The health journey of a global rugby legend, who admits that he could have faced an early death because he neglected his body, has been used to inspire behavioral change among Pacific Island populations, in dealing with waste management and pollution.

A slim and fit-looking All Black and Manu Samoa icon, “Inga the Winger” shared his story during the Call to Action Session of the Third Clean Pacific Roundtable (3rdCPRT) opened virtually on Tuesday.

“I was very, very obese, my health statistics were very poor and I was looking at an early grave hadn’t I changed my attitude and changed my behaviour,” said Fesola’i Vaaiga Tu’igamala. “I didn’t take care of myself physically, I didn’t look after my health and I suffered the consequences. It wasn’t just me who suffered, those who were close to me suffered, my wife, children, friends and my family suffered.”

Thankfully, Inga responded and transformed his habits by changing his diet and lifestyle. He is a lot healthier today and he wants to inspire others by sharing his story. Drawing comparisons with the waste crisis in the Pacific, Inga raised the alarm bells about the consequences of negligence.

“I liken what happened to my body to the earth. When we don’t look after our environment, when we don’t take care of our own backyard then we will suffer the consequences. I had to learn to get my health back physically, mentally and spiritually. We need to do the same for our environment.”

Statistics show that waste and pollution management is a major issue for many Pacific Island countries. Studies have shown that 40% of all the marine plastics that end up in the Pacific comes from Asia. Furthermore, a different study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicted that on current trends, there would be more micro-plastics in the ocean by 2050 than fish.

“The reality is that waste in our community is a major problem and we need to take action today. We need to pay attention to the impact waste and pollution have on our health is huge,” Inga said.

Having lived in Samoa for many years, Inga said he saw the problem first hand and it is what piqued his interest when SPREP asked him to speak at 3rdCPRT.

“The reality is that we (Pacific islands) cannot make any more land.”

But he encouraged people to change their mindsets.

“It’s the small things such as encouraging people to take pride in themselves and their homes. As a sportsman, I was brought up with these two words, TEAM and PRIDE. Team stood for Together Everyone Achieves More. Pride stands for Personal Responsibility In Delivering Excellence and that’s the message, I want to get people to take pride in their homes, that’s where we can start, that’s where we can make a big difference.”

Fesolai acknowledged the importance of forums like the 3rdCPRT and the collective effort of everybody involved He said he followed the progress of COP26 where the world is looking at solutions to climate change.

“But for us when it comes to waste and pollution, we can start in our backyard. I’ve got no doubt that as you embark on the discussions in this 3rdCPRT, the challenge will be how do influence our own backyard,” Fesolai said. “We must deal with what we can control, do our part. I was fortunate to play rugby and got to travel the world. As Pacific islanders, we are privileged to live in this part of the world, the Pacific Ocean. We have a duty to protect it.”

“Inga the Winger” was a dual international who became the Pacific’s first sporting millionaire. He represented both the All Blacks and Manu Samoa, and he played rugby league professionally for many years, including an extremely successful stint at Wigan. But his passion doesn’t stop with rugby. He loves boxing and when he moved to Samoa in 2015, he used the sport of Boxing to reach out and equip people of all ages and backgrounds. He is married to Daphne, and has 4 children and 4 grandchildren. He is from the villages of Faleasiu, Saanapu , Sataua and Safune.

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