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 Santo Island, Vanuatu-April 09,2021(Nukualofa Times): This month, the women of remote Santo Island in Vanuatu will be showcasing their incredible woven handicrafts as part of a grassroots initiative that is empowering women and girls to take leadership on sustainable development and support themselves recover from Category 5 Cyclone Harold which struck one year ago, but for which recovery support has not materialised.

Women from each of Western Santo Island’s remote 42 villages are participating in the “Weaving for our Future” competition, where new pandanus products will be brought to the country’s main city of Luganville for a major tradeshow later in the month.

The campaign, led by the Santo Sunset Environment Network, is aimed at expanding women’s sustainable micro-enterprises that have positive environmental co-benefits.

Ms. Donakle Bune, Santo Sunset’s campaign leader explained that “to recover from Cyclone Harold, more and more people on Western Santo  are turning to cash crops like Kava which is directly causing deforestation.  We are helping women to voice their views that there are better ways for families to earn money, ways that will protect our forests and water sources, while also strengthening our cultural arts like weaving.”

Women have been trained by the campaign on new and innovative weaving techniques, including making never-before-seen turtles and fish pandanus products unique to Western Santo.  In partnership with the Vanuatu Skills Partnership, the Malampa Handicraft Center, and the Indigenous People’s Assistance Facility, women learned advanced pandanus techniques, including how to select robust pandanus varieties and using pandanus planting for climate change adaptation.

Women trainees are gearing up with friends and neighbours in preparation for the big weaving competition and tradeshow. Each village is only allowed to submit 10 of their most unique, complex and novel pandanus products which will be judged by distinguished panellists at the tradeshow. The winning communities will receive a needed solar powered satellite internet system for emergency communications as mobile phone networks are extremely unreliable in remote Santo and have been in and out of service for years.

At the closing of the weaving training, Chairman of the Santo Sunset Environment Network, Allan Taman applauded the participants saying “Women and girls are powerful agents of change here on remote Western Santo, your voices on sustainable business are changing the way men relate to the environment as something to be protected and looked after for our livelihoods, not destroyed for quick profit.”

The weaving initiative is part of the new Western Santo Sustainable Development Plan, with local Area Administrator Charlie Vula confirming that “our pandanus products are some of the highest quality in Vanuatu, and this sustainable economic activity helps keep our environment intact and enable recovery from climate loss and damage.  Western Santo women are leading the way, and their work is prioritized in our 2030 plan.”

Members of the public are invited to support the un-met cyclone recovery needs of forgotten Western Santo by buying pandanus products from the area, which can be viewed on Santo Sunset Environment Network’s facebook page.

“Weaving is our culture, this is our environment, we women are responsible for protecting both for our families and our children and our grandchildren, ” said Jessica Miller from Elia Village on West Santo, “Weaving for the Future is our way of showing that woman can lead the change we want.”

For more information, contact the SantoSunsetEnvironmentNetwork@gmail.com or visit www.SantoSunset.org

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