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SIDS Conference Starts with Warm Traditional Samoan “Talofa”

This is Samoan hospitality at its best. The road from the airport near the village of Faleolo, all along the coast to Apia is decorated with bunting and flags. Villages have tied up and put out signs to welcome the SIDS delegates from across the globe. And not least, the Samoan people are greeting everyone with big smiles and heartfelt “talofas”, the Samoan word for hello.

The SIDS Conference Exhibition was launched as part of the celebration of the International Year of SIDS on Sunday 31 August with a short function  highlighting the displays of UNESCO/MAGNUM Photos sponsored by the Government of Palau and the Mikati Foundation; UNESCO's World Heritage display and UNDESA's images of SIDS, sponsored by the Government of Turkey.

Representatives from several Government delegations made short statements:

HE John Ashe, President of the General Assembly, officially launched the Exhibition. HE Ambassador of Nauru Marlene Moses, Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, spoke of her pleasure in being part of the launch of a display that shows the nature of life in small islands. Ambassadors from Barbados, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Seychelles, champions for the International Year of SIDS, all spoke, calling for this display to become an exhibition at the UN Headquarters for the duration of the International year in order to draw attention to the challenges faced by SIDS. The representative of the Government of Turkey, which sponsored the whole UN display, provided the final remarks before participants were invited to view the exhibition.

UNESCO was represented by Dr Wendy Watson-Wright, Assistant Director General and Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IOC-UNESCO), and Mr Etienne Clement, Director for the UNESCO Office for the Pacific States.

UNESCO's contributions form a significant part of the Exhibition with coverage by MAGNUM Photos of UNESCO's actions for achieving sustainable development in SIDS from UNESCO's Associate Member Tokelau, a small group of three atolls 200 km north of Apia accessible only by boat and with a population of only 1,500 people, to Mauritius, hosts of the previous SIDS Meeting in the Indian Ocean, and across to stark images of clean up activities after the devastation caused by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti Caribbean. This is complemented by UNESCO's exhibition of World Heritage Sites in SIDS, which includes 32 sites of cultural and natural outstanding universal value. The photos demonstrate the beauty and awe that the World Heritage brand conveys.

Delegates then proceeded to the Opening Ceremony on a lovely balmy tropical evening. In Samoan tradition, the opening ceremony commenced with a prayer, followed by the official opening addresses of the Prime Minister of Samoa, Hon Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi,  Mr Ban Ki Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Mr Wu Hong-bo, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Secretary-General of the Conference.

The SIDS Theme Song “There is Hope” was then launched by Mulivai Catholic Church choir. According to Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, “the theme song will deliver a message to those who will participate in the SIDS conference, on how important this meeting is to Samoa as the host country.”

This was followed by a performance of a selection of traditional Samoan dances performed by school children from across the country. The primary and secondary students entered the field in colours representing the Member States attending the Conference, removing these to reveal traditional Samoan attire. They performed the fa'ataupati and sasa, two forms of Samoan slap dance, followed by their final number of the older students performing the siva afi or fire dance. 

The closing performance was a traditional celebratory dance performed on special occassions, the taualuga. This dance was performed by five young women, all current or former Miss Samoa title holders.

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