Youth work is in my heart! It’s my passion

Hellen and Joemela Simeon, UNICEF Vanuatu Field Office Child Protection Officer, talking Community Facilitation Package materials on importance of ensuring children have the right kinds of support around them so that they are able to grow and thrive in a protected environment.

“Youth work is in my heart! It’s my passion,” stated 26 year old Hellen, a participant of the Child Protection Community Facilitation Package training in Luganville, Santo, in early February this year.

Hellen’s story, however, does not begin here! Hellen did not complete her year 12 studies. At the age of 19 Hellen discovered she was pregnant while living away with relatives in Port Vila to attend high school. “I grew tired every day and lost motivation to attend class. I knew something was happening to my body,” she said.

Hellen’s life changed with the birth of her baby girl. At 20, without planning to, Hellen was now a mother. She had a baby to take care of and had to leave school.

Two months after Hellen had her baby, she became exposed to youth work through a non-governmental organisation — Youth Challenge Vanuatu. Through this organisation she acquired valuable administration and life skills knowledge.

“It was not easy being a first time, single and breastfeeding mother and going out to communities to work with youth,” stated Hellen she as reflected on challenges.

With family support for Hellen and her daughter as well as the passion for youth work, she graduated with a youth work certificate after 6 months of training with the Australian Pacific Technical College.

Hellen was prepared for the request from the Vanuatu National Youth Council officer for her support to mobilise ten young people to volunteer with the National Games held in Santo in December 2016.

“I surprised everyone and even myself! I found and mentored 22 youth volunteers from my community and the surrounding area to help out during the Games,” said Hellen proudly. Hellen talked about the different ways she engaged with youth including the use of social media and the door-to-door outreach to get them to participate.

Johnny, National Youth Council Officer in Luganville, highlighted the key role that young women, like Hellen, play in their communities to mobilise other youths to get involved in community activities.

“Hellen is very active in her community. I know that when I contact her to mobilise young people that she has the energy and passion to reach out to other youth,” said Johnny, Officer of the National Youth Council in Luganville.

“A lot of these young people are involved in maru,” said Hellen referring to marijuana. “I am really aware that my own life is an example to these young people. I try really hard to be a good role model,” she added.

Joemela Simeon, Child Protection Officer at the UNICEF Vanuatu Field Office, acknowledged the valuable partnership with Ministry of Justice & Community Services and more recently post cyclone Pam with the Ministry of Youth, Sports Development & Training to reach youth saying, “There are many young people like Hellen who are already doing great things in the community. Our partnership with the ministries harnesses and builds on the existing energy and passion,” he added.

Hellen, 26, talked about how she had the support of people around her that helped her get back onto her feet after giving birth — support of people similar to those sitting beside her.

“I like the training very much. I have learnt so much. I watched my daughter grow and develop and know with community support children can grow and develop to reach all of their milestones,” said Hellen.

With good community support, love, care and guidance young people like Hellen and children like her daughter are able to grow, develop and be protected to ensure they reach their full potential.

The Community Facilitation Package, built on the findings from the 2008 national child protection baseline, highlighted strengths in good traditional beliefs and practices of nurturing and protecting children. Developed out of months of consultation, the package seeks to ensure children live a life free from violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect.

Since the beginning of the pilot in the last quarter of 2016, 350 people like, Hellen, have participated in the training.

By Rebecca Olul, UNICEF Pacific