Koror — Debbie Remengesau is not your ordinary first lady. On any day she will tell you she loves her role as keeper of her home, as wife to her husband, mother to their children and grandmother to her grandchildren, but she has often worked in the shadows of her better-known husband, Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. to change government policy, to accomplishing several conservation victories for Palau.
In March, Debbie Remengesau received the Crans Montana Forum’s Prix de la Fondation Award, “in recognition of her invaluable contributions and leadership in conservation and ocean stewardship for the future of Palau’s children, through the Palau Legacy Project and the Palau Pledge Campaign.”
The Palau Legacy Project and the Palau Pledge Campaign are innovative moves created last year by Debbie Remengesau and four other women to make visitors to the country sign a promise pledging to respect the environment and aimed at curbing ecological damage caused by booming numbers of tourists. The “Palau Pledge” is stamped onto visitors’ passports and must be signed upon arrival in the country.
“We are not only doing this for the Palauans but to reach out globally for other countries so they can do their same in their country to save our oceans and Earth,” Remengesau said.
While epitomizing the old adage “behind every successful man, there is a woman,” Remengesau recognizes her own power as a woman. In Palau, she said, women have the power to select and remove male titleholders. They have decision-making authority in terms of matriline-controlled property and wealth. With this power, women also play a significant role in environmental conservation especially if the matter at stake is the future of their children and the next generation, Remengesau added.
She doesn't believe that her role as the nation’s first lady only carries ceremonial duties. “I make sure I help him or influence him in his work in a positive way. I make sure I help him make good decisions for the well-being of the people he represents. I don't want to be sitting there, like a lobster, looking pretty and not doing anything,” she said.
The practice of conservation has been imbedded in her since she was a child. The young Debbie was taught by her parents and grandmother not to take more than she needed. Remengesau shares her husband’s cause and articulated that conservation is at the heart of Palauan culture and her view that tourists must be reminded to not destroy what they came to enjoy. “We are friendly people, but there are very aggressive tourists with no respect for us and our environment,” the first lady said.
She said it also remarkable that the country’s leader—her husband—is a committed partner in saving the environment. “I want to say that Tommy suits me. I am his main supporter and the balance in the family. I would want to say that as women, you are the outrigger of the canoe, you are the balance not only in your family but in the society and the community especially if you are married to someone who holds a position and is a political figure,” she said.
Remengesau — a classy, down-to-earth woman who naturally radiates compassion and generosity —
fulfills her responsibilities as mother of four and a grandmother of five with much love and devotion along with her role in the Palau Legacy initiative. “Together we are strong,” she said when she received her award in Morocco. “So, I encourage you to be inspired by the women of Palau, who unite in times of crisis to take a stand for what’s right and lead their community.”