|Sonia Warner, SRO, DFID, seated on the Icebox|
Fiji represented some important firsts in my life. First overseas posting, first time travelling around the world and first experience of motherhood, all combined into such a fantastic experience between 1996- 1998. The Pacific Islands are without a doubt one of the most beautiful parts of the world. DFID’s Pacific Programme was never significant there and in the process of winding down. But I was truly fortunate to visit places like Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Tahiti, Australia and New Zealand. Interestingly, I had responsibility for Pitcairn Island, the sole British Overseas Territory in the South Pacific and home of the decedents of the Bounty Mutineers and the smallest population in the world – about 50 people at the time. See: https://www.britannica.com/place/Pitcairn-Island. I never visited (it took weeks to get there and back) but instead went to New Zealand to do business with Leon Salt, the Pitcairn Commissioner at the time.
Despite all this movement, somehow, it was also time to start a family and my daughter Lauren (now 21) is without a doubt a product of the Pacific.
|Lauren’s first year|
However, it was not all fun and games, as one of my biggest challenges was dealing with racism and exclusion within the British Mission and wider British expatriate community. At that time, there were few people of colour on diplomatic assignments, but this was no excuse for the treatment we had to endure. After this experience, I realise that it was important to develop strong coping skills to deal with the narrow mindedness of some colleagues and develop my own sense of belonging, reinforcing my right to work overseas. I realised I was one of the forerunners bringing diversity into the UK diplomatic service which involved breaking down huge barriers to effect change. But progress on diversity remains painstakingly slow. Over three decades have passed, and the environment can often feel as toxic now as it did back then. But I remain committed to simply being where I want to be, rather than where others may wish me to be. Friends and family helped so much in creating a healthier environment and more bearable situation. Some of these friendships remain to this day.
|An enjoyable experience|