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The Issues
What is the relation between tradition and more recent, western forms of governance? Or is there a universal right and wrong when it comes to human rights that can supersede cultural concerns?

Wan Smolbag tackles these issues in many of its plays, videos and radio programmes. For example, freedom of movement, a constitutional right, is increasingly opposed by chiefs as urban drift puts enormous strain on wage earners in the capital; is restricting freedom of movement for young people a case of victim blaming or a sensible precaution against civil disorder? Is forcing individuals to return to 'their island' a justifiable means of curbing criminal activity in town, even though in fact many young people have been born in the capital city and have little connection with their island of origin. Whose right is it to decide? Yours, the chief's, the police's, the court's?


Discussions at the Lida Forum at Wan Smolbag Haos, March 2009


In Eniwan I Luk Rose, the newly elected MP pays for a feast for his supporters

Another example is domestic violence; is it justifiable as traditional practice or is it an unacceptable denigration of women? What about the vote? Who decides who you vote for? You, or your chief? Or, if you are a woman, your husband? Wan Smolbag takes these questions to villages as live theatre, with resulting even livelier post play discussions.

Furthermore, we coordinate a governance committee with community representatives from our main focus islands who both receive and disseminate training on fundamental issues. In March 2009, a forum was organised on 'Loa mo ol Nasonal Lida' [The Law and Our National Leaders] as part of the Governance Committee Annual workshop and held here at Wan Smolbag Haos. Normally, we bring different speakers in to talk to Governance Committee members at their workshop to provide awareness on various governance issues.

The forum brought together the Ombudsman, Police Commissioner, Attorney General and State Prosecutor to share thoughts on why the law was hard on people at the grassroots level but seemingly lenient on national leaders. They were also asked to suggest ways in which the situation might be improved. The main point offered as a reason for leaders seeming to get away with corruption was the high standard of proof required for criminal prosecution and lack of evidence. Ways suggested to improve the situation included better cooperation amongst investigation and enforcement agencies and greater diligence from communities in selection of candidates for national office and also in coming forward with reporting corruption and providing strong evidence to assist in prosecutions.
Educational Resources
Under its previous EU funded governance programme, now funded by NZAID, Wan Smolbag produces a lively radio documentary series Toksave Long Loa which mixes interviews with experts with grassroots opinion and observation on a range of legal and cultural issues.

Strands in our weekly radio soap, Famili Blong Serah (which ran for eight years) have tried to alert people to the dangers of the con man or scam merchants, both homegrown and from overseas. Famili Blong Serah was funded by Oxfam NZ and NZAID and although recording of the series has now stopped, it is being re-run in its entirety on the local radio station in Vanuatu and still runs elsewhere.

Our video Vot long Pati Ia caught the mood of a country tired of corruption and many people have watched it over and over again; when touring the island of Tanna, Wan Smolbag Theatre actors watched it with children aged 10 who could recite every line!

Some comments on Wan Smolbag's activities....

Nothing is better than sitting, seeing and listening to our own people educating ourselves. Your programs, simple and direct, demonstrate the real life stories of abuse which are never exposed because of Melanesian 'bikman' syndrome. Good to have the message out in order to re-educate ourselves on who we are - as equals, wan pipol and wan solwora.  

Blacksands Community Play
Issues of governance lay at the heart of our community play project. Another partner of Wan Smolbag, Oxfam New Zealand, defines this kind of work as active citizenship; an attempt to give a voice to the 80 strong cast from the urban settlement area of Blacksands; to encourage this group, aged from 10 to 60, to see that they had a stake in Port Vila society and a right to be heard. When we first sent leaflets round asking for volunteers to work on a community play we had no idea where it would take us. To six months of workshops with 80 people and a two hour play was the answer!

The play dealt with the issues raised during the workshops. It centred around a family. Only the father works, but he drinks kava every night. The family is poor and none of the kids works. When his wife complains about the kava drinking, he hits her. His old father looks on wanting to make his son see that he is doing wrong but he is unable to get through to him. The central story is intermingled with stories from the past and song and laughter too.

Undoubtedly it was one of the most exhausting and emotional projects in Wan Smolbag Theatre's history. The following year, 1998, we revived it and also planned a reproductive health drop-in clinic as a lasting memory of the project.


The Blacksands community rehearsing


The new user-friendly KPH clinic

This became KPH, Kam Pusum Hed (this we felt was the best Bislama for the English phrase drop-in centre - literally push your head round the door.) And so the boundaries of governance and health work merge; the clinic would improve this community's access to reproductive health rights and services (see Health).

The community play also led to further employment opportunities at Wan Smolbag as the clinic recruited a team of peer educators and some of the youngsters from the community play went on to form the core of Wan Smolbag Kids; a group consisting of kids who have never been to school or who have dropped out early for one reason or another. Two others, Charlie and Edwin, were trained as sound recordists for our video work and still work on every film we make. Now disbanded, the Kids group later got absorbed into other core acting groups. And with the opening of the Youth Centre, we run productions with youth who attend the centre, who largely live in the settlements around Wan Smol Bag Haos.

Collaborative Working
All our programmes work with Government and Non-Government partners. Our Governance programme has worked in recent years with the Department of Women's Affairs and Vanuatu Women's Centre on providing explanations of the Family Protection Bill. We also worked with the Electoral Office during the parliamentary elections and produce a booklet for the Electoral Office explaining voting rights.
To help make these facts more accessible to people on the ground, our actors travelled round the country with plays on domestic violence and the Family Protection Bill. Health Force for example in 2009 travelled to Vanua Lava, Ambae and Port Vila performing for 23 communities (15,000 people).

Governance in WSB
And so the internal governance issues for Wan Smolbag itself have increased.
  • How should we behave with each other?
  • What were the 'rules of the house' to be, as we expanded to around 100 full time employees?
  • What was our attitude to gender issues at work?
We hope by always facing up to these issues ourselves and by remembering our own struggles, we will avoid the pitfall of lecturing others!

The major expansion of Wan Smolbag as a provider of classes, leisure activities and sport for the youth of Port Vila and on the island of Pentecost under our new project with AusAID is also really an extension of our governance work. We have watched the town nearly double since we moved into our current base Wan Smol Bag Haos in Port Vila in 1994.

We have seen the huge rise in restless, aimless youth, the increase in STIs, the lack of growth in facilities and jobs for young people. We saw that we were better placed than many to respond to this crisis. First, because through our work WSB is a major employer of youth and respected by youth and secondly because we occupy three warehouses and have the space that other organisations lack to offer activities like dance karate, table tennis.

  • Toksave Long Loa radio programmes (see CDs)
  • Democracy Dreams music CD and Teachers' Manual (see CDs and Books)
  • Vot Long Pati Ia film and music CD (see DVDs and CDs)
  • Yumi Vot From Wanem book (see Books)
  • Eniwan I Luk Rose film (see DVDs)
  • Nes Shirley radio drama (see CDs)
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