Officers from Transparency International Vanuatu were recently invited to take part providing awareness at the 10th National Presbyterian Youth Convention. Below is a short report that was compiled from that trip;

From humble beginnings, involving a few missionaries and their families, the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu has grown to become the largest religious denomination in Vanuatu. Covering five provinces, dozens of islands and including people from different cultural and language groups.

Of course it did not come cheap, nor fair, but at huge financial costs and losses of lives, terrible sicknesses, musket attacks, tomahawk and spear attacks, threats on lives, hatred, raging wars, jealousy and long-sea voyages.

But despite the challenges that were faced during the growth of the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu nothing could withstand God’s Word, eventually the will to walk a different path guided the people towards embracing Christianity. The new-found faith established a form of ‘Unity’ never experienced before as different cultures, languages and warring tribes prayed together under one roof, with a united believe, and faith in one God.

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South West Bay

Over the decades the people have continued to maintain the age-old gathering of church members from different islands to discuss and debate on issues that concerns the development and governance of the Church. This month has been a busy month for the Presbyterian Church which includes National Evangelical meetings on Anietyum and National Sunday School meeting on Tanna. And also included in this month’s activities is the 10th National Presbyterian Youth Convention where over five hundred (500) young people from the Seven Presbyteries, or districts that make up the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, gathered at South West Bay in Malekula.

The entire district of South West Bay is a Presbyterian stronghold. And with the abundance of crops, fruits and vegetation it is an ideal location to hold down the Presbyterian fort, so to speak. Located within the concave that form the bay are several villages that make up the South West Bay Presbyterian Session. The people there tilt the land just above the hills and beyond, they say that further out towards the central part of Malekula is ‘no-man’s land’. In other words, there’s too much resources that the rest is left untouched.

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According to history, as told by an elder of Lawa village, the Catholic mission into the then New Hebrides first established its mission station at Lawa village on South West Bay in 1893. However, two years later in 1895 the Catholic mission was moved to Walarano community at the north eastern part of Malekula after the Presbyterian mission took over ‘Spreading the Word’ throughout the South West Bay district.

The district was lately divided into two separate Presbyterian Sessions by the heads of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, one comprising of several villages called the South West Bay Session and the other is called Lawa Session, and it encompasses the village of Lawa including its four community stations, this is where the 10th National Presbyterian Youth Convention was held from the 8th to the 14th of May.

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National Youth Convention

The Youth Convention is similar to the familiar parliamentary functions, its main role is to provide young people with the opportunity to exercise their right to express their opinions on policies and organizational governance, and also to learn from each other through the sharing of information.

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Generally, this process benefits the youth in two particular areas, firstly it allows the 28opportunity for practical experience and it grooms them proper before they begin to move up to the higher councils. And secondly, their opinions are gathered and are then submitted to the higher council as recommendations, or as directives for all youth within the Presbyterian Church to follow.

The 10th Youth Convention comprised of youth general meetings, electives or lessons, and awareness programs conducted by the Vanuatu National Youth Council (VNYC), the Telecommunications and Radiocommunications Regulator (TRR) and Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV).

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The Convention Environment

When Officers from Transparency International Vanuatu arrived at Lawa village on Thursday the 12th the place was buzzing with activities. Decorations filled the environment starting from the coast up towards the village, almost every tree trunk around the village center and along the roads were wrapped in plain colored fabric and painted with the word ‘Rebuild’.

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Beautiful banners, filled with empowered words, arched over the main road just past the 24Lawa community hall while down in the river that flowed to the ocean a small but effective dam had been constructed to create a pool of fresh water, large enough to accommodate around fifteen people and with space for a few more.

Decorations around the pool adorned the scenery in red and white colors, the entire premises awed newcomers as well as the villagers. Even the story behind their newly build stage (called Serao Kalo Memorial Stage) is one of a kind, a miracle to be precise.

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Speaking with elders in the village it was clear that by-laws ordered by the High Chief is still of great importance and is respected thoroughly. Enforcement on village laws is of paramount significance and fines or penalties are ordered and implemented with no hesitation.

TIV Awareness Session

When the Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) Civic Education Officer, Mr. Douglas Tamara, took the stage on Thursday (12th) night he encouraged that traditional respect must be continued to be practiced. And in-line with articles within the Mama Law it is a constitutional responsibility that people must obey laws and take part in communal activities as tradition dictates.

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He also stressed that the spoken native language in the area must also be preserved and 8taught to the younger generation. This advice came after speaking with several villagers who identified that they were losing out on some of their linguistic contents.

Language is more than just a tool for communicating, but it is a form of secret coding that can be used to one’s advantage when in foreign lands. It is a channel to hide and preserve valued knowledge as well as to pass on practical knowledge that can be used for development purposes.

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To the youth TIV promoted the reasons why we have a chapter in our Mama Law that established our rights and duties and legal entities. And that with every right that we have there is the duty to respect another person’s right, and if that can be achieved then there will be a balance, and fairness will prevail.

The Right To Information (RTI) Bill was also talked about to the five hundred youth delegates plus the villagers, and when asked if they thought that the RTI Bill would be helpful to them when it becomes law hands were raised from the front, to the rear and right to the back of the stage compound.

The awareness concluded with the donation of copies of the National Constitution to the Coordinator of the National Youth Convention Mr. James Joseph.

More photos from the National Youth Convention:

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