Increasing economic opportunities for young people with disabilities in Vanuatu

3 December 2018

Photo of Helen, a person with disability weaving a plant.
Helen weaves at her family home. Credit: Glen Pakoa, Dominique Doss and Arlene Bax

In Vanuatu, marginalised groups including young people and people with disabilities experience inequality in their communities, and face significant challenges in accessing paid employment opportunities.

A growing population and limited economy in Vanuatu means that many find it difficult to access economic opportunities, which then impacts on people’s ability to access basic needs and services, and contributes to poor living conditions. Young people and people with disabilities often have limited access to skill development opportunities and lack voice in decision-making.

Supported by the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), Oxfam Australia’s Governance, Leadership and Accountability Project is working to generate sustainable livelihood opportunities, more equitable access to resources, and an enabling policy environment for young people and people with disabilities in Vanuatu.

Helen Popaul, 22, is a young member of the Sanma Frangipani Association (SFA) – an organisation based in Santo that supports people with disability. Helen was born with her legs deformed which results in using her hands to walk.

Helen didn’t attend school because of the conditions of the roads and the fear that people would ridicule her. Instead she worked in the garden at her family home, and her mother sold her harvests in the market in the nearest town.

Her situation improved when she joined SFA in 2009. Through SFA she received training in tailoring and micro-business management. SFA provided her with a wheelchair, a sewing machine and sewing equipment.

“At first I didn’t know how Frangipani would help me but when I went to their trainings, I was given mobility equipment to help me move around more easily and also given tools and skills so I can make an income. I began to understand that SFA supports people with disability to become more independent, confident and empowered to speak out about their rights as a person with a disability.”

Helen’s relationship with SFA has strengthened over the years and she has flourished into a strong, articulate, confident person. She continues to receive trainings from SFA and has been involved in advocacy campaigns with the association. Through her experiences with SFA, she has been able to face her fears around meeting people and going out in public. This has contributed to a big positive change in Helen’s life.

“I am a woman who has a disability but I am also an advocate, a business owner and a woman with dreams just as big as anyone else. I will never look at myself as a victim but as victorious. I have defeated the odds and will continue to enjoy and have a fulfilling life. I hope that other people with disabilities are empowered to do the same.”

Last Updated: 3 December 2018