Co­pra, rivers & a Uni de­gree.

From hum­ble begin­nings in the re­mote north west of Malekula to be­com­ing the leader of Van­u­atu’s Tech­ni­cal and Vo­ca­tional train­ing pro­gram, Frem­den Yan­ham­bath’s jour­ney has al­ways been about ed­u­ca­tion. Story by Pa­tri­cia Gil.

Island Life - - Contents -

From hum­ble begin­nings to be­com­ing the leader of Van­u­atu’s Tech­ni­cal and Vo­ca­tional train­ing pro­gram.

The dirt road winds through co­conut plan­ta­tions, dense pock­ets of for­est, gar­dens and along the coast. Up and down we go, in the hu­mid heat of Fe­bru­ary, through forests and across rivers. The jour­ney used to take over three hours but they have re­cently fixed the road and it is now only a two hour drive to the vil­lage of Lekhan. We are driv­ing to the north west of Male- kula, to the land of the Big Nam­bas and the place where Frem­den Yan­ham­bath, ‘Fremy’ for short, was born. Grow­ing up in a tiny vil­lage, in the shadow of a nat­u­ral cliff in the re­mote north west of Malekula, Fremy is a man who em­bod­ies the story that ev­ery lit­tle girl and boy should know. The story that says, no mat­ter how hum­ble your ori­gins, you can achieve your dream if you are pre­pared to work hard enough for it. Fremy is the new Team Leader of Van­u­atu’s na­tional Tech­ni­cal and Vo­ca­tional Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing (TVET) Sec­tor Strength­en­ing Pro­gram. Funded by the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment and work­ing in part­ner­ship with the Gov­ern­ment of Van­u­atu, the TVET ini­tia­tive in its cur­rent form was born in 2008. Its ob­jec­tives are to for­malise, im­prove and ex­pand tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion across Van­u­atu. Tar­get­ing the outer is­lands, and

re­spond­ing to the needs of peo­ple in re­mote and ru­ral ar­eas, the pro­gram has es­tab­lished TVET cen­tres in Malekula, Santo and the Banks Is­lands, which have now been for­mally in­te­grated within the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing. Each cen­tre helps iden­tify, de­sign, de­liver, and co­or­di­nate hun­dreds of train­ing and coach­ing pro­grams in ru­ral ar­eas, to meet skill needs in all is­lands across Malampa, Sanma and Torba Prov­inces. Aus­tralian Anna Gib­ert has been ‘on the ground’ at the helm of the pro­gram for the last five and half years. Anna stepped down from her role at the end of 2014 hand­ing over the po­si­tion to the new Team Leader of the TVET pro­gram, Frem­den Yan­ham­bath. I have come to Malekula to see where the new Team Leader of the TVET pro­gram, a man with a Mas­ters in lead­er­ship and man­age­ment, spe­cial­is­ing in vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion, and the first Ni Van­u­atu to lead a ma­jor bi-lat­eral aid pro­gram es­tab­lished be­tween the Aus­tralian and Van­u­atu gov­ern­ments, came from. I am on my way to the air­port, a lit­tle late, at 6.30am for a 7.30 flight, when Fremy calls to make sure I don’t miss my plane. I thought we were on ‘is­land time’? Ap­par­ently not. Not with Fremy any­way. From the mo­ment I set foot in Malekula, ev­ery­thing runs like clock work. The car is wait­ing at Nor­sup, ready to take us north east.

It is Sun­day and the TVET cen­tre in Nor­sup is closed but even with­out peo­ple, the build­ing is im­pres­sive. It has a com­puter room, a train­ing room, meet­ing room and sev­eral of­fices. It looks new and very well or­gan­ised. A poster hangs on the wall with the map of Malakula, Am­bryn and Paama, full of green and or­ange dots show­ing where ac­cred­ited train­ing mod­ules and coach­ing work­shops have taken place. As Simeon Bage, Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Ser­vice Co­or­di­na­tor for the Malampa TVET cen­tre, hap­pily points at the map ex­plain­ing what the dots mean, I re­alise the enor­mity of the pro­gram in the Malampa province. Be­tween 2013 and 2104, the pro­gram ran over 50 ac­cred­ited train­ing cour­ses and coach­ing work­shops in di­verse top­ics such as bee keep­ing, poul­try, tour guid­ing, first aid, sav­ings and loan co­op­er­a­tive man­age­ment, food han­dling, fur­ni­ture mak­ing, ba­sic ac­count­ing, and many more, re­quested by a va­ri­ety of or­gan­i­sa­tions, from the Cham­ber of Com­merce to the De­part­ments of Fish­eries, Agri­cul­ture, and Tourism and de­liv­ered by a range of in­dus­try ex­perts and reg­is­tered train­ers from across all in­dus­tries in Van­u­atu. For peo­ple in the outer is­lands, who do not have the re­sources to travel to the cap­i­tal to fur­ther their stud­ies or ac­quire new skills, this pro­gram has opened up op­por­tu­ni­ties that were sim­ply un­think­able a few years ago. The knowl­edge and train­ing that ru­ral peo­ple have re­ceived have built their con­fi­dence and given them di­rec­tion and ideas. As a re­sult, new small-scale busi­nesses have ap­peared and ex­ist­ing busi­nesses have seen a growth in their oper­a­tions and in­come.

Go­ing to school takes more than a bus

Af­ter a quick stop at the TVET cen­tre of­fice to get some wa­ter for the jour­ney, Fremy and I set off. The fur­ther we drive north, the more aware I be­come of how re­mote these vil­lages are. There is hardly a car around, and we only meet two ve­hi­cles on the road. Later, I hear that yesterday the lo­cal truck, a Toy­ota Hilux, com­ing from Laka­toro was car­ry­ing 25

peo­ple. “When I was a child, some­times we needed to wait a cou­ple of days for a truck to go past, that is why we had to live next to the school,” ex­plains Fremy. Fremy has a whole col­lec­tion of schools be­hind him. In year one, he left his par­ents to at­tend his first year of school at Matan­vat where he stayed with rel­a­tives. In year two, there were so many chil­dren from his vil­lage need­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion close to the school that the par­ents came to­gether to build a house for the chil­dren to stay to­gether. “There were about ten of us, stay­ing in the house. I was with my el­der brother who was nine and our younger brother who was six. In Van­u­atu, el­der sib­lings look af­ter the younger sib­lings. There were chil­dren from a few fam­i­lies in the house and no adult su­per­vi­sion. The house was split into two rooms, one for the girls and one for the boys and each fam­ily of chil­dren had its own cook­ing space out­side. In the morn­ing, we would build a fire and cook some man­ioc or yam for break­fast be­fore school. Af­ter school, we took our pots to the beach to wash and went to the river to fetch wa­ter for din­ner. At the week­ends, we would go back to the vil­lage and get more food for the fol­low­ing week. If we had enough time, we would go fish­ing.” The ‘wild-chil­dren house’ as I came to call it, con­jured im­ages in my mind from the Lord of the Flies. But the chil­dren in the house had their rules and rou­tines, ev­ery­one help­ing each other, the big­ger kids look­ing af­ter the lit­tle ones. The fol­low­ing year Fremy’s vil­lage de­cided to try a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to the chal­lenge of get­ting an ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren. The vil­lage came to­gether to build a class­room and bring a teacher over for the year. Un­for­tu­nately, this ini­tia­tive only lasted one year as the school fees paid by the fam­i­lies were not enough to sup­port the teacher. In year four, Fremy was once again ‘on the move’ to the Malu­abay School and yet another vil­lage. The school Fremy would at­tend de­pended on which rel­a­tives could host him for the year. In year five, it was Wora Pri­mary. Then back to Malu­abay School for year six. Mean­while, his par­ents were strug­gling to pay for the ed­u­ca­tion of their chil­dren cut­ting co­pra, the only ac­tiv­ity they could un­der­take to fund the chil­dren’s school­ing. In year seven Fremy went to board­ing school in Ren­sarie, one of the big­gest schools in Malekula, with over 400 chil­dren at­tend­ing, where he stayed un­til year ten. His par­ents moved to Aore Is­land, off Santo, to work in the big­gest co­pra plan­ta­tion in the is­land. “Cut­ting co­pra is not an easy job,” ex­plains Fremy. “The fam­ily used to work from morn­ing to night, six days a week, for very lit­tle money, just to try to make enough money for the fees.”

Ev­ery so of­ten, a vil­lage pops out the bush along the road. These are very pretty vil­lages, with paths fringed by lovely gar­dens and cute lit­tle square bam­boo houses with Natan­gora roofs. Be­tween the vil­lages, chil­dren swim across sev­eral river cross­ings, on which con­crete plat­forms are be­ing built so ar­eas do not be­come cut off dur­ing big rains. “The rivers flood regularly,” ex­plains Fremy. “When I was young, I re­mem­ber once when the river be­came im­pass­able and I had to get back to Vila. A truck drove us to the flooded river where another truck was wait­ing on the other side. A rope was tied be­tween two trees, one each side of the river and we crossed the river, fight­ing against the cur­rent and hold­ing onto the rope with one hand while we tried to keep our be­long­ings dry by hold­ing then over our heads.” A fter a few more rivers we ar­rived at the vil­lage where Fremy’s grand­mother lives. The old lady, Eileen, is barely a me­tre tall and looks at once frag­ile and in­cred­i­bly re­silient. Her eyes sparkle, full of life: she is over­joyed to have him there and she brings us some sim­boro to eat while we take a break from the driv­ing un­der the shade of the bam­boo awning in the lovely court­yard. This is the land of the Small Nam­bas and soon, we will be cross­ing into Big Nam­bas ter­ri­tory.

Fremy’s mother is from the Small Nam­bas tribe while his fa­ther is Big Nam­bas. There was a time not so long ago when the Big Nam­bas regularly at­tacked the Small Nam­bas and fe­ro­cious tribal wars took place. Nowa­days, thank­fully, things are a lit­tle more set­tled. Af­ter a short break, we re­sume our drive past a cave next to the beach where Fremy tells me that the Big Nam­bas used to go and feast and celebrate their vic­to­ries. “You know, there was a lot of can­ni­bal­ism around this area,” he tells me. For­tu­nately now is a thing of the past but visi­tors can get a ‘taste’ of it through the ‘cannibal tours’ of­fered in the area. Cul­tural tours such as the Nam­bas Amokh Tribal Tour, Amel­bati Cannibal Site & Chiefs Grave Tour or the Big Nam­bas Tour at Mae, have opened Malekula’s rich cul­ture to visi­tors and the flour­ish­ing lo­cal tourism in­dus­try, much of it cre­ated through the help of TVET pro­gram ini­tia­tives, is paving the way for cul­tural and ad­ven­ture tourism in the is­land. S oon, we ar­rive at Fremy’s vil­lage, lo­cated in a wide bay at the foot of a step hill, with a long, sandy beach. Rain­wa­ter tanks at the top of the hill feed wa­ter to the vil­lage be­low. “We are lucky to have this set up,” Fremy ex­plains. “Be­fore, it was hard work to have to go to the river for wa­ter.” Af­ter fin­ish­ing high school, Fremy’s fam­ily could only af­ford to pay for one child to at­tend univer­sity. His el­der brother, Jack­son Yan­ham­bath, now chief of their vil­lage, de­cided to give the op­por­tu­nity to Fremy. As is kas­tom in Van­u­atu, Fremy re­paid the favour by tak­ing over the care of his brother’s first born son, who now lives with him and goes to school in Port Vila. His univer­sity years in PNG were paid by the fam­ily’s work on the co­pra plan­ta­tion and the work that Fremy did for the univer­sity dur­ing week­ends and hol­i­day breaks. Af­ter fin­ish­ing his de­gree, Fremy spent a year teach­ing and five years work­ing with lo­cal NGO Live and Learn, be­fore join­ing the TVET pro­gram in 2009. In 2012, he was awarded an Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment schol­ar­ship to com­plete his Mas­ters at the Univer­sity of New­cas­tle, and upon his re­turn to Van­u­atu, he suc­cess­fully ap­plied for the po­si­tion of TVET Pro­gram Deputy Team Leader, work­ing closely with Anna Gib­ert as her suc­ces­sor.

Emerg­ing tourism in­dus­try and new op­por­tu­ni­ties

It has been a long and event­ful day and be­fore night­fall, we make it to the place where I will be spend­ing the night, Big Nam­bas bun­ga­low. Perched atop a big boul­der rock, stand­ing right on the seashore, a bam­boo bridge unites the rock to the main­land. The quaint bam­boo bun­ga­low is quite im­pres­sive. In­side, big glass doors open onto a ve­randa, from where you can see fish swimming in the rock pools be­low. Ahead, the ocean fills the view to­wards the hori­zon. Nai­wen, the owner, comes to meet us bring­ing juice and lovely grape­fruit and veg­etable pat­ties. It was through the cour­ses of­fered by the TVET cen­tre that this bub­bly, wel­com­ing lady de­cided to start her ac­com­mo­da­tion busi­ness. Back in 2009, she at­tended the first of many tourism cour­ses and coach­ing ses­sions de­liv­ered through the TVET cen­tre. With her new­found skills and con­fi­dence, she started her own ac­com­moda-

tion busi­ness, back in her vil­lage, in Big Nam­bas ter­ri­tory. Part of the TVET pro­gram’s in­no­va­tive ap­proach is the fol­low up that it of­fers. Af­ter co­or­di­nat­ing de­mand-driven train­ing mod­ules, the TVET cen­tre or­gan­ises fur­ther coach­ing and fur­ther train­ing mod­ules to pro­gres­sively up-skill the par­tic­i­pants. In­dus­try ex­perts keep in touch and visit par­tic­i­pants on-site to of­fer fur­ther coach­ing and ad­vice. Pas­cal Gavotto, owner of Fa­tu­maru Lodge in Port Vila, is one of these coaches whose pas­sion and com­mit­ment to help­ing the lo­cal tourism in­dus­try in the outer is­lands has made a great dif­fer­ence to many. “When we re­alised that we wanted to build a bun­ga­low, we asked the TVET cen­tre for help and ad­vice on lo­ca­tion and de­sign. Pas­cal and Fremy came and walked with us, all along the coast, look­ing at all suit­able sites. When Pas­cal came to the big rock, he said to us ‘Here, you must build here’,” ex­plains Nai­wen. “At first we were a lit­tle un­sure, it is hard work to build on a rock, but we trusted Pas­cal’s ad­vice and so we did.” In­deed, Nai­wen and her fam­ily now have a unique prod­uct on their hands, a bun­ga­low like no other, in a very spe­cial lo­ca­tion. Nai­wen was ex­cited to at­tend her next TVET course, start­ing the next day at the cen­tre, this time in book-keep­ing, “Oh yes, I go to all the TVET cour­ses”, she said smil­ing. “I never miss one!”

Work­ing to­gether for the bet­ter­ment of all

The next day, we left the wilder­ness of north Malekula be­hind for Nor­sup, where I saw for my­self the par­tic­i­pants who were at­tend­ing a TVET cen­tre train­ing. Most of the own­ers and man­agers of the lo­cal bun­ga­lows, restau­rants and tours were there. Tam Tam bun­ga­low, Asunda from Laka­toro Palm Lodge, Man Bush Trek, Nan­wud Bun­ga­lows on Uriv Is­land and many oth­ers. A strong woman with an open and con­ta­gious laugh, Lene Banga, owner of Nan­wud Bun­ga­low, has also at­tended all the cour­ses that the TVET for Tourism pro­gram has of­fered since 2009. “The train­ing cour­ses have been great and have taught me a lot” she tells me. “The Malampa Call Cen­tre has dou­bled my book­ings”. Be­fore the Malampa Call Cen­tre, Lene’s visi­tors knew of her only through the Lonely Planet guide. The Malampa Call Cen­tre was cre­ated in part­ner­ship be­tween the Depart­ment of Tourism, the TVET pro­gram and NZAID to fa­cil­i­tate the mar­ket­ing and book­ings of lo­cal ac­tiv­i­ties and ac­com­mo­da­tion across all the is­lands in the Malampa province. With no in­ter­net and very lit­tle tech­nol­ogy, tourism busi­ness in Malampa province used to be greatly hin­dered by their lack of con­tact with the rest of the world. The Call Cen­tre has opened a vir­tual door out into the world for tourism in the outer is­lands and is a good ex­am­ple of how the TVET pro­gram cre­ates a net­work be­tween dif­fer­ent or­gan­i­sa­tions, de­part­ments and ed­u­ca­tion providers. It has also pro­vided pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment train­ing and coach­ing to the tourism of­fi­cers in charge of the call cen­tre while the call cen­tre re­quests train­ing from the TVET cen­tre to meet the de­mand for skills from emerg­ing busi­nesses. The Depart­ment of Tourism, with whom the Malampa Call Cen­tre shares of­fice and re­sources, is in charge of mak­ing sure that new prod­ucts, from tours to ac­com­mo­da­tion, meet the DOT stan­dards, re­quest­ing train­ing and coach­ing through the TVET cen­tre in any ar­eas in need of im­prove­ment. TVET cen­tre skills train­ing is not only fo­cused on tourism how­ever and its sup­port to agri­cul­ture and other pri­mary in­dus­tries is just as im­por­tant. In Malekula, the TVET cen­tre has fa­cil­i­tated ac­cred­ited train­ings in ru­ral fish­ing, forestry, poul­try and many more. The co­coa in­dus­try, the sec­ond big­gest in­dus­try in Malekula af­ter co­pra, has seen an in­crease in both qual­ity and quan­tity, af­ter train­ing un­der­taken through the TVET cen­tre, with many small farm­ers ben­e­fit­ing from an in­crease in in­come. The Co­coa Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion is now able to ex­port di­rectly to Sin­ga­pore, by­pass­ing Santo’s mid­dle­man, and has built new of­fices and stor­age and hold­ing fa­cil­i­ties to cater for the in­crease in pro­duc­tion and qual­ity of its co­coa. Yet another ex­am­ple of what work­ing to­gether can achieve is the new Hand­i­craft Cen­tre in Laka­toro. The cen­tre is the brain­child of three women, Naomi Malau, Glo­ria Jeremiah and Mothy Vi­ran­mal, part of the Malekula and the Malampa Pro­vin­cial Coun­cil of Women. In 2012 they de­cided to ap­ply for fund­ing to cre­ate a Hand­i­craft Cen­tre in town where ru­ral women could sell their hand­i­crafts. With fund­ing from the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment, they se­cured the help of a vol­un­teer, Molly, and the ma­te­ri­als to build an un­der­cover mar­ket. Through the TVET cen­tre, they re­quested train­ing on hand­i­craft qual­ity pro­duc­tion for the lo­cal ma­mas. The land was do­nated by the province and the build­ing it­self was built through the prac­ti­cal com­po­nent of one of the TVET Cen­tre’s build­ing train­ing mod­ules. Since open­ing in April 2013, the new Hand­i­craft Cen­tre has gen­er­ated over 400,000vt of in­come for the lo­cal ma­mas. The TVET pro­gram is cur­rently fo­cus­ing on gen­der equal­ity and achiev­ing higher num­bers of fe­male par­tic­i­pants. “Our fo­cus right now is to get more women in­volved and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the dif­fer­ent train­ings and mod­ules of­fered,” ex­plains Robert Kalowie, the TVET pro­gram’s gen­der equal­ity spe­cial­ist and one of the peo­ple who will be over­see­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the TVET Cen­tres’ Gen­der Equal­ity Strat­egy in part­ner­ship with the Depart­ment of Women’s Af­fairs.

Fremy, at 33 and at the helm of this vast pro­gram since Jan­uary 2014 has, no doubt, a lot of work ahead of him. I ask if he ever knew that this is where he would end up when he first set out for univer­sity in PNG. “I al­ways knew that I wanted to work with peo­ple and in ed­u­ca­tion. So yes, in a way, it is not a sur­prise.” Now in charge of the pro­gram which makes vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion avail­able to thou­sands of ru­ral peo­ple, Fremy is far from alone in his quest. A team of great peo­ple, too many to men­tion, all wholly com­mit­ted to and pas­sion­ate about mak­ing ed­u­ca­tion avail­able to all, makes TVET the suc­cess­ful pro­gram it is. Like his vil­lage com­ing to­gether to build a class­room for the chil­dren, the TVET pro­gram team, pas­sion­ate about ed­u­ca­tion and skills, is work­ing to­gether to build many class­rooms, and ul­ti­mately, the fu­ture of a na­tion.

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