History was made this week on the Island of Tanna when the Vanuatu Mamas’ English Class (VMEC) graduated its first class in the small village of Iakolpau.
VMEC is a young program, in its 3rd year of operations and it has big plans from the southern island.
“In February we hosted our 1st teacher’s training on Tanna, 12 women representing 4 villages attended the two-week event.
“There were a lot of complication and lessons learned, but we definitely count it as a success.
“The participants were engaged and the trainers were excited,” Dawna Horton, VMEC co-founder recalls.
“At the end of the two weeks we held an awareness at the Lenekal’s Friday market.
“We drew a large crowd and got a lot of positive feedback from the shoppers.
“We are seeing progress in three of the four villages that attended, but Iakolpau is the first to complete the workbook and host an official graduation.
“We are really proud of the work Kathleen Iawha is doing in her village.
“She faced a lot of challenges particularly from men who believed it was a waste of time to educate women, most of whom are married with children already.
“However Kathleen’s commitment to the program and the women of Tanna is strong and we are grateful to have her and others like her representing VMEC on Tanna,” continued Ms. Horton.
VMEC has three active sites on Tanna and two on Efate.
The Inemillen class, taught by Joyce Willie and Meriam Makua, and Lamkail class, taught by Esther Nakou; hosted awareness events during the week of Iakulpoa’s graduation to help their community members understand the goals of VMEC and what exactly these women have been doing twice a week when they meet for class.
Both villages are looking forward to graduations later this year.
“Many of the women in my class were never allowed to attend school.
“They travel long distances for this class because it is the only one in the south.
“This is an opportunity my students never thought they would have and they are very proud to be a part of the first group on Tanna.
“I’m going slow with them because they are starting from zero, my students and I want to feel a sense of accomplishment at graduation when they confidently read their poems and speeches in English.
“That will take time, but they have been waiting this long and we all feel it is worth the wait,” Joyce Willie, a teacher in Inemillen says of her class.
Ms. Horton feels the same way. “I only wish our budget allowed me to take a second trip to be there for their graduation.
“The look on our students’ faces when they are holding their certificate in their hands is one of hope and confidence that inspires everyone in attendance.”
Graduations like the one in Iakolpau are a community celebration of education and women.
Participants spend weeks training to show their villages what they have learned over four months of study. They mix custom and culture with their new knowledge of the English language.
The women read speeches and poems in English. Each group of graduates sing and perform dances to represent their heritage and express their joy. VMEC even has its own anthem, written by Julie Titus, one of the first students who now teaches in Eratap village.
The song speaks to the spirit and goals of the program with lyrics like “We are the mamas of VMEC. We are running in a race. We are joining hands together, to lift our country up.”
In Iakolpau the women presented short skits from the Toka dance to celebrate their efforts and achievements.
“Graduation is a time to celebrate women who are working to improve their lives through academics, it is also a time to open minds in the community.
“Some look at this program and think that it is a waste of time, that the women we work with don’t have anything of value to offer outside of the home or the garden.
“Graduation is a chance for us to show the big change we are making in the lives of our participants and our teachers as well.
“VMEC is just the beginning, that first step before our students fly.
“Our mamas think about themselves and their self-worth differently by the end of the program and that change in thinking is what Vanuatu needs as it continues to grow and develop.
“It will take everyone, women and men, working together for Vanuatu to find its place on the world’s stage.
“We are a small organization doing what we can, but demand for our program is growing and we are hopeful our funding will grow as well.”
If you are interested in seeing more of the work being done by the Vanuatu Mamas’ English Class you can check their facebook page, The Vanuatu Mamas’ English Class.