Grace Molisa was born in 1946 at Lowainasasa, Ambae. She was the only child of Father Basil Mera, who died not long after she was born. Grace was the first female Political Adviser cum Secretary to Father Walter Lini, the first Prime Minister of Vanuatu, and later Political Adviser to PM Donald Kalpokas Masikevanua in his first term of office. She is President of the Vanuatu National Council of Women and a member of the USP Council and the Women in Politics national, regional and international networks.. Grace is married to Sela Molisa from Santo and has three children, a daughter and two sons.
I learned ABC at Lowainasasa Village School. I continued at the Lotahimamavi Boys’ Boarding School, being the only girl in the school. This came about because I was the daughter of a clergyman, who missionaries and the people had great respect for. He died when I was a child, and others wanted me to follow that path. Everybody wanted a boy for the offspring of my father to carry on in his footsteps. Everybody else had their own expectations of what I, being who I was, should be, do or get into.
My grandparents insisted that I be taught to read and write in Ambae before going to the Mission school, hence my time in the boys’ boarding school. The missionaries were concerned that I hadn’t been put into school when they expected to see me there, and this was made known to my grandparents and elders. My elders were reluctant to let me go at that time because I was a very well cared for child. I did not even know how to cook my own food. I was very spoilt as a child because of who I was and my grandparents weren’t keen on the idea on my going away. The missionaries had also threatened that if I didn’t go to school that year, the school would be closed to me. I can’t understand why that should have been so, because everybody else in the school was much older than me by the time I got there.
Everybody else had expectations of everything under the sun for me to do when I grew up. They wanted to see somebody do all the sorts of things that my father stood for, his leadership ways that people from around the island and the neighbouring Anglican northern islands respected.
My father on his deathbed appointed his favourite nephew to be my guardian. He was running the boys’ boarding school and that seemed the most appropriate place for me. This school was doing all sorts of things, including English language teaching. Arrangements were made for me to be looked after while attending the school. It was fun. I was the only girl there, too small to do anything, so I did as I pleased myself, while the boys obeyed rules and were supervised at work and had to do what they were told. They did all the work because in those days schools were self-sufficient and independent. Later that same year I went to Torgil Girls’ School for three years.
I was one of the first two girls from the island to receive secondary education, going toVictoria Maori Girls’ School in Auckland for my School Certificate, then to Auckland Teachers College. Returning to Vanuatu I taught at Torgil and Vureas schools. In 1970 I was appointed headteacher of Ambaebulu School, the first ni-Vanuatu female head of a coeducational boarding primary school. A long list of first time achievements has since followed me throughout my life. In 1974, I went to the University of the South Pacific for in-service training and did my Bachelor degree in Arts and then worked as Political Secretary in the Ministries leading up to and following Independence.
After Independence in 1980 there were only four male graduates. I was the only female graduate at the time. There weren’t enough of us to spread through all the Ministries so some Ministries had to make do with people with whatever education and experience they had.
I had never thought about men and women as different groupings of people until I came to work in Port Vila. It has been an eye-opening, alarming, shocking and sobering experience. Before then, as far as I was concerned, people were people and in every community and every family men and women worked together. I had no idea about discrimination until I began to work in the Prime Minister’s Office. This was different from what I was accustomed to. Port Vila is the melting pot of cultures, churches and democratic politics in the country. There are no proper solutions yet. Outside influences have come in. I am an optimistic person. I don’t think that it is an impossible task. We have to accept the reality for what it is and get on with changing attitudes for the betterment of the future Vanuatu society.
I am currently very busy, unemployed, living in Port Vila, doing voluntary work for women, human rights education and good governance awareness raising. Vanuatu women, scattered over the nation’s 80 inhabited islands make up the majority of the illiterate, landless, cash poor, overworked, underpaid and exploited sector of the population. It is women who contribute the biggest amount of labour in our economy through unpaid work to sustain our families in every Vanuatu home. The unpaid work of women is not counted in our national system of accounting but it is the women of this country who carry the burdens of the daily life of the nation, and it is the women who give us peace and stability. The sooner national leaders, who are men, realise that our women are our most valuable asset and therefore should be educated and treated right, the sooner we can begin to move in the direction of creating the kind of Vanuatu society that future generations can look back on and thank us for.
I greatly value life, peace and justice. I do the things that I do because they need to be done. I have changed directions in the life that I’ve lived, as I have learned through circumstances, and those learnings were reinforced. My greatest challenges have been people, and having to cope with the changes that happen when relationships change in the course of living life. I have experienced hardships and difficulties like no-one else on the island knows, but I have also been richly blessed with joys untold.
I believe my greatest achievement is to be alive despite all the difficulties I have had to overcome in my life. I have been quite a groundbreaker in terms of my Island, Women and Vanuatu, operating within the Vanuatu cultural context. Throughout my life it wasn’t a case of I wanted to do this or that, or that I planned to do this or that or the other. I have been brought up to do the things I’ve done. I haven’t had much choice. Maybe I chose my husband but everything else has been chosen for me by my society, upbringing and education which have given me my attitudes and beliefs.
I thank God for everyone who has contributed to my life, work and successes and hope that in some small measure I have returned back to God through service to other people to bring His Kingdom closer to all our lives in my little lifetime. Thanks be to God for His love and bountiful goodness.
Extract from Randell, Shirley, Ni-Vanuatu Role Models: Women in their own right, Blackstone Publishing, 2002
Tributes to Grace Mera Molisa can be found here