Many women face a difficult life in Vanuatu. Cultural and societal factors have historically placed limited value on the Ni-Vanuatu woman, and interpersonal violence is commonplace in many homes. A key component of the Family Care Centre’s (FCC) founding mission was to bring value and hope to the women of the surrounding community, and our antenatal class was an offshoot of this vision. It started as a dream that had been carried by a handful of others in the ministry over the years – people on the ground who have been pouring into this nation for a long time – and it had not yet been realized due to limited time and resources. It has been a tremendous privilege to help guide this vision to fruition over the past year.
Practically, the antenatal class aimed to bolster health knowledge among women to encourage healthy pregnancies. But our greater goal was that by bringing women together in a space that cherished them, we could create moments of connection and conversation; and through that begin to break the chains that have silenced them for so long. It is a relatively simple, small intervention that we hoped would open doors for greater impact. We already have several stories that suggest that the class’s influence is reaching farther that we’d imagined.
One of my greatest desires for the class was to eventually hand it over to the women in the community – to let them lead in recruiting, teaching, and supporting each other. Former class members have already started community meetings to maintain contact and keep the conversation going. Also, one of our clinic staff members took the lead in recruiting women in her own village to join our second round of the class. In terms of advocating for themselves, two women (who we know of) have sought social services through resources we discussed in class to help them with issues related to unhealthy relationships.
When COVID-19 restrictions caused us to put our meetings on pause, three women from our class volunteered as community advocates during our clinic’s campaign to spread accurate, practical knowledge to the region about coronavirus facts and prevention measures. These women went over and above any other community leader who showed up to our training. They walked kilometer after kilometer to reach the several thousand people living in their area, hosting multiple education sessions on proper hand hygiene, COVID-19 basics, and how to install a water-preserving hand washing station at home using household supplies. The actions they took showed us that these women had found their voice and were using it. What’s more, during a series of village visits, we took to visit our mamas and their babies. We were astonished to see home after home with new handwashing stations set up, as they had been taught only days prior. In a nation where health literacy is growing but still lacking, these changes are huge. And they were that much more special because we knew they were the product of relationships built in our class. When standing in their value and given the opportunity, women are unstoppable. I am excited to see how God will continue to use the antenatal program to engage and empower women in future classes.
The 12 women who entered into our nakamal the first day were not all the same women we ended with; but along the way, so many of them became like family. I will cherish the months the Lord allowed me to participate in what He’s doing at the FCC and in Vanuatu. It is undeniable that the work being accomplished and the bold obedience that each staff member walks in is rare and impacting the community long term. God is GOOD.
– Michelle, Student Doctor, USA