The first ever volunteer role that I undertook was volunteering for the Mana Sea Cadets-T.S. Taupo in the surburb that I live in. We worked to raise funds for the sea cadets and that work involved cleaning up after the farmers market in Porirua City. I learnt time management, organisational skills, hard work and the ability to make and meet new friends. Networking began for me right there contributing to the community in supporting our young people to learn new skills.
I tried maintaining my religious beliefs by volunteering at The Street City Church in Wellington too for a couple of years. I had been a regular church goer for more than 7 years and I enjoyed it a lot. I learnt my love for children and keeping them entertained in the midst of unsettlement during the church services. That trust was so important, the engagement, the ability to read and create stories, the art and creativity, the precious hugs and kisses from the children and the gratefulness of parents.
The love of reading childrens stories and creating playful activities really resonated with me and inspired me to do a lot more writing. My frequent visits to Vanuatu for the holidays and bringing childrens books with me made my youngest sister start off an “afterschool childrens reading club” in the village. We would host it at home and our immediate cousins would front up just to get help with their readings. By the time, I was ready to leave, other children in the village would spur in but would miss out as the reading clubs were ending. It had proven so popular and the environment was so supportive in that the children helped each other out with word pronounciations and meanings. I loved every minute of it when the sunsets.
I loved my short volunteering role with Bellyful Porirua in 2014. This charitable organisation is so important in delivering and providing meals to our families with newborns and to those families with young children who are struggling with illness. That first meal is often very much needed relief for first time mothers who are re-adjusting to a completely different lifestyle.
I enjoyed learning and participating in the Porirua City Civil Defence programme for our village of Plimmerton and the wider communities. It has taught me so much about being prepared for emergencies, having back up plans, establishing rescue paths, knowing my neighbours and providing reconnaissance to our neighbours who are affected in times of natural disasters. It has taught me a lot of life saving skills and more importantly how to use a portable emergency radio to connect to the wider emergency organisations like the ambulance and the fire service.
I am currently serving as a Pacific Advisory Group (PAG) Member to the New Zealand Red Cross since 2016. This is a role I have come to quitely embrace as it was such a learning curve for me. I was one of the First Pacific Melanesian Females to serve in that group. The other prominent and noteable female was our Chief Luamanuvao Lealamanuá Caroline Mareko who has been a rock solid support for this group. She had been through the large ChristChurch earthquake that struck in 2011 and came with a lot of experiences and constructive discussions and ideas to help the group. The NZ Red Cross is the only NGO that has a PAG attached to it as we continually see the huge impact of natural disasters across the Pacific. Currently, the Ambae Volcanoe eruptions (April 2018) continue in Vanuatu as thousands are displaced. The health impacts are enormous especially with breathing carbon mono-oxide gases. The recent PNG 7.5 magnitude earthquake (February 26 2018) and another 6.2 that subsequently followed with more aftershocks had left thousands who are without the basic needs of water, food and shelter. The frequency of cyclones across the Pacific has become so regular that planning is vital for deployment of resources and support. The magnitude of these disasters are always huge and desperate and humanitarian organisations such as Red Cross play a vital part to delivering aide to these Pacific regions. But we need to educate our people on civil defence and being prepared-it is about building capability and resilience amongst our people.
The biggest lessons I have learnt in community development and maintenance is by serving voluntarily on the Paremata Residents Association. The insights and the networks I have learnt have served me wonders and I am forever grateful for that longing to become established and be part of a good community and citizen. I learnt about caring about the natural environment that is a huge part of our lives. I learnt more about our harbour and it’s residents and the different organisations that help preserve it’s beauty. I learnt to network, listened to business proposals, attended community meetings, carved my communication skills to make announcements to the thousands of residents, volunteered my time to contribute to newsletter drop offs. For a few months, I dedicated my weekly time to delivering Kapi Mana Newspaper to the local residents of Mana. It was a great way to meet the older residents who lived alone, connect and share stories but more importantly it gave me a lot of time to admire real estate-one of my long interests! It gave me time to dream!
I served on the Pacific Advisory Group in Wellington for the City Council for a couple of years. I was the First Female Melanesian to serve at the Council. There, it opened my insight further into the work of the local government council. It reminded me of my father’s work in the village in Vanuatu. He served as a councillor with the local government council at Provincial headquarters for a couple of years. This meant he travelled a lot too. I loved listening to him talking about possible business ventures and the challenges of having a government that does not support out local grass roots farmers. Those were tough times. He learnt about adequate and proper sanitation so he built a better water flushing toilet for us with a bathroom. He got a bit of criticism from the villagers as they didn’t understand the need for better and health sanitation. My mother often spoke about the hardships that he faced with having to pay out from his own pocket money when there was a demand from other relatives who were struggling to pay for an event or occasion. I never knew. Of course, why would my mother tell us? We were children. We didn’t need to know. But I have always observed my father to be giving and generous-whatever little he had, he would give. I speak the same and highly of my mother in every respect. That sharing was communal and mutual. These days are different-the world has changed. One day when I become that mother to my own children, I will make sure they understand the challenges of the day-to-day household budgeting.
In 2013 my name was put forward by the Ex Solomon Islands High Commissioner HE Rhys Richards to become the first Melanesian to serve on the Pataka Musuem Friends Committee. What a challenge! My only credentials to that was from my international fundraising activities and more importantly successfully executing our first ever Melanesia Day at the Pataka Museum ( http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/8606063/Party-at-Poriruas-Pataka-museum). That would have contributed to how to access funding except I knew nothing about it. Here I strived to learn more about the organisation and how it was recieving support from the community, the government, the NGOs and the entreprenuers. The Friends led an amazing array of art activities and projects throughout the year to help support and herald the work of the Pataka Musuem. What an incredible opportunity to help out and learn but more importantly longterm, it was more about building relationships and working towards how to build a museum. I love their projects-they range from engaging with the arts communities with holding the Arts Trail where local artists, carvers and weavers welcome the public into their spaces, to helping young artists discover their dreams and aspirations-both our Arts Awards and Music Series are a real hit with the local Porirua Communities.
Living in a foreign country and away from my family will always be a struggle. I miss the role modelling of the senior women and notably my own mother. She was a woman of many talents especially when it came to cleaning. I called her a clean freak at times, she almost has this OCD about cleaning (I love her, don’t get me wrong) but I often wondered what her euology would be like one day when she is gone; more importantly, what her tombstone would read. I was so used to living in a village-like community and Porirua City felt so right for me being more rural. I was desperate for senior women role models; for some mentorship and fellowship from professional women. I eventually found that in the Zonta Club of Mana. It was part of a larger organisation of District 16 called Zonta International (https://www.zonta.org/) and it was all about supporting and advocating for women on a global scale. What an excitment to be part of that group-I was the youngest in this group and the value of belonging to this organisation has been transformational and life changing. I became the first Melanesian Young Woman to serve on the local Zonta Club of Mana Board as a Co-Convener for Fundraiser. I learnt a lot and socialised with the women. It was destined for greater purposes!
But my biggest volunteer role has been my tireless services to the Wellington Vanuatu Community as their Secretary. An active role I played and held on for 12 solid years. I loved my country and the people especially the women. It was about serving in a visible way internationally but more importantly to represent their voice. The International Womens Day 2018 is all about achieving gender equality and empower rural women and girls. Together we can empower rural women in the Pacific. In taking that step further, I have played an active role and advocacy to help set up a first Wellington Melanesian Womens Group to reach out to our Rural Melanesian Women in the Pacific. This is a massive achievement on an international level.