Jo Dorras, or ‘Mama Jo’ as many call her, is a talented scriptwriter who writes for Wan Smol Bag theatre production. Since the early 90s, the softly spoken English woman has worked alongside her husband Peter Walker in producing dozens of heartfelt films, dramas and other forms of theatre that are well known throughout Vanuatu and the Pacific.
In this month’s Sista I Shine, Jo expresses her deep love for her family and the joy she feels from writing educational and entertaining scripts that have made an impact on people’s lives. She also shares her opinion on issues that affect Ni-Vanuatu women and what she hopes to see in their future.
I was born and raised in London, the capital city of England. Although I am British, my native heritage is Jewish, so I used to attend Jewish synagogues every now and then. My parents were not really devoted to the Jewish customs so I was not raised with strict Jewish traditions.
That was me back then.
Now I have a wonderful husband Peter and three beautiful daughters, Emma, Polly and Suki. Our little family has grown with the arrival of two lovely grandchildren, Marcy and Jeremiah.
We came to Vanuatu in 1989. Peter started Wan Smol Bag Theatre not long after. At that time it was simply voluntary actors putting on dramas for communities and some non-government organizations to convey messages about health and social issues.
I taught English literature at Malapoa College for five years before I joined Peter to become a scriptwriter at Wan Smol Bag. It was tough being a mother and writing scripts at the same time, especially when you needed to concentrate on the scripts but you had to tend to the kids as well. Sometimes I would have to steal precious family time to finish my stories. Balancing motherhood and holding down a job was a real challenge.
Nowadays I am still writing scripts for films and plays as well as coordinating workshops every now and then.
Looking back, I never thought Wan Smol Bag would have grown to such a massive extent. For instance, back then it was just drama and films. Now we have clinics, the youth centre, nutrition centre, sports facilities and many more. We are still continuing to grow and expand!
I do not have many regrets in life because I believe that life is about making mistakes and these mistakes nurture you to become stronger. But I do wish I had not eaten so much unhealthy food when I was younger and said so many stupid things!
In this present time, especially after what I have endured in the past, I am proud to have such a lovely family who understand and respect each other. They are my greatest accomplishment in life.
I am also happy that I have written films and plays that have touched people’s lives as they mirror personal struggles. I like knowing that when people watch the films or plays I wrote, they can relate to it and it’s not something unrealistic for them.
My only troubling concern in life is that my children or grandchildren die before me. I have lived, they are still yet to live.
Another thing that I worry about is for others around me who are not living healthy lives, such as consuming drugs and having unhealthy diets.
Being a woman can be difficult especially in cultures where men are considered superior to women. The most challenging thing I’ve had to face as a woman is holding back my potential just because I’ve been conditioned to believe that men can do it better. That prevented me from using my skills and knowledge to its fullest capacity.
In Vanuatu and also across the globe, women are treated as second-class citizens. In here, it seems that it’s mostly men who create trouble in communities yet the leaders will place more control over the women and not the men.
Chiefs will place strict dress codes and attitude morals on the women but the men are allowed to move freely and make independent choices.
Some of the plays and films released have portrayed the issue of women as second-class citizens.
Thankfully, no one has tried to stop the plays or contradict it openly, so I feel safe here to voice my opinions and highlight the discrimination against women in the plays and films I write. I know that in most countries, voicing my opinions on the issue would have had negative consequences.
The future that I would like to see for the women in Vanuatu is that they take leadership roles wherever they are. I do not mean that they have to aim for a seat in parliaments or strive for excellent job positions, but rather to be in control of their own lives.
For instance, a woman should decide how many children she wants depending on her health or economic status. They should not be pushed around but be allowed to do what they want, as they know what’s the best choice for their circumstances.
The women of Vanuatu should be in control of their own lives!
By Joanita Meltebury