Published on 25th June 2014
Working with New Zealand and Regional Partners has given VSA volunteers more scope to spread Kiwi expertise to our Asia-Pacific neighbours.
The first of six VSA/Downer NZ cadets found himself in the thick of it when the Solomon Islands were hit by severe flooding in April.
Simon Trotter had only been in Honiara for a month when the floods hit, working with the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development (MEHRD). His role is to help improve vital school infrastructure in a country where only 17% of the population is fully literate.
Following the floods, he was able to move immediately into helping MEHRD with recovery: assessing damage to schools and planning any repair work needed.
Already, he says, schools were in desperate need. He notes one of the "better schools” he saw was an incomplete building (pictured, right) that has been waiting for a second story for three years. The exposed reinforcing steel work was corroding and it had no windows or doors.
VSA's partnership with Downer NZ began when Chris Meade, Downer’s Executive General Manager spent a month on assignment in Timor-Leste last year, working with ChildFund to tighten their human resources processes.
She says, “It is fantastic that we can offer opportunities to our cadets and graduates to volunteer their skills on a real project, and at the same time with VSA’s help assist the people of the Solomon Islands improve their education facilities. This is true partnership for the good of others.”
VSA has formed several more New Zealand partnerships in the past year, including one that takes us back to our roots with Sir Edmund Hillary.
Later this year, we’ll be recruiting teacher trainers for Nepal with the Himalayan Trust, another New Zealand organisation founded by Sir Ed in the 1960s. Himalayan Trust Councillor Diane McKinnon was a VSA volunteer, with husband John, in Nepal from 1966-68. She went on to serve as chair of the VSA Council for a number of terms, and is one of three life members.
Having formally reconnected, VSA and the Himalayan Trust will recruit teacher trainers to support the Trust’s Rural Education and Environment Development (REED) programme in the Solumkhumbu region.
On the other side of the world, ornithological experts Karen Baird and Chris Gaskin have just begun the hunt for the breeding ground of the Elliot's storm petrel. In partnership with Friends of the Galapagos New Zealand (FOGNZ), Karen and Chris hope to add to what little knowledge there is of this species.
The techniques that Karen developed for catching petrels at sea in the Kermadecs will be passed on to the Galapagos Park Rangers, empowering Ecuadorean science.
It’s been a little over a year since VSA and UN Women (UNW) partnered to work on UNW’s four programmes in the Pacific: Advancing Gender Justice; Ending Violence Against Women; Women’s Economic Empowerment; and Gender, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management.
Women in the Pacific face high rates of domestic and sexual violence and massive gender inequality. VSA CEO Gill Greer says, “it is exciting to be able to provide volunteers with the opportunity to work on assignments that will make a real difference to the lives of women in the Pacific”. There are currently six volunteers on assignment with UNW in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. They’ve helped develop communication strategies around the Markets for Change (M4C) projects, deliver training programmes for women selling at the markets, worked on activism and awareness raising and collected baseline data for research undertaken by UNW and UNDP.
VSA volunteer Karen Roberts, who is UNW's Communications Officer in Vanuatu, says, “Working with committed staff on long-term projects that focus on the economic empowerment of women and ending gender-based violence gives me a great sense of contributing to the future of Vanuatu.”
The first of three M4C projects launched in Suva in April.Launches in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu will follow later in the year. VSA/UNW volunteer Olivia Owen, who worked with fellow volunteer Ellie Van Baaren on the Suva launch, says that while most vendors at markets are women, “they weren't involved in any of the decision-making”, so M4C gives vendors a say in the running of the markets.
Marni Gilbert, Projects and Communications officer for VSA/UNW in the Solomon Islands, says it’s important to ensure markets are safe, equitable places because “markets play a significant role in Pacific economies. Women dominate market places in the Pacific and their earnings are a large part of the income of poor households. So, improvements and interventions that encourage the economic empowerment of women in market places are going to have ripple effects throughout communities and across the nation.”
Gill says these partnerships allow VSA to increase its presence in the Asia-Pacific “while maintaining cost effectiveness and quality – and being able to demonstrate clearly what we do… the ongoing support of these partners makes it possible for us to build a better future for all.”
This article first appeared in the May 2014 issue of VSA's magazine Vista.