Tangible, Present and Real Threats to humanity’s survival today.
This necessitated the urgent requirement for the UN to formulate the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which initiated the beginning of a global effort in 2000 to tackle the indignity of poverty, which compelled, in 2010 the UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon to refer to its lack of progress as ‘unmet commitments, inadequate resources, lack of focus and accountability, and insufficient interest in sustainable development”. Therefore, In 2012 the MDGs were replaced a New Set of Outcomes known as The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which was launched at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.
SDGs reflect continuity and the consolidation of MDGs making them more sustainable by strengthening environmental goals.
The SDGs at a global level obligates us at local, regional levels and to address   and contextualise our responses to our current challenges; the Pacific – Way.  
As Pacific Peoples with our diverse cultures and traditions, we are also blessed with rich and resourceful cultures, traditions and practices that our forefathers observed and preserved. They were one with nature and their surroundings, every aspect of nature and their lives had a spiritual element to it too.
This very spiritual element has over the years been left dormant or misused. As I had alluded to earlier, I applaud the wisdom and foresight of our Pacific Church Leaders who in 1999 set up the Reweaving the Ecological Mat (REM) that was later merged with the research programme of the Pacific Theological College in 2017.
I am reliably informed that the REM initiative is an attempt to weave a national and Pacific story of resilience, self-determination and hope for the wellbeing and sustainable development of the region, their voices and her peoples.
It was designed to facilitate regional and national dialogue with governments, churches, civil society organisations, indigenous communities and higher learning institutions to discuss development challenges and to ‘reweave’ new approaches to holistic national and regional development. Based on and drawing from indigenous and local knowledge, and on religious values and spirituality, it promotes three strategic approaches:
(a) The Use of ecological indicators as measures of community, national and regional wellbeing;
(b) Ecological integration of national accounts as complementary to the Gross National Product (GDP); and
(c) Research and education at the community, national and regional levels.
In addition, centering the value of social capital as “…the strength of the Pacific island countries’ initiative, and the basis of life, livelihoods and development in the Pacific.” It reframes the story of dependency and vulnerability of the Pacific region and its people to one that is self-determining, resilient and truly sustainable.
Three publications were produced as a direct outcome of the REM initiative. These publications were initially intended to assist with the countries’ processes and articulation of their own contextual approaches to a national ecological framework for development. Two of the publications offer practical examples as to how we might begin to change the development story.
The third presents a collective reimaging of the vibrant, thriving Pacific future we want to see.
It represents the process of re-visioning of a Post-Covid-19 region by a wide range of peoples from across the Pacific.
These publications should you wish to expand your knowledge of the Ecological challenges we currently face and its aspects are:
Publication 1: The Reweaving the Ecological Mat Framework: Toward an Ecological Framework for Development;
Publication 2: The Ecological-Economic Accounts: Towards Intemerate Values;
Publication 3:  From the Deep: Pasifika Voices for a New Story.
These publications offer different solutions to rebuild the Fiji Household on the foundations that are somewhat familiar to most of our people, particularly in light of the ‘New Norm’ which sadly has been imposed upon humanity by the Covid-19 Pandemic.
These solutions are intertwined with culture and traditions; our indigenous and local philosophies; our spiritualties and religious values; and our own measures of health and well-being.
In terms of policy formulations, these publications imply the following serious considerations on the kind of development initiatives that enhances, not diminishes, our people’s health and wellbeing – the wholeness of life – of our people.
Our environment as part of us, not as commodities.
Our people as drivers of development, not recipients of others’ goodwill.
We will have to learn to be self-reliant and discard the ‘handout mentality’ which had impeded and stifled our progress for too long.
The three publications inspired the launch of THE VOID Art Exhibition that we are to witness today. The art pieces, while diverse in their depictions and representations of Pacific life and expressions, illustrate a story of HOPE!  This HOPE boasts a Resilient, Tenacious and Resourceful Pacific people, enriched with moral fortitude and a fighting spirit.
A spirit that drove and guided our ancestors to brave the winds and the tides of the ocean thousands of years ago to settle on the islands we have been privileged and blessed to inherit and settle today. It is therefore incumbent upon us to preserve and protect their beauty and intergrity for our future generations.
The VOID Art Exhibition is more than viewing and bidding for any of these beautifully and artistically painted pieces.
It is about our appreciating the resilience, moral fortitude and tenacious spirit to turn the tide of dependency, of biodiversity loss, of mental illness and NCDs, and to graft a Pacific developmental story that is written by US the PACIFIC PEOPLE, which will guide us even in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, I am informed that this coming Friday, a fundraising dinner and auction, will be hosted at the Holiday Inn - and is for a special purpose! To support the work of the 'Reweaving the Ecological Mat' youths (REM Youths), that comprise of young Fijians, Samoans, Papua New Guineans, Solomon Islanders, Ni-Vanuatu, Tongans, Tuvaluans and I-Kiribati, whose work was born out of REM initiative.
The REM Youths use the arts (music, visual art, dance, etc.) as the means for education and advocacy, as a means to encourage people to tap into traditional and religious knowledge, and spirituality to help them tackle poverty, climate change impacts and strengthen resilience in their communities around the Pacific.
Today’s art exhibition is one of these activities; They have also produced an original song titled "The Edge" and continue to work with the Oceania Centre at USP on a writing project to produce simple reading materials and a series of artworks on our Pacific ecology.
To conclude ladies and gentlemen, I personally believe that during this time when we are faced with the Covid-19 pandemic with its very traumatic and adverse impacts on humanity, the work of these young people is highly significant and relevant as they draw from their God-Given talents and skills which reflect in their work, an appreciation of nature to replace our fears and uncertainties with hope and faith in ourselves as a people who possess much and have much to offer this world.
May I wish you well and every success in your endeavours.
Vinaka Vakalevu, Dhanyavaad, Xiexie, Faiak’sea, Thank you All and God Bless.