Challenging A Male Dominated Space In Vanuatu: The Parliament

Every year for the last 60 years, women from all around the world gather at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to discuss issues affecting women and develop strategies surrounding setting standards and formulating international conventions to change discriminatory legislation and foster global awareness of women’s issues.

For 2 weeks women from governments around the world, civil society, national organizations, local non-profit organizations, come together to discuss how to shape global policies on gender equality, empowerment of women, etc.

Mary Jack at the 60th CWS- New York
Mary Jack at the 60th CWS- New York

With several consultations leading up to the first ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) slated to be held in Istanbul, Turkey in May, there have been a call for change in the way the current humanitarian system works and responds. One of such calls that has resonated across most of the regions has been more localization of humanitarian response, more support to women organizations and women led organizations.

In 2014 during the height of the Ebola virus outbreak in Liberia, the government of Liberia closed all schools in the country as an effort to help curb the spread of the Ebola virus. As a way to helping ensure that children were kept academically engaged, I led a team of volunteers who went to several communities in Liberia providing few educational packets to children so that they wouldn’t miss out on their lessons while schools were closed. This initiative led to over 7,000 children being reached in 7 months. I was invited to talk about the work we did during this Ebola crisis period and what we have been doing since.

It was at this 60th CSW that I had the privilege of meeting Mary Jack Kaviamu, who along with other women from Liberia, the Philippines and Australia came to share their testimonies of the roles we played. We were provided an opportunity to share our stories and experiences as first responders and women leading local humanitarian action in our respective countries. Particularly during a time of crisis or disaster.

And this is where I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing woman name Mary Jack. I learned quick quickly that beneath her quiet demeanor, soft spoken voice is a strong, resolved and committed woman who is passionate and committed to improving the status of women in her home in Vanuata.

Over the next 6 days I got the chance to learn about her efforts (along with other women) in responding to the Cyclone Pam and what she has been doing before that and after that disaster when their homes and lives were affected. Mary delivered a powerfully, moving and emotional testimony at a side event organized by ActionAid and OCHA where we participated in the event ‘Women as First Responders’.

Mary spoke about the level of violence against women in her country. Not just physical but emotional.

Mary decided to break her country’s custom and run for a seat in the parliament. Currently the parliament has 52 seats, all occupied by men.

It has been hard to see how a woman can break into that male dominated space. Men in her country see politics and parliament as a space reserved solely for men and the cultural norms is one that does not allow women to speak out. If a woman attempts to engage them in that space, her level of education is called into question, her wealth and many are told “this is not your place”.

Mary- Determined. Passionate. Determined.
Mary- Determined. Passionate. Determined.

When Mary ran for Parliament, she received many threats and experienced emotional violence and although she didn’t win that election (357 women casted their votes and she got no male votes), she learned a lot from that journey. Mary though, is not discouraged and she intends to re-strategize and this time around intends to try at the local level. Elections though are expensive and she hope to get more support this time around to enable her go to more communities.

Currently she is working with several women groups, mobilizing women to come together to speak for themselves and brining to the forefront to government the many issues they are facing.

After Cyclone Pam, Mary realized that her home got damaged and that many other women had problems like hers and she volunteered to manage the space for women to come and share their stories. She organized training on human rights and women rights to have deeper understanding on their rights to be empowered to speak for themselves. Women in Vanuatu have less access to education to and girls are unable to complete schools due to resources.

Mary has 3 children, two girls and one boy and tells me that she is proud to be a part of a movement to try to change this culture that compels women to be silent. She hopes that one day women in her country will be able to speak for themselves and break the custom and culture of silencing women.

She has been involved in activism for 10 year and is not discouraged. She says that the tradition and culture has been a big barrier to women leadership. Women are not allowed to speak for themselves and she wants to take the opportunity to play a role that motivates women. To break this culture and custom.

It is always amazing, motivating and inspirational when you hear the testimonies of other women and it reinforces to me how the role women play in development work, humanitarian responses and crisis period.

The role women play, the narrative and image usually—so it’s refreshing to hear real stories of women taking leadership roles in unique situations.

You can read more about Mary’s story on a blog she wrote earlier here

Reaching Out to Jimmy Fahnbulleh

A few weeks ago, I read a story on Front Page Africa that touched my heart. The story was about a boy in the Island Clinic Community who, due to the closure of schools in the country, had started teaching other kids in his immediate surroundings.

The boy’s name is James Fahnbulleh (aka Jimmy) and he is in the 8th grade.


A few of us are currently doing a project called Kids Engagement Project. The intent of the project is to provide educational materials (pencils, sharpeners, erasers, notebooks, etc.) and math and English worksheets to children to keep their minds engaged academically during the Ebola crisis and the closure of schools in the country. The worksheets are simple and easy to do and understand and are all aligned with the Ministry of Education’s curricular for each grade level. We target kids in primary school (Pre-school to 6th grades). We also engage the parents or caregivers in the home to make time to teach the kids during this crisis period. We do a biweekly check in with the parents and the children to see if they are utilizing the kits. The idea also is for parents or caregivers in the home to make time to tutor the kids and not to bring in “study class teachers’ to teach the kids during this crisis period.

 On October 30, Kids Engagement took a few educational packets to Jimmy and the children in his immediate neighborhood. His mother wasn’t home, but we met his aunt.


We also met Jimmy and most of his students.
They were excited about the kits but also requested that we assist with blackboard chalk to help them continue their studies.

It is rather remarkable how we Liberians adapt and “make do”.
Thank you Jimmy for thinking about others and wanting to learn.

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also published on Front Page Africa

Ebola Orphans

 Today during the course of distributing educational packets to children in the Red Hill community (just after the St. Paul’s bridge), we came across a group of children that had lost both their parents to the Ebola Virus Disease. I counted about 9 of them. Their ages ranged from about 2 years old to about 15 years old.

They had been under quarantine for 21 days and today was their last day and so they were in a joyous and thankful mood.

Inquisitive eyes
Inquisitive eyes

I saw these children and started crying. I couldn’t imagine what they must be feeling. Their mother’s sister has taken them in and told us that the rest of the family were waiting for the 21 days to end to make a decision on how to how take care of the children.

Our community liaison told us that the community has been very supportive in providing food and supplies weekly to this family and supporting in many ways to ensure they don’t feel ostracized, stigmatized or alone.

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I looked at these children, so happy, gleeful and excited over receiving (among other things) coloring pages and pencils and whatnot and just said a silent prayer of thanks to God for life. For health. For being good to me and my family.

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I cannot imagine what these children must be dealing with. The confusion of not knowing where both their parents are. Of being told to stay in their home all day, not interacting with anyone else. Not playing with the other children. They seem too young to grasp the enormity of all of this.


I asked their aunt if she wouldn’t mind us taking a few pictures to share with you all and she said she didn’t.



Speaking with the aunt
Speaking with the aunt

We have been to many communities, and I must say I am very impressed with how organized the red Hill community leadership is in dealing with and responding to the Ebola crisis. The level of support I am told they give to this family and 3 others in similar situation is really amazing and laudable.

If you are able to help them, please let me know and I will forward the contact info of the family and the community liaison.

you can follow our daily activities on the facebook page

Project Kids Engagement On-The-Go

The response to the project has just been amazing.

Not only are some parents actually making time to tutor their kids, but the kids themselves are excited about learning. We ran into a few parents who sell by the road side whose kids had received educational packets and…see for your self. These pictures, these moments just made all the hours of work worth it. Keep it up family.



We did a follow-up trip to some of the homes we had initially given packets to and the kids were excited and anxiously displaying their completed assignments/worksheets.



Sadly some parents didn’t have the time to help the kids with their lessons but promised to do so this week. We will check back to make sure.

We also saw the need to target some markets around the city as there are also many children of school going age that are roaming the market all day idle, which isn’t also safe for them during this Ebola Crisis period. The reception and feedback from the parents was amazing. We held discussions with them on not only keeping their kids safe, but also to keep them engaged academically whilst we await the reopening of schools and started off at the Rally Town market. There are so many pictures and stories from this trip that I will need a separate blog post just to capture most of the fun, but here are a few for now:

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We will be going to another community in the next few days and will update the page as we go along. Please help support the initiative with exercise books, reams of paper, pencils, erasers, crayons, sharpeners, cash, etc.

You can follow the project activities on the facebook page set up here:

If you would like to donate to help keep the initiative alive, please send me an at email or use the GoFundMe site:

Thank you for the many kind words of encouragement and I would like to say special thanks to those who have contributed towards the project and who continue to invest time and energy into this initiative.
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Kids and schools closure

a few weeks ago, I wrote about the closure of schools in Liberia and the effect this is having on kids in the country.
schools are still closed and looks to be closed for another few months. this means kids are idle and left behind with school compared with kids in other countries around the world.

A few friends have become concerned and thought to raise funds to get school supplies, worksheets, etc to kids in the country. any help and support you give will go a long way…