There are three Australian facilitators on this trip to Vanuatu.
Gabrielle has spent most of her adult life in PNG and Indonesia and Timor as an educator and Community Development worker. Most recently, in East Timor, she lived on the remote island of Atauro, two hours by boat off the coast of the mainland. She lived loved and worked there until she recently returned to Australia to be nearer her three grandchildren and her daughter and son-in-law. She's had all the real world experiences that give her a great understanding about how communities in countries like Vanuatu work. Her language experience in PNG means she can understand the local Bislama speakers.
Mark has been here many times and Melanesian history and culture is his PhD thesis topic. He left school at 15 and set off to gain some life experience. He travelled around Australia, sailed across the northern seas to Papua Nui Guinea, fell in love with the culture and now at 42 is nearing the end of his great anthropoligical adventure. His next life begins after this. As a father of three children below the age of ten and a partner to a very supportive woman he will soon be looking for a real job. For academic anthropologists that's not an easy task. Mark is so well read and researched that it makes my head ache. In a strange way he almost knows too much. That's not to say his knowledge is only book based. He has lived in remote villages for extended periods doing his research and experiencing the culture first hand. Naturally he is a fluent Bislama speaker.
And then there's the Team Leader. Me. This is my fifth trip as a facilitator to Vanuatu. I was one of the University of Queensland team who initiated the Community Development training package here so I am "the expert". Luckily I don't believe in experts except when it comes to building large structures like bridges and sky scrapers. This is fortunate because, given my background, no one else would quite believe it either. I don't speak Bislama beyond what you would call tourist level - I can ask for things, tell people where I am from and use a reasonable range of greetings but in conversation I am lost. I understand more than I can speak, which is pretty typical of people immersed in new languages, and it makes it easier that Bislama is based on English, my native tongue. So with limited language, no formal studies in anthropology and 50 days in the country I am the least experienced.
But I have lived. and I think I have some natural communication and facilitation skills and I reckon I know a bit about people and relationships. Now I hadn't intended this post to be "all about me" but I am interested in the sets of skills we all have and how we use them. We three aussies are, in a sense, mentoring each other. Mark helps me uncover some of the less obvious aspects of Vanuatu culture, Gabrielle brings a calm and grounded common sense to the process and I see a role for myself helping us to learn from each other and, without being patronising, helping guide Mark to be a better facilitator and helping Mark and Gabrielle work quietly and effectively with a team of locals whom I have come to know and trust.
It's not without its challenges but we are, each of us, committed to becoming better leaders and learners. We've completed the three days training which we were responsible for. We now travel with the large ni-Vanuatu team to Nguna (Pronounced with a silent g) where they will lead a five day training program for a group of 40 leaders from across the region with us as the observers and back-up team. Nguna is reputed to be a beautiful island. We've been told we'll be staying in two thatched bungalows on the edge of a pristine white sandy beach. Wish you were here.
More about the workshop next post.