I am a proud Melanesian Woman.
I am not embarrased to be one of them-in fact they are skilful in their weavings and damn great mothers. They are also very strong women too as I’ve come to appreciate the challenges they are exposed to. Whether it is the increasing level of physical violence from the men or the dramatic climate changes in their environment. Like all other women in third world countries, they also face the lack of maternity services and access to good medical care due to many factors.
As a young woman growing up in the tribal villages, I have witnessed and heard about the countless physical violences from the men towards our women. Gestational women often bear the forefront of this. The acts of violence were horrendous. They were extreme. Our women were often burnt to death. How shocking is that!
We should be ashamed of ourselves for not embracing our women enough and supporting them through these difficult times. Our goverments have their own personal agendas. It is exactly this-when a woman is beaten up, it is ok. It’s the norm.
Our Chiefs, elders, religious leaders and good men do not standup and come to our rescue. Our brothers do not stand up to protect us. Our women were always alone. They do not form the powerful bond and the social network to support a loving sister. A sister who presents as being so vulnerable, broken and critical. Why is that?
It is outrageous! There is no such thing as “It is not OK” in our Melanesian Culture. However, these are changing times. I am grateful to see that this notion is changing due to the increased influence of education to our Melanesian people on different platforms. Our younger generations are taking a stand against violence. Having lived in a western society for more than 20 years, I am increasingly aware of the women campaigns like #metoo movements as well as the International Zonta Clubs who contribute to education around violence in many societies.
I live in New Zealand hence District 16 becomes my district to serve in. Oh it sounds so much like the Hunger Games movies with the different districts! Have you ever watched any of them? The common themes are so conflicting in comparison. The Zonta Clubs are all about raising the statuses of women worldwide and empowering them through service and advocacy. I learnt the most about this powerful women organisation that really takes a stance on preserving the dignity of women worldwide. I felt really convicted to do and act on something to contribute to the necessary change.
This act and conviction to do something and highlight violence in Melanesian Countries happened on October 2nd 2013. I can still remember becoming overwhelmed with memories of wanting to do good behind a profound cause. I had embarked on another life journeys-one that has impacted significantly on me that I would never forget. It was time to raise some funds for the women of Bougainville. The purpose of the fundraiser was to raise funds to help with the Arawa Crisis Centre called the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre. The centre needed an urgent water tank. They were also in desperate need for better roofings across Bougainville caring for our vulnerable women and children.
My good friend Brett Childs who has been a wonderful mentor on both a professional and social level supported me hugely with this major fundraiser for the women of Arawa, Bougainville. This is by far my biggest conviction. We hired the beautiful Light House Cinema in Petone, Hutt City in Wellington and had the challenge of selling 80 tickets at $40 each for one of the cinemas. My friend Maureen Tait helped designed the film poster. We went onto social media to advertise and spread the word. We had the honour of choosing Mr Pip-a much loved NZ film adapted by the Director Andrew Adamson but written by our local Lower Hutt Author Llyod Jones who was shortlisted for the Booker Man Prize in 2007. Llyod Jones is the brother of the multi-million dollar property tycoon Bob Jones.
Meanwhile, I was going into garden centres north of Porirua City where I live to present my movie fundraiser and ask for some sponsorships and advice for Bougainvillea plants. The local Palmers Garden Centre was responsive and so was the local Leacroft Nursery however, the season of Bougainvillea plants was delayed. Tough luck. The Zonta Club of Mana came on board to help with the sponsorship of 80 lolly bags while my friend Rodney Moore from the University of Otago helped sponsored all the wines for the punters.
The Wellington Melanesian communities helped with the entertainment singing our pidgin songs with our ukeleles. It was an exciting journey to be part of. I heard about Mrs Grace Watts, the second wife of Mr Watts (Pop Eye) or better known as the actress Florence Korokoro who played the character was flying down from Auckland to attend our fundraiser. Excitement builds. The fact that Llyod Jones and Florence Korokoro were attending was too much. I bet if Andrew Adamson was even in NZ, we would have had a Red Carpet event! The tickets were selling out fast and donations flooded in, even from United Nations Reps in Wellington. Our Labour National Member of Parliament for my area Mana, Kris Faáfoi was in attendance as well as members of the Papua New Guinean Defence Force and the PNG High Commissioner in Wellington. It was a Melanesian party!
I had prepared my speech-frazzled nerves. I had two Melanesian students from Victoria University who volunteered their time to serve wine to our movie supporters. (Little did I know, that later on when I would speak as a guest speaker at their Melanesian Student Event, they would present to me donations gathered to go towards the safehouse fundraising-It was overwhelming!). It was a beautiful evening with the sounds of melanesian songs. It felt so tropical. As soon as everyone took their seats, we had a short conversation with Llyod Jones as well as Florence Korokoro.
I spoke as an Ambassador of Vanuatu. Truly it meant so much. My speech reflected the empathy and compassion towards our Melanesian sisters. Despite my rocky voice on stage, I held it together and delievered. It was emotional. This meant so much thanking those who have contributed. It was phenomenal for a tribal girl. A tribal girl from the village. A melanesian woman following her heart and what was important and mattered so much. It was so humanitarian on a high note. Here I’ve highlighted the increasing violence against our women. It was time the world knew about how our women suffered. We needed help. We needed support; be it physical, spiritual or psychological. We wanted the other women to stand with us too; the international women. It was too tough being on our own with no voice anymore.
We were drowning.
We were helpless.
We were dying.
Mr Pip was an emotional deep drama that showed the violent lives of our melanesian people. It spoke on so many levels. It was cruel and heartbreaking. It was gut-wrenching.
I found myself sobbing.
Never under-estimate the power of literature in offering escape and solace in the worst of times I learnt. At the end of the evening, a man from the crowd pledged his support to help install the water tanks in Arawa, Bougainville.
I sobbed even harder.
The power of networking and bringing people and communities together is very powerful and engaging. It gives meaning to what we do. It brings our tribe and communities together.
So, what had I learnt?
A lot. Yes a lot. I learnt how to organise a successful fundraiser in a white man’s world. That was a first. I heard social media came alive with our local MP Mr Fa’afoi acknowledging and recognising my efforts publicly for our women. That was very humbling. I sobbed again. My work colleagues applauded me when I started working the next day-it felt even more special to do something for our women. Later that year ending of 2013, I read in our Zonta Club of Mana Newsletter I had featured and we had a successful fundraiser towards our Melanesian women. It was a very productive year of hosting my first ever philanthropic event!
A signficant amount of money was raised from this fundraiser. Liz Hicks, from Volunteer Services Abroad was instrumental in this journey. A letter from Sister Lorraine Garasu from the Nazareth Rehabiltation Centre cemented a powerful and lasting friendship acknowledging the fundraiser and how much it was able to help. All the safe houses in Arawa and Buka benefited from it. It was the best feeling ever. A letter to be so proud of that I stuck onto my Fisher & Paykel Fridge at home in remembrance. It has certainly impacted me in the most profound ways.
A recent short documentary airing on TVNZ One called Sunday-Sisters (31st July 2016) celebrated the compelling friendship of two women; Sister Lorraine and Liz (these two women I had worked closely with throughout the event) who are helping our women victims of male violence. They have become no doubt relentless protectors of our women, children and families in the aftermath of brutal war and violence. They have both embarked on a journey of peace-keeping and hope for the vulnerable-something some of us would struggle to understand sometimes.
I have reflected a lot on this event. It has better the lives of our Melanesian Women especially. It has brought inspirational recall years later and reinforces my core mission. More importantly, I can safely say I got back more than what I gave.
It taught me some important life lessons:
To be grateful, gracious and to embrace and follow the opportunities.