CARE’s Vanuatu Young Women’s Leadership Program (YWLP) is a 12-month program which promotes the leadership of young women so they can take action to promote gender equality and eliminate violence against women and young girls in Vanuatu. Over 80 young women aged 18 to 30, including women with disabilities and diverse gender identities, have graduated from the program since it started in 2017. These graduates are now using the knowledge, skills and confidence strengthened through the YWLP to realize gender equality in their families, communities and across Vanuatu. All the young women featured in these stories, and those who captured their photographs and stories, are YWLP graduates.
CARE Vanuatu asked four emerging ni-Vanuatu women photographers to capture the stories and portraits of graduates of CARE Vanuatu’s Young Women’s Leadership Program (YWLP). The professional Vanuatu-based photographer Valerie Fernandez mentored the four emerging photographers throughout the assignment.Valerie Fernandez/CARE
Alicia is 24 and hails from the islands of Efate and Ambae in Vanuatu. She is the oldest of four girls and is outgoing and adventurous.
After returning from studying aboard, Alicia saw the discrimination and gender based violence women faced in her community. She saw blaming and shaming of women for their choices, for what they wore or said or did. She wanted to break the blame cycle and help create a safer environment for herself, her sisters and the women of Vanuatu.
With a determined mindset, Alicia worked to challenge gender inequality in any way she could. She took up a leadership role in her church youth group as an education leader and became the secretary for Presbyterian youth in South Efate. It is that same spirit that motivated her to start working as a counsellor at the Vanuatu Women’s Centre, providing counselling to women who have experienced domestic violence. It also encouraged her to continue expanding her leadership knowledge and skills, and eventually led her to apply for CARE’s Young Women’s Leadership Program (YWLP) in 2020.
Alicia shared, “There is no limit to how far you can go. We should take every opportunity to go to the next level as leaders.”Valerie Fernandez/CARE
Marie is 32 and comes from the village of Walarano, on Vanuatu’s second largest island, Malekula.
Marie had some very troubling experiences at an early age. She became a mother when she was barely 16 years old and experienced gender based violence. Through it all, her parents were always ready to welcome her whenever she returned home. Even after she had dropped out of school, she continued to attend short courses at every opportunity, through the Vanuatu Woman Centre and the church.
Marie’s friend encouraged her to apply for CARE’s Young Women’s Leadership Program. Marie reflected on the moment she learned of her acceptance, “Never underestimate yourself.”
The CARE workshops she attended gave her hope for the future. Now she can challenge herself to stand up and speak out. Misunderstanding, according to Marie, would not occur if women and men were treated equally. Gender equality brings harmony to the country and community. She shared:
“I was fortunate to have entered the program so that I could also empower my children.” Marie added, “Gender equality must be a priority at all levels of decision making. Instead of criticizing one gender, women and men must work together to create change.”Valerie Fernandez/CARE
Ann-Ruth has worked with Further Arts, a Vanuatu-based charitable association furthering Vanuatu music, media, dance, and culture. She is currently running her own small business in painting and sewing.
Professional Vanuatu-based photographer Valerie Fernandez, who worked with Ann-Ruth and others, shared, “It was clear that this was more than just an ordinary assignment,” Valerie says. “It was something that ignited compassion and sympathy, admiration and inspiration, as well as outrage and a determination to keep doing whatever they could to support gender equality in their home, their day-to-day lives and the lives of the girls and women of Vanuatu.”Valerie Fernandez/CARE
Winona is a proud graduate of the Young Women’s Leadership Program 2019-20. She previously worked at CARE in Vanuatu as a human resources administration officer until June 2021.
“I learned that everyone has their own journey and everyone has their own stories to tell,” says Winona.” And all have come to be in a place they are now is through difficult circumstances that made them stronger. I did not realize that upon hearing their stories I started to feel emotional in one way or the other but in a good way because all their hardships and the hard decisions they make results to a brighter future for them.”Valerie Fernandez/CARE
Regina grew up in the village of Ekipe in Vanuatu. When she was a child, her mother spent most of the time at home sewing and looking after Regina and her five siblings. Her father, originally a ship captain, was not always around.
Regina was a passionate girl, always learning and trying new things, such as painting and sewing. She attended school until she became pregnant in grade 12. This was the beginning of a very challenging period in her life. At that time, she thought, “This is the end of my journey.”
In 2019, she applied for YWLP as she felt it would be a great opportunity to learn and develop new skills. Regina went through the selection process and was offered a place. While enrolled in the program, she taught at a primary school through a one-month internship. Regina graduated in 2020.
After completing the YWLP, she started a sewing business. Eventually, and with her parents’ help, she bought a new solar sewing machine. While she was building up her sewing business, Regina enrolled in Youth Challenge Vanuatu, where she participated in a few workshops, including a computer course. She also had the opportunity to do two internships. Regina then volunteered at the public library.
Thanks to the success of her business, Regina can now provide for her child and family.Valerie Fernandez/CARE
A passionate photographer and aspiring writer, Elisa is a 2019-20 YWLP graduate. Previously Elisa was a project officer with Sista, a charitable Vanuatu-based feminist organization that exists to empower women and girls, raise awareness and advocate. She is currently a full-time student completing her studies in psychology and social work at the University of the South Pacific.
“If these stories can be told and make these young women feel heard, I wonder how much difference this can make if we hear stories of young women leaders in our communities and villages, and how inspiring this would be for the younger female generations,” says Elisa.Valerie Fernandez/CARE
Talula is a University of the South Pacific student and manages the local business Eliane Passion Sewing and Designs. She is a 2020-21 YWLP graduate.
“Every individual on the planet has a story to tell,” says Talula.Valerie Fernandez/CARE
Florence is a 29-year-old mother of three beautiful children, two sons and a daughter. She lives in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila.
Florence’s can-do mindset what motivated her to be part of the YWLP. Florence shared, “I believed in myself and that I could do anything that I set my heart to.”
Florence saw the program as an excellent opportunity for her to grasp, develop and broaden her knowledge and skills to become someone that her family would look up to one day.
Throughout the program, Florence encountered experiences that inspired her to grow. She gained knowledge and built skills that enabled her to become a leader at home, at her local church, within her community, on her island and at her workplace. The people she met through the YWLP network further inspired and impacted what she does and who she is today. Florence currently works as a Gender Equality Together Officer at CARE in Vanuatu, where she supports delivery of the YWLP to other young women.
Florence’s leadership journey involved learning new things and inspiring a lot of young people in her community and those she has encountered along the way.Valerie Fernandez/CARE
Louisa grew up in the lovely settlement of Melemaat in Vanuatu with three brothers, and cousins who visited regularly.
For ten years, her mother was the caretaker of the Vanuatu Society for People with Disability, so while growing up, Louisa and her siblings interacted with many people who used the society’s services. This sparked a desire in her to work with youth and children with disabilities.
For the past six years, Louisa has been the Housemaster at Onesua Presbyterian College.
She heard about YWLP and was particularly interested in learning to better support women and girls with disabilities who face violence and discrimination because of their disability.
Louisa stands by this Bislama mantra, “Inkludim mi, mo inkludim yumi everiwan” which translates to “Include me, and include all of us.” A reminder that we all count and that should always lead the way.