Two Council employees recently spent a week in Vanuatu building relationships, sharing skills and mentoring similar roles in local government in Vanuatu's capital Port Vila.
The trip was part of PacificTA, a Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) programme funded under New Zealand's Aid Programme through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). The programme is designed to share experts from across New Zealand's 78 local authorities. They join with others in government in similar roles in the Pacific and offer hands-on mentoring and training for things like urban planning and development, management and infrastructure.
Ōpōtiki's own Library Manager, Jo Hunt, joined the Library Director in Port Vila, talking through a wide range of options, challenges and options for the local library in the capital.
"It was an incredible opportunity to help a fellow library and really see if we can build it from the floor up.
"There is a lot of potential for libraries in Vanuatu as more and more people want a place to study and a place to meet up and have access to shared resources. But there are a completely different set of challenges there – the power is intermittent, there is no wifi or electronic resources in the libraries and their books tend to be donations from other Australian and New Zealand libraries. Certainly some books are timeless in content but not in physical form! Others are in perfect condition, but discussing non-fiction topics now decades out of date. But the concept of a library as a place of shared learning and resources is alive and well," Jo Hunt said.
The Programme organises a week of kanohi ki te kanohi/face-to-face contact which is so important for Pacific relationships.
"It made me appreciate just how much we have and that really the basis of a library is that fundamental approach to shared community learning. I learnt easily as much as my counterpart did and I look forward to keeping in touch and continuing our relationship as both our libraries go through significant changes," Ms Hunt said.
Council CEO also went to Vanuatu to meet the new CEO of the Port Vila Municipal Council, learn more about their issues and how we can support them where they need it. Michelle Jonas and Aileen talked at length and noted that while some of the challenges Michelle faces are unique, many are shared by leaders in all local councils. Some particular to women in leadership positions in local government.
Aileen spent five years of her childhood in Vanuatu and was thrilled to be able to return in a different capacity and offer her skills to the Island nation.
"We were privileged to be there on Independence Day to celebrate with around 40,000 Ni-Vanuatu their 38th year of independence from the former British-French government. We learnt a lot about the downsides of aid, the lack of problem analysis, the lack of fit for purpose designs and the lack of consideration of ongoing maintenance. The politics was equally fraught with trying to apply democracy and representation across long held customary practice. Life in the Port Vila Municipal Council was similar to Opotiki, but problems were much greater on many fronts.
"We were invited on a tour of the island with the Port Vila Council, along with a delegation from Honiara, and Lifu district in New Calendonia. One of our group was appointed Delegation kaumatua (he was actually there to look at operations, but turned out to be a kaumatua at Whitianga) and we ended up having a bit of speech session in four different languages with a range of customary songs, karakia and some amazing local food and drink.
"We got through a lot of work there and will be reporting back to MFAT on ongoing needs and how we support the municipality into the future."
Image: Opotiki District Council CEO, Aileen Lawrie and Library Manager Jo Hunt join Derek Thompson and Matt Watson, from Thames Coromandel District Council to meet with the CEO and Finance Manager from Port Vila Municipal Council
Image: Aileen and Jo felt priviledged to join around 40,000 to celebrate the 38th year of independece from the former British-French Government.