The following reflection was written at the end of Yasmin’s internship, at Pacific Women’s Network, in late 2018 and early 2019. It reflects the learnings of an Australian working internationally.  

Yasmin was an 2018 APEC Youth Delegate and the Chair of the 2018 Victorian Youth Congress in Australia.

My interest in the Pacific region began at a young age. I grew up hearing about the Pacific from my Maori relatives, despite living far away in a bustling Australian city. As I grew older, I began to look at the Pacific region with increasing interest. I’d stare at the little islands on my world map, wondering what life was like.

It wasn’t until my first semester of university that I was able to start to learn a little about the rich history of the Pacific. I took a course focusing on the Pacific: from life as an MP in the Solomon Islands, the quest for sovereignty in West Papua, to Tonga’s monarchy. Each culture diverse and fascinating.

I visited Papua New Guinea in November for the 2018 APEC Conference – my first foray into the region. Through that experience, I spoke with several young Papua New Guinean women. Through these discussions emerged a new appreciation. Firstly, the Pacific region has its own identity and its autonomy should be respected on the international stage. Secondly, countries must do more to respect Pacific custom and tradition. Thirdly, organisations should work with and better understand local communities.

But how can I do that as an Australian, I wondered? My internship with the Pacific Women’s Network (PWN) helped me answer that. As their 152,000 strong Facebook following demonstrates, genuinely including, respecting and promoting Pacific voices resonates.

My top four takeaways

Through my internship, my top lessons were the following:

 1. Network, network, network

Having a wide range of networks is the backbone of an NGO. PWN is a smaller organisation and its wide connections across the Pacific and Australia are crucial.

What this looked like in action:

Networking involves lots of phone calls and lots of emails! This includes searching social media for potential collaborators  or continually seeking advice from local contacts about a project. By listening and developing relationships, PWN is able to better tailor their work, walking alongside their peers across the Pacific. They are able to be connect with individuals, communities and develop partnerships and potential sponsorships. Ultimately, without a strong range of contacts and outreach, it’s unlikely any NGO in any country can be effective.

2. Behind every good project is a good system and good research

When you next see an effective product or campaign by an NGO, spare a thought for the hours and hours and hours of work that go on behind the scenes. I quickly realised that good administration and organisation is essential for getting a project off the ground. This includes a clear timeline, research and mastering systems (Google Docs! Email! Paperwork!). Taking the time to sort out the basics ensures valuable projects don’t get thrown into the ‘too complicated’ pile.

What this looked like in action:

I helped work on PWN’s launch of their cards, which was far more complex than you’d expect. Ironing out the details was crucial, like finding the right type of recycled paper, understanding shipping fees or determining the product’s overall cost. This also included compiling a comprehensive list of potential donors. However, the end result was worth it  – an eco friendly, affordable product that showcased Pacific women. Good organisation is essential in tackling the finer details to develop a relevant and impactful product.

3. The voices of young Pacific women are inspiring, diverse and important

Before I embarked on my internship, I realised I had never read a single article written by a young Pacific woman. There’s so much discussion about gender equality – but what good is that if we fail to give a voice to women? Through my internship, I realised how organisations can provide spaces for the opinions of Pacific youth in their own voice.

 What this looked like in action:

I helped compile PWN’s 2018 publication, which is a magazine composed entirely of articles by young Pacific women. The stories are happy, inspiring and heartbreakingly sad. A mother affected by a PNG earthquake. A young woman rediscovering her Pacific heritage while sailing around her home. A raw and honest poem entitled ‘Dear White Consultant’ detailing ongoing ignorance about the Pacific by those of us who still struggle.

As I read through, I realised not only how diverse each story was, but how it gave me a unique, and yet only tiny, insight into life as a woman in the Pacific. As this publication demonstrates, media platforms must step up to create a platform for young women to shape their narrative.

4. Small NGOs are just as important as big NGOs

When I was younger and thought of NGOs, the big Australian ones came to mind – World Vision, Save the Children, Oxfam. They’re important in their own right, but I realised I had been ignoring the importance of smaller organisations. Big NGOs are often inflexible and are unable to develop quickly implementable, dynamic projects. PWN, on the other hand, is continuously creative in its new projects and ideas. It works in constant collaboration with Pacific women, ensuring its operations reflect the voices of the community.

What this looked like in action:

I worked across a whole variety of tasks during my internship. This included the launch of PWN’s cards, compiling its first magazine and developing a project plan to support local Pacific organisations (including those assisting domestic violence victims and the disabled). On the surface, these things don’t have much in common. But this was a good thing. It meant that PWN was reaching different communities, responding to different needs, maximising its impact. Through this, I not only developed key skills (sales, research, project planning) but better understood how to think outside the square.

Reflection

I’m so grateful for this opportunity. Interning with the Pacific Women’s Network was an incredible experience.

I thought I had some prior knowledge about the region, but this internship quickly taught me I need to listen and learn so much more. What I’ve gained was far more than what a textbook could teach me. Ultimately, I have a deeper understanding about gender equality – but this time, from Pacific women’s own words. That in itself is powerful.


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