2019 is well and truly underway and many of us drag ourselves back to work, and rouse enthusiasm for a new working year. But only three hours from Australia lie the islands of Vanuatu, and a group of women for whom employment is not only a precious gift, but the key to their children’s future. For many displaced mothers across Vanuatu, each day is an ongoing struggle to earn an income.
Lesieli Naulangi Joseph is a Tongan woman married to a Ni Vanuatu, who understands first hand the difficulties so many women across Vanuatu experience. In 2012 Lesieli Naulangi Joseph set about making a change and founded the Ernas Women’s Centre; a not-for-profit organisation aimed at uniting displaced women and providing opportunities to learn the skills needed to make and sell their own handicrafts.
Five years ago 66 unemployed mothers from across the islands of Vanuatu joined the Erna’s Women’s Centre, with a shared vision of earning enough income to provide food and an education for their children. They combined their knowledge and skills and taught each other the art of weaving, hand-making baskets, fans and jewellery, and running a small business. Finding a marketplace to sell their wares however was a significant challenge. Their small businesses competed with large conglomerates and there were no places available in town to take their products for sale. Unperturbed, the women set up stalls along a local road in the hope that tourists would stop by, however land disputes meant this arrangement was short lived, and with few other options the women now sell their products from home.
An additional challenge for many of the women and their families was that of accessing clean water. Lesieli Naulangi Joseph founded Vanuatu Earthbag Building to enable members of the Ernas Women’s Centre to independently collect and store their own water. The women learn how to construct their own water tanks from earth or sand bags, providing long-term benefits.
Today the Erna’s Women’s Centre comprises over 300 mothers working together to create opportunities for themselves, their children and their communities. Securing a reliable market and fair trade for their beautiful products continues to be a challenge but the women hope that their efforts will encourage responsible tourism in Vanuatu and sustain the livelihoods of local families.
Lesieli Naulangi Joseph and the women of the Erna’s Women’s Centre are an inspiring example of talented women working together to bring about change. Most of us will never experience such difficulties as struggling to raise the funds to educate our children – their resilience in the face of hardship is an example for us all, and reminds us just how life changing an income can be.
Pacific Artisan is proud to market the beautiful products made by the talented artisan women at the Erna’s Women’s Centre. You can find their products on our Vanuatu product page.