Alcina Charley is the Vanuatu Tourism Office’s senior e-marketing officer. She is a woman who has a well-rounded life – she is not only a working woman, mother of twin girls, loving wife and a Presbyterian deaconess but also a singer and photographer.
In this month’s ‘Sista i Shine’, Alcina tells us how she manages to balance all her commitments and how she believes her source of strength ultimately comes from putting God first in her life. She also shares what she believes the women of Vanuatu need to do in order to have their voices heard at a national level.
I was born on the 25th December 1980 at Port Vila Central Hospital. While everybody was out having a big party, my mum was having a party inside the labour ward.
My late mum passed away about 15 years ago from cancer. She was half Tannese, half Mele.
My Dad is a survivor. He lost two of his partners. First, he lost my Mum from cancer, and then he lost my step mum from asthma. She had five kids. Now he is with someone who has three kids. She is very dear to me, I don’t call her my step mum, she’s just ‘Mum’ to me. So my Dad is in charge of all these kids, plus me and my two younger brothers!
I have so much support from my old man. He doesn’t force me to do anything and encourages me to go at my own pace. He’s a real fighter that one.
In regards to music, I think I get a lot of it from my Mum. My late grandfather on my mother’s side was a composer in Mele Village. When we were growing up, we use to go and visit our grandparents on the weekends and everyone would be singing and playing instruments.
I got exposed to traditional music on my Dad’s side. I spent the first five years of my life in Ambae, my Dad’s island. I learnt how to sing kastom sing sing with my late Grandad who would play a bamboo pipe.
I have been surrounded by music my entire life. Unfortunately I don’t remember the traditional songs anymore unless my Dad starts singing it.
In regards to photography, I think I got it from my Dad, Len Garae. He has been a journalist for thirty, forty years. It must be in the blood.
When I was younger, I actually wanted to be a lawyer or maybe a nurse. Music was my passion but it was always in the background. First I started singing at Central Primary Carol Nights and then I started doing solo performances with a band when I was 12 or 13 at Malapoa Music Night. I got into the groove of it and would perform every year.
Although I knew I had a gift for music, I took my school seriously. I got a scholarship to New Zealand. I went to Nelson College for Girls and then to Northland Polytech where I studied environmental management and science, which touched a bit on eco and sustainable tourism.
Sadly, my mum never got to meet my twin girls. She told me before she passed away, ‘Come on, the time is ticking!’ and I told her, ‘Mum I still have to go to school!’ That was one of the last things she said to me. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane going home. Her loss really hit me.
My husband Johnny and my daughters are my everything
I never got to finish my bachelor’s degree as I decided to stay in Vanuatu. I ended up meeting my husband, Johnny. We have been together for 15 years. He’s a loving husband – very committed and very supportive with my music and photography.
He is such a darling, he’s my Johnny of all trades, my village boy who knows how to make our house a home – he fixes everything! Everything and anything I want to do, he supports me. And if I’m doing too much, he will put me back in the right direction. He keeps me grounded so I’m not shooting off here and there.
I think my greatest accomplishment would be my girls. I don’t know what my life would be like without them – I think there would be an emptiness to it. They are turning 13 soon and they are both at Central Primary School. They love music as well. They have even done their own professional recording already at the Givhan Wan Voes festival after Cyclone Pam.
I am happy with how my life is – I wouldn’t change a thing.
But if I had to go back, I would just want my mum to be alive. It wasn’t easy going through labor and fighting to deliver two babies without her. Thank God I had my husband with me – I only wish she was there.
I still think about her.
She was such a vibrant and social beautiful butterfly. Now that I am getting older, when I look in the mirror, I see a lot of her in me, especially when I smile.
Working at VTO
When I first moved back home, I worked at Port Vila Press (now The Independent) and focused on media and journalism before working at the Vanuatu Tourism Office (VTO) in 2003.
In 2007, I worked for six months at Lagoon Beach Apartments before working briefly in guest relations at Breakas Beach Resort. VTO called me back to work as the e-marketing officer and I was appointed as the senior e-marketing officer in 2013.
I basically manage the VTO’s communications – the website, social media, photo library and now I have Anthony Joseph helping me to drive this, which is great.
With all these commitments, I don’t have enough time to focus entirely on music. If a festival is on like Fest’Napuan or entertainment is needed for hotels, I’ll sing but work is always my priority.
I have a lot happening in my life – work, family, church and community work in Mele and Mele Maat as well as my music and photography.
What I love the most about my work is EVERYTHING. I enjoy working with the Internet and alongside a range of industries such as hotels and the airport.
I also enjoy learning about new products, mobile marketing and content management systems.
But the thing that I have appreciated the most is the opportunity to excel with my photography. If it weren’t for my job, I wouldn’t have met David Kirkland, the official photographer for VTO.
When he came from Brisbane in 2012, I was managing his itinerary and he asked me if I had a camera and would like some training. At the time I was using a Sony camera and I said, ‘I would love that!’
David really inspired me and gave me great advice such as ‘never shoot towards the sun’ and he also taught me about post-production.
I’ve now invested in a Canon but these cameras are not cheap. Just like an education, it’s an investment.
I’m still experimenting and although I enjoy taking shots for events such as weddings, my favorite type of photography is landscape and nature as well as black and whites.
One of my passions is promoting our identity. Regardless of the circumstance – whether it’s nature or a wedding – the core of my photography is promoting culture blong yumi.
Both of my parents encouraged me to get into music. They never forced me to do it so I would never push my kids either. Instead, I ask them, ‘Would you like to sing?’ instead of demanding ‘You have to sing.’
Sometimes I see people forcing their kids to do something and I don’t think it’s fair. Children have the right to choose their own destiny and you can’t go against their will.
However I do believe that education comes first.
My parents taught me that education is the first priority and I’m glad I took that advice. My success is from my education, not my music.
All the songs on my albums are original – I wrote them all. I released my first cassette in 1998 and another one in 1999. My first CD was released in 2008 and I am currently working on my new album that should be coming out this month. It is called ‘Thank You For Loving Me’ and features songs that I sang at Fest’Napuan including ‘Champion’, ‘Smile’ and ‘Tear Drops’.
I am planning on doing a video clip on the song ‘Family’, which is a strong campaign against family separation for the benefit of the kids growing up in a stable home. My girls are actually featured in that song too. The album has 11 songs and features Stan Antas in the song ‘Save our planet’ and there is gospel and positive songs that feature my youth group from church.
I used to help bands such as Stan and the Earth Force, Kros Road and Naio with recordings. I would do back up singing and assist them in releasing their album. Even the upcoming generation of musicians asks me for advice.
Unlike in photography, I don’t feel a sense of jealousy with my music. I think it’s because I have earned that respect as I’ve been doing it for a long time. Whereas with my photography, I am only just entering the scene and some people have been doing it for longer than me. Most of the photographers are male and most of them are supportive. But if they’re not, that’s cool – it just pushes me to excel further.
What legacy do I want to leave behind?
First and foremost, I want to be known as a woman who has served God. It’s not easy as we are not perfect, but I want to be loyal especially in my role as a Sunday school teacher and a deaconess. I want to be someone who has tried to reach out to lost souls and bring them to the light.
I would also like to be remembered as a super mum – everything I do is for my kids and for my husband. The support I get from them is just phenomenal. I love my twins and my husband so much.
I would also like to leave a legacy behind with my contribution to the music industry and celebrating Vanuatu with my photography.
God comes first in my life
I am Presbyterian and I participate in a lot of church activities. Last year I was induced as a deaconess, which basically means I take care of the church, not just with admin and finances, but also in maintaining the church facilities.
It can be a struggle to balance all my commitments, but not all the time. I get a kick out of it. I like getting kicks.
It comes from having a supportive family but mostly the source of my strength comes from God. After all, I put Him first in my life and He gives me the strength to deal with my every day situation.
Every morning from Monday to Friday, I get up at half past three just to ring the church bell, then I do an hour of meditation before making breakfast for the kids.
That’s my life and I enjoy it.
What I would like to see for the women of Vanuatu
I would love to see a woman in the parliament house.
But first I think we need to stop this jealousy among women’s groups and work more closely together so we can develop.
Ultimately it starts from the home. My key thinking is that if we aim to be the best wife as possible, the best mum as possible or the best sister or whatever as possible, that passion and commitment spreads.
It will spread into your work, your church, and your community and then into parliament.
We need to be strong, resist temptation, stay committed and be true to ourselves. It starts from us and from there; we can make Vanuatu a better place.
Follow Alcina’s photographic journey on Facebook.