07 September 2013

Ending violence in Paradise

By Karen Allen, UNICEF Pacific Representative


Wan Smol Bag youth theater wall
© UNICEF Pacific/2013/Allen
I visited Vanuatu this week  –surely a top runner in any contest for paradise on earth. Everywhere I go there is a beautiful vista – blue lagoons and ocean, sunny sky, stunning waterfalls and clear pools in lush and verdant forests.
 But we human beings have a knack for making trouble even in paradise. Violence against children and women is a serious problem.  I paid a visit to Wan Smol bag – a Vanuatu NGO that started 20 years ago as a small social activism theater and now does well, you name it adult plays, youth plays and mobile outreach drama, music,  radio, television across the Pacific, accelerated learning for school drop outs,  high quality publications -including play discussion guides, videos, pottery classes, lots of youth sports, cooking and nutrition classes, health clinic, endangered turtle watchers in short, a metamorphosis into Wan Big Bag.


They are a bit of a “donor darling” everyone wants to partner with them. UNICEF partnered with them for facilitating discussions, writing and distributing stories with discussion guides and doing shows on the theme of “Spare the Rod.” We have a new agreement with them to do more theater about ending violence against children and women and raising awareness on where to go for help if it happens to you. One problem – they seem to only have one writer for all of this….volunteers?

Sadly for me, the two theaters were empty because the actors are busy shooting a TV series…so I took pictures of murals in their nutrition centre and youth theater. I love how the acoustics in the ceiling are coconut shells and a theater wall is made of recycled tires and bamboo. Perhaps it is earthquake resistant? (I plan to ask my son who is a construction specialist.) A short plane ride away, in the island Province of Tanna, our UNICEF monitoring mission stops by a school where Wan Small Bag actors with disabilities are doing an awareness raising show for the students. The drama unfolds under a tree and neither the actors in wheelchairs nor the entranced students mind the rain shower as the dramatic story unfolds. This will be followed by a facilitated discussion on mis-perceptions and stigma against persons with disabilities. I want to return to Vanuatu to see a performance of the UNICEF sponsored play on ending violence against children and women. Back in my hotel the check in staff is wearing a black bracelet” Breaking the Silence, Ending the Violence.” I thank her for wearing the bracelet, which came from the UN and civil society's annual 16 days of activism against violence. She tells me, “This is a good slogan for Vanuatu because either people do not want to talk about it because they are embarrassed or they do not want to talk about it because they want to keep doing it to us.”

The UN Secretary General's Report on Violence Against children, the UNICEF study "Lifting the Financial Burden of Child Abuse: A Vanuatu Case Study" and  the annual global campaign of 16 days of activism against violence have all  helped to break the silence.  The Ending the Violence part will not happen overnight, but consciousness raising from Wan Small Bag, child and gender sensitive training for police, and support for new legislation on domestic violence and the Child Act along side of the current Family Protection Act are a very good start, and we are committed for as long as it takes to change violence in the Vanuatu to peaceful conflict resolution, taking it that much closer to a true Paradise.

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