April 1, 2022

Vanuatu entrepreneurs cook up resilience

Vanuatu local food

Myriam Malo’s journey to independence started from her kitchen at the central market of Port Vila, where she used to cook and sell food.

Myriam is one of the chefs who recently joined training offered by ACTIV (Alternative Community Trade In Vanuatu) through Aelan Mama’s Cuisine, a social enterprise training women in food preparation, menu planning, and the sustainable management of a small business.

During the training, eleven chefs learned more than just new culinary skills. They learned that knowledge means power, resilience and independence, and that it can lead to change and inspire women to become active leaders and role-models in their communities.

The COVID-19 lockdown saw women like Myriam at home, with no income. The future of local businesses looked grim and no opening of tourism was in sight.

Fast forward a few months and the newly graduated chefs opened Aelan Mama’s Cuisine – a new restaurant and online offering – which guarantees a job and a continued stream of income for the women and their families.

“While we were learning about food safety and finance management, we were so excited, we were in tears. We could all sense how this would have changed our lives forever”, said Emmy Siro, another chef on the team.

The training gave women the means to reclaim their agency and become more independent in taking decisions and managing finances, and in voicing their need for more learning opportunities to emancipate other women, especially those living in remote and rural areas of Vanuatu.

“We need to help all the mamas get some training” said Myriam Malo, “together we need to join forces to demand more learning opportunities for women and girls”, she added.

Myriam has become a champion in her own community, leading change in the group of women in her village, working alongside the community chief and the committees in the village. She is now getting involved with the Youth Council of 21 Jump Street, working on an awareness raising and knowledge-sharing project to sensitise young people about the impact of processed and imported food, on their health, the environment, and the local economy and livelihood.

“When it comes to food and nutrition, we need to go back to our roots, and I mean it literally” said Myriam, “What we eat impacts our health, the environment, our culture, and the local economy and livelihood.”

“The training granted permission to all the women to dream bigger and broader, especially when it comes to their rights to learn new skills and participate in the community”, said Sandrine Wallez, president of ACTIV.

“We tasted what it feels like to be in the driving seat and take decisions that influence our lives and that of our community, that was the real revolution, there is no going back”, added Myriam, who is now considering running for the municipal elections in Port Vila to ensure women’s requests are heard and acted upon. “All the women need to know the basics of food safety, food preparation and finance. We need to reach all the women, we need to sit around the table where the decisions are made to channel the resources needed for women and girls’ training.”

(Adapted from a release by the Spotlight Initiative)

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