By Winy Marango + Gina Dehinavanua
CARE International’s Young Women’s Leadership Program is working with a diverse group of young women in Port Vila and Tafea Province to build their leadership skills to become advocates for gender equality and ending violence against women and girls. Partnered with experienced women leaders as mentors, these girls have embarked on a 12 month journey to pursue their leadership goals.
Never ending possibilities
Filling in the Young Women’s Leadership Program application form was a gamble for 16-year-old Jessica Philimon. “I thought, ‘It’s just another form’,” remembers Jessica. “I didn’t want to get my hopes up about it so when the CARE team called me to attend the first workshop I was shocked, but super happy I was successful.”
Originally from Tanna, Jessica enjoys city life in the heart of Port Vila living with her parents, two brothers and elder sister. “My dad has done all sorts of jobs from construction to now being a debt collector,” says Jessica. Although times have sometimes been tough for her family, they have been able to stay in the same house her whole life.
However, those tough times have meant Jessica had to leave school in 2017 after only completing Year 8. Now she spends most of her time at home helping her mother with the household chores. Reflecting on her school days, Jessica remembers being quiet and shy. “At school, I was bit shy but I always made friends easily,” says Jessica.
Though she had to cut her education short, Jessica has continued to look for opportunities to learn and grow. In 2016, she took a school holiday job for two weeks as an enumerator at the Vanuatu Electoral Office in Port Vila, and there made connections with a colleague who kept in touch. At the end of 2017, that former colleague encouraged her to apply for the Young Women’s Leaderhsip program.
The program has helped Jessica to refine her leadership goals and have a clearer idea of where she wants to go. She is also inspired to encourage other young women too. “I want to become a nurse or to work with children in my community to build their leadership skills and tell them about their value, responsibilities and rights,” says Jessica. ”I feel so much more confident now to talk with my peers, especially the girls, and encourage them to dream big and put their goals into action.”.
In May 2018, Jessica and four other young women involved in CARE Vanuatu’s programs were given the opportunity to travel to Fiji for a regional meeting to develop a plan for funding inititiaves in the Pacific to support the empowerment of adolescent girls. This group of inspiring girls was selected based on their confidence and ability to represent the voice of Ni-Vanuatu girls and speak up about issues affecting adolescent girls in Vanuatu. Accompanied by two CARE staff on their first overseas trip, the five girls had the opportunity to meet other young girls in the Pacific and to share challenges and hopes that girls in the Pacific share.
“It was my first time to ever travel abroad and I know the outcome of the meeting will help meet the needs of adolescent girls like myself and other young girls in my community,” Jessica says. “I was able to give presentations at the Regional Meeting because of the workshop on facilitation skills that I attended earlier this year with the Young Women’s Leadership Program.”
Thinking back to how shy she was at school, Jessica could never have imagined that she would be giving a presentation at such an important regional meeting. But learning to step up and grab hold of new opportunities has taken her a long way. “If there’s ever a chance for me to reach out to young girls who have had to leave school, I would encourage them to take part in this program as it gave me new hope for a better, brighter future for tomorrow,” says Jessica.
Now, Jessica is confident that there are exciting opportunities on the horizon. “After attending the Young Women’s Leadership Program held by CARE Vanuatu, I feel that now I have a bright future ahead of me and set goals in mind,” Jessica smiles.
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