Earth Day in the Pacific

April 19, 2023
12:00 PM

The Public Policy Center is proud to support this lecture hosted by the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council (ICFRC). This event is free and open to the public. Please register using the link prior to attending.

Join us this Earth Day to learn about a beautiful Pacific Island Nation at the intersection of the international dateline and the Equator. This big oceanic sovereign state is where time starts and encompasses the 12th largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world. However, with a land mass of less than 800 sq. km. and an average height of just above sea level, it is one of the smallest and most endangered countries in the world. Learn how a 20-year-old Peace Corps volunteer fell in love with this country, how love turned into action, and how actions created global connections advocating for the nation, its people, and what you can do to help. Joining the presentation will be representatives from the Fiery Canoe Foundation, Tungaru Youth Action, and the upcoming feature film, Millennium Island.

Mike Roman, former Kiribati Peace Corps Volunteer, AmeriCorps VISTA (Central College - Pella, IA) Fulbright fellow, ghostwriter, and co-creator of the social media platform Humans of Kiribati, received his PhD from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh in 2014. His dissertation topic, "Migration, Transnationality, and Climate Change in the Republic of Kiribati," was turned into a 2018 Sundance selection, "Anote's Ark," by Matthieu Rytz. In 2020, his second film assisting in creating "One Word," highlighting the Marshall Islanders' fight for climate justice and survival, was selected for the Lift-Off Global Network Film Festival. Collaborating with governments, international media, non-profit organizations, and citizens worldwide, he has spent the last 23 years raising global consciousness of the climate crisis by humanizing climate change from the frontlines. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for the National Peace Corps Association, works at the University of Cincinnati, and collaborates with congressional representatives to pass legislation for the climate-displaced persons worldwide in his spare time.

Kea Rutherford is a high school student from Scarsdale, New York. Her mother's side of the family is from Tabiang and Tabwewa on Rabi and Banaba. She is currently a high school senior at Edgemont Junior Senior High School. Her efforts to aid the Banaban community initially began in the summer of 2021 when she created a fundly page to aid the Banabans in Fiji during COVID-19. From there, she was inspired to create project to aid Banabans everywhere for education, culture, arts, and heritage projects identified as priorities by Banaban communities. So, she began the Fiery Canoe Foundation with the help of her mother Maria, and her aunt, Katerina.

Maria Teaiwa-Rutherford is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical Center. Born in Lautoka and raised in Suva, Fiji of Banaban, Tabiteuean and African American heritage, Dr. Teaiwa-Rutherford received a bachelor's degree from Santa Clara University and medical degree from Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Maintaining an office on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, she is deeply committed to Pacific Women's Health and has provided care to patients and teaching of registrars at Tungaru Central Hospital in Kiribati.

Lulu DeBoer is a graduate of Stanford University. A daughter of an I-Kiribati mother and Dutch American father, she spent the majority of her developing years growing up in a small town in rural east Texas. Since an early age, Lulu developed a deep passion for filmmaking and an appreciation of how the medium can unite different cultures to express universal emotion. Lulu's film work has spanned several nations including the Tribes of Northern California and Washington, Malaysia, Kiribati, Fiji, and Germany. She is currently a board member of a sustainable housing non-profit in Houston, Texas. In her spare time, Lulu has a performance-based web series chronicling different cultural perspectives on the mermaid symbol. Lulu currently resides in Houston, Texas, producing a feature documentary, Millennium Island, under her production company, Lulu Lens LLC.

Ruth M. Cross is the founder of the Tungaru Climate Alliance. She has created community programs and projects to address challenges in Tarawa relating to sanitation, the environment, healthcare, education, and business. The president of Kiribati recently awarded Ruth the Kiribati Order of Merit for her aid efforts and programs totaling more than $2 million to date. She is committed to creating positive change in Kiribati through meaningful collaborations and a "better together" approach, and she is particularly passionate about access to safe water and sanitation.

Baniti Semilota is currently studying for a Bachelor of Laws at the University of South Pacific. She founded the first youth-led organization in Kiribati, Tungaru Youth Action (TYA). As president of TYA, Baniti assists this group in empowering local youth. Baniti was crowned Miss Kiribati 2022, using this opportunity to raise awareness on domestic violence and the rights of women and children in Kiribati. Baniti has also represented the Kiribati delegation as their sole youth representative at the COP27 conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. She believes the youth in Kiribati have significant potential and need the right support and tools to succeed and make positive contributions to their families, communities, and country. Baniti is committed to advocating for their needs and concerns at the highest levels of government and society.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Dragana Petic at