A pilot workshop on custom leadership exchange and learning experiences recently took place in Pango, Efate, with a primary focus on land, custom values, and practices, aiming to safeguard traditional ways of life.

Minister for Climate Change, Ralph Regenvanu, emphasised the significance of discussing custom values is his opening remarks, highlighting the importance of land in Vanuatu and Melanesian societies. “Land is life, we must work to review our lands to protect our land and customs,” he said.

Recognising the value of engaging young people in conversations about custom, Minister Regenvanu emphasised the importance of early childhood learning. The workshop encompassed a wide range of topics, including custom values for youth, custom law, spirituality, leadership, and philosophies.

Alice Willie, one of the participants, expressed her gratitude for the workshop, especially as a young woman. She shared her experience, stating, “This workshop has challenged me to return back to my island home to learn more about my custom and practices.” Willie acknowledged the valuable knowledge she gained about custom governance systems and custom law.

Aminio Seresere from the Vanuatu Indigenous Land Defense Desk said the workshop’s value as a learning experience for the youth. He stressed the workshop’s role in helping them find their place in today’s world, stating, “Through this workshop, we can see how we can work together in the future to address the issues of Land Language and our community’s well-being.”

Seresere also emphasised the urgent need for decolonisation, particularly in current thinking patterns, expressing hope that Vanuatu would prioritise truth and honesty, particularly in the field of development. Seresere called for unity among the young people. “Let us hold hands and continue to work together, paving the way for a better future for ourselves and our children,” he said.

The workshop, designed by Hilda Lini, drew participants from various locations, including Port Vila, Ambrym, Pango, Eton, Tanna, Malekula, Tongoa, Santo, Pentecost, Nguna, and Ifira. Additionally, regional participants from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Fiji attended the workshop.

Fancy Brown from Nia Tero highlighted the importance of the workshop’s inclusive nature, bringing together both young and older participants. “We had a mixture of both young and older participants…which allows for exchanges in experience, and for the youth to learn from elders,” Brown noted.

She expressed the hope that workshop participants would carry the workshop’s values to their respective communities.