Realising the Impact of Letter Writing-Celebrating the first Establishment of Vanuatu High Commission in Wellington, New Zealand

I wrote two very significant letters in 2015. Both of these letters meant a lot to me and aligned with my values. I advocated so much to get some actions with results. One of the most prominent letters I felt convicted to write was a letter to the Prime Minister of Vanuatu. The other was a letter to the Minister of NZ Pacific Islands Affairs/Peoples of the Pacific to ask for the Melanesian Pidgin Language be included as part of the NZ Pacific Language Week.

The journey to making sure my voice was heard became so much of a struggle. I had very minimal support. I will acknowledge my good friends Ginny and Roy Stephens who helped me tremendously in writing a letter to the Vanuatu Government. It is truly appreciated and I will always hold them in high regard with their incredible support.

In October 2015 I travelled to Port Vila. That was at least 6 months after a category five cyclone called Pam struck Vanuatu. I was representing a Linguistics Field Worker from Waikato University to collect Ninde data from the people of South West Bay on Malekula. It was also a trip that I had volunteered to collect some special needs data for the UN Women Auckland (New Zealand) to help them fund the women of Middle Bush, Tanna after the cyclone had struck. It was such an emotional trip for me as I saw the devastation that really changed my perspective on life.

I had planned my whole trip-my plan included meeting up with the local rep at the New Zealand High Commission in Port Vila to formally introduce myself and hand over the copy of the letter. I walked for an hour in the hot sun. The weather was so humid. I was overly glowing from all that sweat-it didn’t feel so good. I arrived at the NZ High Comm Office only to find out to my uttermost disappointment that the rep had buggered off for the day despite the email exchanges and confirmation. I was a mad cow that day! It was such a waste. I was feeling very frustrated. I flew off to the beautiful Tanna the next day-it was worthwhile after that setback.

Sadly, I came back home to New Zealand with the letter after my holidays. I hadn’t given up on that goal either. Ten months later, the Prime Minister of Vanuatu (with his delegation) was invited by the New Zealand Prime Minister Hon John Key to visit New Zealand to strengthen our partnerships and relationships. This was a great opportunity for the community for an intimate meeting. I especially looked forward to handing my letter to the Prime Minister himself. We had so many diplomatic questions and more importantly, where our country was heading in terms of growth and development (after 14 of our MPs were locked away in prison).Vanuatu Prime Minister

I remembered asking a couple of questions that evening; one of them was when we would be a high commission be relocated and established in Wellington. The second was is there a future for us Vanuatu Women in the Parliament. I made sure I handed my letter to the delegation-to which they reassured me that they will respond to it.

Whether they took the letter seriously-I couldn’t be sure. But one thing I can certainly celebrate now is the wonderful news that was delivered to me by the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade Country Manager Kirk Yates for Vanuatu Melanesia-Micronesia Division (Pacific Branch) on wednesday 19th July 2017. The establishment of a Vanuatu High Commission has been approved and will be cemented at the end of this year! I felt my heart skipped a beat! I have reasons to celebrate with a large bottle of tuatara craft beer.

Here is the sample of the letter I wrote dated 1st of May 2015 (with the help of my good friends Ginny and Roy Stephens-which a lot of credit goes to them for reorganising my thoughts):

Dear Sir,

Relocation of Vanuatu Consulate Services to Wellington, New Zealand

I wish to propose that Vanuatu consulate services relocated from Auckland to Wellington. Wellington is the capital city and the second largest city in New Zealand making it an important centre for advocating and driving Vanuatu’s key interests.

Locating the Vanuatu Consulate in Wellington will be a strategic advantage to the Vanuatu Government both politically and economically. This move will signal to the New Zealand Government that Vanuatu is ready to engage with it on Vanuatu’s development and business interests. This strongly aligns with the Vanuatu Foreign Affairs Department third mission statement “To foster and promote positive engagement with the international community”.

The need for ongoing engagement with the New Zealand Government following Cyclone Pam cannot be ignored. Vanuatu needed and still needs to call on its international partners, especially its neighbours in the Pacific, the response and rebuild.

The following four points convey very strong reasons for repositioning the Vanuatu Consulate to Wellington:
1. The NZ Government is based in Wellington along with all its key support services and departments. Relocating the Vanuatu Consulate to Wellington will enable the Vanuatu Consulate to ‘tune in’ to policy discussions and where applicable influence policy directions that are of advantages to the people of Vanuatu
2. Our Melanesian partners, i.e. Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea are established here in Wellington and are supportive of the need for relocating the Vanuatu Consulate to Wellington, as this will strengthen our ties and relationship. An improved engagement with our Melanesian Wantoks here in Wellington will be an advantage when Melanesia is required to present a unified voice, for example on the plight of our Melanesian Wantoks in West Papua. A unified front is also an advantage when negotiating for trade deals with the NZ Government. Our engagement with our Melanesian Wellington Wantoks in Wellington cannot be effectively driven outside of Wellington
3. Our Vanuatu Government delegates and workers are sent to Wellington to utilise various NZ Government training facilities. Establishing the Vanuatu Consulate here in Wellington will enhance the training opportunities due to improved contacts and networks from being based in Wellington. Building an effective web of networks with NZ Government Training Facilities requires ‘being on the ground’ and this cannot be effectively driven from Auckland
4. We have a significant number of Vanuatu RSE workers spread across both the North and South Islands. A centrally based Vanuatu Consulate will enhance the ability of Vanuatu RSE workers to engage with the Consulate if they need help, and for the Consulate to better stay in touch with the RSE community. If issues or opportunities arise the Consulate has ready access to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

I hope this letter marks the beginning of ongoing discussions about how Vanuatu can pursue its strategic interests in New Zealand.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours Sincerely,

Leina Isno
Secretary to Wellington Vanuatu Community

I will happily go on my humanitarian mission abroad satisfied. Truly contented that I am able to contribute in this way too. But more importantly, I’ll have a couple more crafty beers to celebrate another life chapter and advocacy reality 🙂



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