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The Vanuatu Photo Project: Meet the Photographers and Hear Their Stories

Aspiring photographer and Vanuatu Photo Project participant Ann-Ruth has her portrait made by mentor Valerie Fernandez.

Aspiring photographer and Vanuatu Photo Project participant Ann-Ruth has her portrait made by mentor Valerie Fernandez.

Follow the journey of four aspiring young ni-Vanuatu women photographers, eight participants in CARE Vanuatu’s Young Women’s Leadership Program, and one professional photography mentor.

CARE Vanuatu asked four emerging ni-Vanuatu women photographers to capture the stories and portraits of graduates of CARE Vanuatu’s Young Women’s Leadership Program (YWLP). The professional Vanuatu-based photographer Valerie Fernandez mentored the emerging photographers Elisa, Ann-Ruth, Talula, and Winona throughout the assignment.

“Elisa, Ann-Ruth, Talula and Winona, themselves YWLP graduates, have very different personalities, backgrounds and unique stories. Yet, they share a passion for photography, storytelling, and, most importantly, elevating the voices of the girls and women around them,” Valerie says.

Talula is a University of the South Pacific student and manages the local business Eliane Passion Sewing and Designs. She is a 2020-21 YWLP graduate. Photo by Valerie Fernandez.
A passionate photographer and aspiring writer, Elisa is a 2019-20 YWLP graduate. Previously a project officer with Sista, a charitable Vanuatu-based feminist organization that exists to empower women and girls, raise awareness and advocate. She is currently a full-time student completing her studies in psychology and social work at the University of the South Pacific. Photo by Valerie Fernandez.
Winona is a proud graduate of the YWLP 2019-20. She previously worked at CARE in Vanuatu as a human resources administration officer until June 2021. Photo by Valerie Fernandez.
Ann-Ruth, 23, has worked with Further Arts, a Vanuatu-based charitable association furthering Vanuatu music, media, dance, and culture. She is currently running her own small business in painting and sewing. Photo by Valerie Fernandez.

The women who were interviewed and photographed shared stories of troubled upbringings, loss, financial distress, complicated families, early motherhood, gender discrimination, intolerance, and bullying against the most vulnerable. But they also shared stories of resilience against all odds, determination, family support and encouragement, faith, soul searching and self-empowerment.

With each woman, each story, each portrait, Valerie saw Elisa, Ann-Ruth, Talula and Winona nod with empathy and understanding. She saw them build bridges between these women and the world, capturing the essence of their joy, pride, faith, hopes and dreams as well as their anger, wounds, struggles and vulnerability.

“It was clear that this was more than just an ordinary assignment,” Valerie says. “It was something that ignited compassion and sympathy, admiration and inspiration, as well as outrage and a determination to keep doing whatever they could to support gender equality in their home, their day-to-day lives and the lives of the girls and women of Vanuatu.”


Regina was a passionate girl, always learning and trying new things, such as painting and sewing. She attended school until she became pregnant in year 12. This was the beginning of a very challenging period in her life. At that time, she thought, “This is the end of my journey.”

But she wasn’t ready to give up on herself and her life as a woman and a mother, so in 2019, she applied for CARE’s Young Women’s Leadership Program. Regina, now 21, felt that the program would be a great opportunity to learn and develop new skills. While enrolled in the program, she taught at a primary school through a one-month internship. There were challenges during the program, such as transportation, related costs, and raising her child, but Regina powered through and graduated in 2020.

After completing the YWLP, she started a sewing business. With her parents’ help, she bought a new solar sewing machine. “My child’s father was not around. Even though my parents gave me a hard time when they found out I was pregnant, they have supported us and encouraged me to enroll in as many programs as possible to learn new skills, so I can earn an income to care for my child and family,” Regina says.

Thanks to the success of her business, Regina can now provide for her child and family.

For all the young women out there, whose situation is similar to Regina’s, she encourages, “Don’t give up and never lose hope. Your passion and interest in doing what you like will lead you to be a great woman and to have a successful in life.”

Photo and story by Winona. Read Regina’s full story.

I learned that everyone has their own journey and their own stories to tell. And all have come to be in a place they are now is through difficult circumstances that made them stronger.


Glorinda, 21, lived with her biological parents until the eighth grade. When her parents’ financial issues prevented her from attending classes, she was adopted by her aunt. This marked the beginning of a new chapter for Glorinda, and a return to school. In 2020, determined to further her schooling, she went to Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, and enrolled at the University of the South Pacific.

When neither she nor her adoptive parents could afford the cost of her classes, Glorinda considered dropping out. Fortunately, her sister stepped up to support her.

Glorinda joined CARE’s Young Women’s Leadership Program. She wanted to socialize more, reach beyond her comfort zone, become empowered and build confidence as a foundation for her future. As a very shy, quiet young woman, participating in the YWLP workshops wasn’t always easy, but has taught her many lessons. “I am now able to speak my mind and I’m confident to speak in public as well,” she says.

Glorinda shared words of wisdom for other young women who have experienced similar challenges to her: “Attend as many workshops and programs as you can. It will bring out confidence in you for the good of your future.”

Photo and story by Winona. Read Glorinda’s full story.


Louisa’s mother was the caretaker of the Vanuatu Society for People with Disability for 10 years, so while growing up, Louisa and her siblings interacted with many people who used the society’s services. This sparked a desire in her to work with youth and children with disabilities.

As she was starting to recognize this interest in working with young people with disabilities, she heard about CARE’s Young Women’s Leadership Program. Louisa, 30, was particularly interested in learning to better support women and girls with disabilities who face violence and discrimination because of their disability. “Before, I was a leader but didn’t know exactly what I was doing,” she says.

Regardless of the obstacles, achieving gender equality within the disability community is essential to combatting violence against all women and girls. Louisa stands by this Bislama mantra, “Inkludim mi, mo inkludim yumi evriwan” which translates to “Include me, and include all of us.” A reminder that we all count and that should always lead the way.

Photo and story by Talula. Read Louisa’s full story.

Every individual on the planet has a story to tell.


Marie, 32, had some very troubling experiences at an early age. She became a mother when she was barely 16 years old and experienced domestic violence. Through it all, her parents were always ready to welcome her whenever she returned home. Even after she had dropped out of school, she continued to attend short courses at every opportunity, including through the Vanuatu Woman’s Centre and the church.

Her friend encouraged her to apply for CARE’s Young Women’s Leadership Program. She was terrified that she would not be accepted into the program. Marie reflected on the moment she learned of her acceptance: “Never underestimate yourself.”

The CARE workshops she attended gave her hope for the future. Now she can challenge herself to stand up and speak out. Misunderstanding, according to Marie, would not occur if women and men were treated equally. Gender equality brings harmony to the country and community. She shared, “I was fortunate to have entered the program so that I could also empower my children.”

Her commitment to eliminating gender inequality and ensuring that everyone is valued underpin everything she does: “Always remember, we can accomplish more if we fight for change together, not against each other.”

Photo and story by Talula. Read Marie’s full story.


When Florence, 29, was growing up, her parents divorced. She found the divorce very challenging, but it also contributed to shaping who she is today. The obstacles she has overcome have given her perspective and encouraged Florence to think creatively about the next steps in her life.

This mindset is what motivated her to be part of CARE’s Young Women’s Leadership Program: “I believed in myself and that I could do anything that I set my heart to.”

Throughout the program, Florence encountered experiences that inspired her to grow. She gained knowledge and built skills that enabled her to become a leader at home, at her local church, within her community, on her island and at her workplace. Florence currently works as a Gender Equality Together Officer at CARE in Vanuatu, where she supports delivery of the YWLP to other young women.

Despite the obstacles she has faced, Florence now knows the qualities of a good leader and the tools leaders can use to achieve their goals. “Most importantly, through it all, I came to discover who I am and what I want.”

Photo and story by Ann-Ruth. Read Florence’s full story.

Every detail matters, and looking through the lens can bring a lot more things to life than simply viewing things with my actual eyes. That was what motivated me.


Even before applying to CARE’s Young Women’s Leadership Program, Jacqueline, 21, had observed a lot of gender inequality in her community. When she was at school, she took up leadership roles, and one thing she learned was that there would always be people who refused to listen to a female leader, there would always be opposition. This is an experience that many women and girls in Vanuatu share. Jacqueline rejects unequal societal expectations of women. She believes that women are important and capable of so much more than they are given credit for.

For Jacqueline, being accepted into the YWLP was a game changer. Jacqueline believes that no woman, regardless of age or relationship status, should underestimate herself. “Though we face challenges every day, we must not give up too easily on turning our dreams into reality,” she says.

She wants to become an accountant and a business manager someday, even to have her own business. But to become that ultimate version of her, she believes that she must become a good leader first.

Jacqueline feels that the words of Madeleine Albright capture her YWLP experience: “It took me a while to develop my voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.”

Photo and story by Ann-Ruth. Read Jacqueline’s full story.


Eshina’s start in life was not easy. At just a few months old, she was adopted by her now late uncle. When he passed away, life for the family became tougher as her aunty did not work. Financial pressures on the family eventually forced her and her cousins to drop out of school. She accepted her circumstances and did her best to support her aunty.

Eshina later went back to live with her biological father and, with his help, was able to resume her education. A few years later, however, her father passed away too.

As a teenager on her own, and heartbroken by the loss of her uncle and father, Eshina dropped out of school again, sacrificing her education so that her younger siblings could continue. While reflecting on losing her father and uncle, Eshina shared, “At the end of the day, you’re the only one that’s got your own back.”

Eshina’s passion for developing leadership skills and finding her voice led her to CARE’s Young Women’s Leadership Program. Since graduating from the program, Eshina, 23, sees herself as an independent, empowered and confident young woman. Through the trials and challenges of her leadership journey, Eshina continues to pursue her goals, advocating for gender equality at her workplace and to her male friends. She continues to wake up each day and tell herself, “Whatever I put my mind to, I can achieve. Nothing is as impossible as we think it is.”

Photo and story by Elisa. Read Eshina’s full story.

I wonder how much difference this can make if we hear stories of young women leaders in our communities and villages, and how inspiring this would be for the younger female generations.


Alicia, 24, had the opportunity to complete her high school years in New Zealand. Being away from home in her teenage years gave her the freedom she needed to discover herself, her potential and her voice. Little did she know that the decision to come home after several years of studying abroad would lead to many challenges, starting with the strong opposition between her views on gender equality and some traditional aspects of her home culture.

She saw the discrimination and domestic violence women faced. She saw blaming and shaming of women for their choices, for what they wore or said or did. She wanted to break the blame cycle and help create a safer environment for herself, her sisters and the women of Vanuatu.

With a determined mindset, Alicia worked to challenge gender inequality in any way she could. She took up a leadership role in her church youth group as an education leader and became the secretary for Presbyterian youth in South Efate. It is that same spirit that motivated her to start working as a counsellor at the Vanuatu Women’s Centre, providing counselling to women who have experienced domestic violence. It also encouraged her to continue expanding her leadership knowledge and skills, and eventually led her to apply for CARE’s Young Women’s Leadership Program.

Alicia shared, “There is no limit to how far you can go. We should take every opportunity to go to the next level as leaders.” She said the YWLP was a unique opportunity to rediscover her power as a young female leader.

Photo and story by Elisa. Read Alicia’s full story.

The Vanuatu Young Women’s Leadership Program (YWLP) is implemented by CARE in Vanuatu with the generous support of the Australian Government. The YWLP is a 12-month program which promotes the leadership of young women so they can take action to promote gender equality and eliminate violence against women and young girls in Vanuatu. Over eighty young women aged 18 to 30, including women with disabilities and diverse gender identities, have graduated from the program since it started in 2017. These graduates are now using the knowledge, skills and confidence strengthened through the YWLP to realize gender equality in their families, communities and across Vanuatu. All the young women featured in these stories, and those who captured their photographs and stories, are YWLP graduates.

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