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Governance Area: Service delivery

Power to the People: the Commonwealth Foundation at CHOGM 2022

After two years of delay and postponement, of anticipation and frustration, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings (CHOGM) finally took place in Kigali in late June.

For the Foundation, this was the culmination of years of preparation and planning, most especially for the People’s Forum—the largest gathering of civil society in the Commonwealth system that has been a fixture of the CHOGM calendar for almost two decades.

The Foundation also took the lead in convening a half-day of roundtable discussions between Foreign Ministers and members of Commonwealth civil society. An outcome video of the Forum, which was broadcast at the official CHOGM Foreign Ministers Meeting, and also played at the Roundtable itself, can be accessed here.

‘What role could—or should—the Commonwealth of Nations play in these vital steps towards a better world for all its people?’

The People’s Forum 2022: Our Health, Our Planet, Our Future

The People’s Forum 2022 set itself the ambitious task of asking—and trying to answer—the biggest and most important questions of our age: how do we harness the best of humanity—the forces of love, compassion, equality and justice­—to advance our common future and protect our planet? How do we work together to build or re-fashion our institutions so that they support a world that leaves no one behind? And what role could—or should—the Commonwealth of Nations play in these vital steps towards a better world for all its people?

Along with our partners at the Rwanda Governance Board, the Foundation took advantage of the two-year delay to shape a strong and streamlined programme that focused on what is front and centre for so many people of the Commonwealth: health, climate and freedom of expression. The Critical Conversations online event series, launched by the Foundation in 2020 after the first CHOGM postponement, proved to be a gamechanger: giving us experience and confidence in new formats and approaches and expanding our network of activists and leaders across all Commonwealth regions.

‘In a time of growing debt burdens, especially across low and middle-income countries, who should be paying for better primary health care and the other elements of UHC?’

In relation to developing the Forum sessions on climate for example, the Foundation was able to draw on several different events  organised as part of the Critical Conversations series, including one on small states and climate justice held in September 2021 just before COP26, and another on the difficult issue of reparations for climate damage, held in February of this year. Our main climate session at the People’s Forum was explicitly practical: looking ahead to COP27 in November and to what the Commonwealth could and should be doing to advance the interests of those most affected.  Leaders and advocates from the Commonwealth’s small island developing states left the Forum in no doubt about the urgency of the challenge and the moral duty of the Commonwealth, its member countries and its institutions, to demonstrate genuine solidarity through concrete commitments.

The Forum’s sessions on health also benefited from multiple Critical Conversations events the Foundation has convened since early 2020 which shed a bright light on the parlous state of so many national health systems and the apparent incapacity of international systems and institutions (including, disappointingly, the Commonwealth itself) to deliver practical support. At the Forum, the issue of universal health coverage (UHC)—the guarantee that people can access quality health services without facing financial hardship—was front and centre, with panellists interrogating the role that civil society might play in pushing for UHC and the strong, resilient, and equitable health systems that must be at its heart.

Any useful discussion around health and climate must address the thorny question of finance: how do we get the money needed to fund desperately overdue measures aimed at protecting countries and communities from the worst effects of climate change? In a time of growing debt burdens, especially across low and middle-income countries, who should be paying for better primary health care and the other elements of UHC? In the case of climate, Forum participants strongly took up the cause of the Commonwealth’s smaller and more vulnerable Member States, for whom the loss and damage caused by climate change is presenting unique—and in some cases existential—challenges. Across both issues participants were united in their conviction that the Commonwealth has a unique role to play in bringing together those who hold the power to deliver support, relieve debt burdens, and provide restitution. A failure to take up that role with determination would be, in the eyes of Commonwealth civil society, a clear rejection of the very ideas that the Commonwealth stands for.

‘a vibrant and principled Commonwealth is critical to the future of its citizens’

The Commonwealth Charter affirms that freedom of expression—including media freedom—is essential to the flourishing of democratic societies and a basic condition for development. Sadly, this is an area where too many Commonwealth countries are slipping behind. Building on a previous Critical Conversations event, the Forum engaged in a vigorous, at times tense discussion of freedom of expression: why does it matter and how can it be protected? What can the Commonwealth, its member states and institutions, do to support and advance free and responsible media? There was clear agreement that no country can afford to be complacent: direct threats to journalists and freedom of expression are real and growing. Civil society has an important role to play in championing the proposed Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression that could help shore up freedom of expression and break the culture of silence that provides cover for its steady erosion.

The final session of the Forum, A Commonwealth for All’, set itself the ambitious goal of provoking deep discussion and personal reflection about where we are now, and how the Commonwealth—its Member States, its institutions, and its people—can help inspire real and meaningful change. It was aimed at all those who care about the Commonwealth; those who have a perspective on its past; and those who have a stake in its future. The Forum Chair participated in the event alongside the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Both were asked to comment on a provocative video of highlights from the Foundation’s three-part mini-series on the future of the Commonwealth. The passion and conviction of speakers at this final event—and of the many participants who contributed to the discussion—left no doubt that a vibrant and principled Commonwealth is critical to the future of its citizens. The ten-year anniversary of the Charter, which will be commemorated next year, was singled out by many as an opportunity to galvanise action for a reinvigorated Commonwealth.

Weaving together all Forum sessions was the idea of participatory governance: the idea that the involvement of people in their governance is critical to democracy and democratic legitimacy; the idea that citizens have a central role to play in helping to shape policies and decisions that affect their lives. Forum participants acknowledged that participatory governance is a work in progress right across the Commonwealth. We can learn from examples of innovation that have delivered tangible results. But we must be brave in pushing for more meaningful involvement of citizens across every area of public life.

‘How can we measure progress? And how can we push for meaningful action as global economic headwinds turn against us?’

Civil Society and the Foreign Ministers’ Roundtable

The roundtable between participants of the People’s Forum and Foreign Ministers is now an established fixture on the CHOGM calendar: a powerful embodiment of the Commonwealth identity as an organisation of people—and not just of states. For the Foundation, it is an unambiguous exercise in participatory governance—the unifying thread of the People’s Forum.

The 2022 Roundtable was widely proclaimed to be a huge success with the largest-ever number of Ministers in attendance, including a substantial contingent of Foreign Ministers and excellent representation from Commonwealth civil society and accredited organisations. The event was Chaired by the Rwanda Foreign Minister and moderated by me. The seating arrangement, large round tables where government and civil society sat together, and the moderator’s insistence that each take turns in contributing, guaranteed a lively and at times passionate debate. Among the wide range of matters discussed, gender equality and freedom of expression stood out as issues that everyone in the room—government and civil society alike—cared deeply about.

Towards the Future

On the current schedule, we now have less than two years to go until CHOGM 2024. While our future is uncertain, we must brace ourselves for the likelihood that many of the challenges discussed in Kigali will be unresolved. How can we measure progress? And how can we push for meaningful action as global economic headwinds turn against us?

The CHOGM communique—which sets out a bold and ambitious plan of action—should be front and centre. However, many participants in the Forum pointed out the danger of the Communique becoming irrelevant unless Member States commit to measuring their actions against the goals they have set before reporting to CHOGM 2024. Our analysis of the sentiment coming out from the Forum indicates that progress on climate could be usefully measured by the practical steps that Commonwealth countries and institutions take to protect small island developing countries. Progress on freedom of expression is even easier to measure: the Commonwealth must take the final step to adopt a robust set of principles on media freedom that comply with current international human rights standards and put in place mechanisms to monitor implementation. Progress on health requires concerted action to break the debt deadlock that is strangling efforts to deliver universal health care in so many of the Commonwealth’s low and middle-income countries.

So much more could and should be done. But we must start somewhere if the Commonwealth is to hold its head high. Let us decide to hold ourselves—and each other—to account. The people of the Commonwealth deserve no less.

Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.

A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform

Commonwealth Heads of Government decided to create an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to advise them on reform of the association at their meeting in Port-of-Spain in 2009.

This decision by Heads of Government was taken at a time when the world was – as it now still is – in the midst of an economic crisis. The old order of economic power was changing. Climate change showed signs of endangering global economic activity and the safety and livelihood of millions of people. It posed threats to the very existence of a number of countries. Terrorism, too, threatened the security of states and presented a serious challenge to international peace.

Heads of Government decided that in such a world, it was important to build a stronger, more resilient and progressive Commonwealth and to make it more relevant to its times and to its people in the future. They made it clear that they wanted the Commonwealth to continue to be an important player in the world, drawing on its rich diversity to help build global consensus around the Commonwealth’s core values including peace, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, gender equality, economic development, and freedom of expression.

Download the report

Director-General joins committee led by Sir Malcolm Rifkind on future of Commonwealth Studies

The University of London has confirmed the membership of a Committee to conduct an inquiry into the future of Commonwealth Studies at the University.

The creation of the Committee, to be chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former UK Foreign Secretary, was announced late last year following a consultation about the future of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University’s School of Advanced Study. The Committee includes among its members the Foundation’s Director-General Dr Anne T Gallagher AO.

Dr Gallagher said:

‘The Commonwealth brings together almost a third of humanity and, in our present uncertain, fractured world, it deserves nurturing and support.

‘It is an honour to join Sir Malcolm and colleagues on this committee as we consider how the University of London can best continue to support the cultivation of a critical understanding of the Commonwealth; its complicated legacy; and its potential to contribute to a future based on justice and equality.’

Sir Malcolm Rifkind commented:

‘I am delighted that we have a Committee that could not be more experienced and committed to the welfare of the Commonwealth. We look forward to providing the University of London with our conclusions and recommendations on the future of Commonwealth Studies at the University.’

Committee Membership

  • Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Chair) – Former United Kingdom Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
  • Lord Boateng – Former British High Commissioner to South Africa
  • Dr Anne Therese Gallagher, AO – Director-General: Commonwealth Foundation
  • Dr Nabeel Goheer – Assistant Secretary-General, The Commonwealth Secretariat
  • Professor Asha Kanwar- President and CEO: Commonwealth of Learning
  • Mr Michael Kirby AC CMG – Former Justice of the High Court of Australia
  • Lord Luce – Former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham
  • Dr Joanna Newman – Chief Executive and Secretary-General: The Association of Commonwealth Universities
  • Sir Ronald Sanders – Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States
  • Mr Stephen Twigg – Secretary-General: Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA)

Committee Objectives

The Committee will have three key objectives:

  1. To consider future provision at the University of London for Commonwealth Studies in terms of focus, purpose, structure and functions
  2. To recommend partnerships to support scholarship in this area and ensure its relevance and impact;
  3. To identify potentially viable sources of sustainable funding beyond the University and short-term research grants.

Announcing the establishment of a Committee in December, Professor Wendy Thomson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of London said:

‘Over the last two months, we’ve met with a range of stakeholders with Commonwealth affiliations who have shown a renewed interest in the future of the Institute and a commitment to supporting the study of the modern Commonwealth at the University. Sir Malcolm and the Committee will be able to explore a range of new and exciting partnerships.’

The Committee will invite submissions from interested organisations and individuals. These can be submitted directly to the Committee via its secretary, Dr Conor Wyer: conor.wyer@sas.ac.uk. The Committee hopes to conclude its work by the end of June of this year.

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For media enquiries contact Leo Kiss via l.kiss@commonwealth.int.

 

Commonwealth: pragmatism and ideals

The creation of the modern Commonwealth is one of the most curious and extraordinary developments in world affairs since the end of the Second World War. The British Empire comprised a third of the globe: the biggest empire in history where famously ‘the sun never set’.

Colonialism had been brutal, crippling, humiliating and deeply unwelcome to many of the people who lived under it. The early and mid-twentieth century saw many movements that argued strongly for independence and with it the end of British rule. Almost until the end, this was resisted by Britain, sometimes violently. The fall of Britain’s Indian Empire, and with it the creation of the independent states of India and Pakistan in August 1947, was a momentous occasion.  Undivided India was the most important possession in the British Empire and its loss signalled the beginning of the end.

After years of deep colonialism that inflicted subservience and deprivation on so many people, and where countless men and women had fought for freedom, why would a country like India join an organisation like the Commonwealth, which was indelibly tied to the empire that caused its subjugation?

‘In Nehru’s pragmatic view, a new state like India needed allies and international influence in its post-independence existence’

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, was a strong believer in internationalism. But the British Commonwealth of Nations, as it was known at the time, was anything but international: an exclusive group comprised of the ‘old Dominions’: countries like Australia, Canada and South Africa, that were led and dominated by white settler communities. In fact, before Nehru and his Pakistani counterpart joined in 1947 there were no non-white Prime Ministers in the group. But Nehru believed that the Commonwealth could be a force for good. His idealism inspired him to see the Commonwealth as something that could help humanity come together.

In Nehru’s pragmatic view, a new state like India needed allies and international influence in its post-independence existence. After the devastations and divisions of the Second World War and the late colonial years, in particular, Nehru believed the Commonwealth could bring to the world ‘a touch of healing’. Several leaders from across the old Commonwealth were deeply apprehensive about India’s inclusion due to racial and political reasons, but eventually, the advantages were seen. The freedom fighters voluntarily joined the coloniser in what was then, something utterly new.

‘The freedom fighters voluntarily joined the coloniser in what was then, something utterly new’

India’s powerful example would soon be followed by states from across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, creating a unique modern organisation built from the ruins of empire, but enhanced by the principles of equality and freedom among former colonial peoples. In London in 1949 the eclectic mix of States declared themselves to be ‘united as free and equal members of the Commonwealth of Nations, freely co-operating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress’.  No longer a white man’s club, the Commonwealth in those early days, recognised the need to adapt to the new circumstances or face extinction.

Taking the Commonwealth’s story to the present day, the ideals that surrounded the inclusion of India have not always been lived up to. More than 70 years after that idealist moment, the Commonwealth finds itself in very different circumstances. Its relevance is widely doubted. Its political powers are supine. Its presence is routinely ignored. In fact, there are near-constant calls for the Commonwealth to be wound up due to both perceived and real failures.

It is, however, premature to pen the Commonwealth’s obituary. Making a difference does not always mean generating headlines. The Commonwealth’s strengths have been in education, practical training, sport, and sharing expertise on everything from agriculture to law. These attributes are enhanced by the wealth of experience and the variety of cases within the Commonwealth that are underwritten by a common history.

‘Such a scheme would see the exchange of ideas, the meeting of souls, the forging of partnerships and collective ambitions for the future’

In order to revitalise interest and relevance in the Commonwealth, the focus must be on the fact that one in three young people age 15-29 on this planet live in the Commonwealth. The future is theirs. In an uncertain world, the Commonwealth can help this group realise its potential. Substantial investment and pathways must be established to foster opportunities for the young.

The UK and other wealthy members still provide dedicated scholarships for students to study and train in their countries. But these important bonds of friendship and connection are woefully limited, while a key institution is under serious threat of closure: the respected Institute of Commonwealth Studies founded in London in 1949.

A new Commonwealth education scheme needs to be established: a scheme that would not only support bursaries but also encourage the Commonwealth’s young people to think imaginatively. Like Europe’s Erasmus education exchange programme, the Commonwealth could create a scheme to answer the needs of its own youth. A Commonwealth-wide scheme, named after Nehru who himself benefitted from studying abroad and whose ideals are in harmony with the idea, would encourage students to not only study in each other’s countries but also to engage culturally, socially, athletically and professionally.

The scheme would also demonstrate that the Commonwealth is more than just London and foster appreciation of the matchless nexus the Commonwealth creates—drawing together places and peoples from Johannesburg to Jaipur and beyond. Such a scheme would see the exchange of ideas, the meeting of souls, the forging of partnerships and collective ambitions for the future and would have the potential to reinvigorate the Commonwealth and change the world for the better in subtle, but worthwhile ways.

At the very least it is worth remembering, as the Historian Anthony Low put it, the Commonwealth ‘provides the readiest means available to use for orienting ourselves sensibly to the most of our fellow humans’. It is time for the Commonwealth to engage in pragmatic idealism once more.

Dr Harshan Kumarasingham is a Senior Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Edinburgh. 

Health and disability rights: building coalitions

The Foundation recently convened learning exchanges with civil society leaders working on health and disability rights—particularly the rights of vulnerable populations who have been ‘left behind’. The participants, who hailed from 11 Commonwealth countries and had each received support from our grants programme, shared strategies and approaches to realise these rights by making governments more accountable; this is the second in a series of blogs profiling the case studies our partners shared.

The evidence is unambiguous: vulnerable and marginalised groups—including women and girls, the poor, and persons with disabilities (PwDs)—are very far from achieving the promise of universal health coverage or the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring healthy lives and wellbeing for all. Further, the estimated one billion PwDs in the world are denied equitable participation in society due to prevailing material and attitudinal barriers. They face higher rates of multidimensional poverty, lower educational attainment and rates of employment, and poorer health outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has made these inequalities starker.

Coalition building can be a powerful force for change, not least because coalitions of like-minded organisations working towards a common purpose provide greater visibility for a cause by engaging groups across society. As the following case studies demonstrate, those within a coalition also share information and pool their skills, vastly increasing their potential to create and sustain change.

Two case studies from Kenya

Action Network for the Disabled (ANDY) is a Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO) in Kenya. They are working in partnership with Able Child Africa to realise the rights of children and young people with disabilities.

ANDY builds coalitions at both the national and community levels in Kenya.

The National Disability Coalition brings together disability rights activists with other civil society groups working on related issues such as education, health, and employment. The coalition builds relationships with decision-makers. It also establishes nationwide policy priorities, key messages, and raises awareness of disability rights issues.

At the community level, ANDY identifies informal groups that are organising around an issue. For instance, the Sagana Disabled Self-Help Group in Kirinyaga county is an informal collection of businesspeople with disabilities who are looking for ways to make the business environment more disability-friendly, including through seeking exemptions from business fees. Such groups, which ANDY calls disabled people’s groups, have a detailed understanding of the local needs of people with disabilities but often lack the capacity to engage government on matters of policy. ANDY and other civil society organisations in the network build their partners’ skills in advocacy, fundraising, and collecting evidence. They then connect the disabled people’s groups with the relevant decision-makers in the network.

This strategy has proven effective. For example, a disabled people’s group in Machakos county worked with a number of formal organisations in the network to improve the accessibility of local buildings and, together, they managed to successfully lobby the county government to pass the necessary legislation. In another example, in Kirinyaga county, ANDY connected a disabled persons group working to protect children with disabilities from abuse to the government’s local children’s officer. They now work regularly together to resolve cases.

Using Community Champions

KELIN’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV by making sure the government meets its commitment to protect their health and wellbeing. A fundamental part of their strategy is to build the capacity of people living with HIV to collaborate.

KELIN use a two-step process. First, they identify all relevant non-government stakeholders in an area—this includes people living with HIV, communities affected by HIV, health providers, civil society organisations, community-based organisations, and media with an interest in health issues. They then bring the groups together for a two-day training and networking session. Those involved are provided with information on the rights of people living with HIV and how decisions are made by government. They then develop work plans based on the priorities they agree on, as well as the most appropriate methods for engaging relevant decision-makers.

At the end of the event, the group selects a sub-group of Community Champions who meet on a quarterly basis. Community Champions continue to identify and prioritise the most important issues throughout the year to ensure the coalitions’ advocacy strategy is responsive to evolving needs. For example, Community Champions in Mombasa noticed that women with HIV or TB were being detained in a health facility after giving birth, due to non-payment of hospital charges. The coalition met formally with officials at the facility to point out that the practice of detainment was not in line with the government’s stated commitment to free maternal services. This led to the head of the health facility working with their team to eliminate the practice.

KELIN has found that building coalitions in this way leads to sustainable change. For example, involving journalists in the coalition results in coverage and raised public awareness. Community Champions gradually develop the confidence and know-how for independent advocacy. And the government also begins to see the value in regular community feedback. This is well illustrated in Mombasa, where local officials now invite Community Champions to join regular working groups so they can provide input on policy and practice. 

Dr Shobha Das is a former Director of Programmes at Minority Rights Group International and Gillian Cooper is the Programme Manager of Knowledge, Learning, and Communications at the Commonwealth Foundation. 

Patently helpful: medicines and trade

Cancer, dementia, diabetes, tuberculosis, and heart and lung disease, accounted for 31 million of the 56 million deaths worldwide in 2016. Eighty percent of these deaths occurred in developing and low income countries; the truth is many people died because the drugs they needed were too expensive to buy. The good news is—Third World Network (TWN) Malaysia are showing there is something we can do.

Developing and low income countries share a bigger burden of these deaths because their public health systems are often under-funded and unable to make the imported drugs available at an affordable price. This is partly because of the exorbitant costs and the long-term nature of the treatments required. As a consequence, sick patients go untreated leading to their debilitation and death. Both government and patients do not see a way out of the problem because the drugs produced by big pharmaceutical companies, usually based overseas, are bound by patents that are locked into trade deals.

‘Companies often extend their product patents by tweaking the chemical make-up of the drugs to maintain their monopoly of production and sale’

Pharmaceutical companies fix the prices of drugs they produce and also license these drugs to ensure that no one else can use the same combination of chemicals. These licenses can run for as long as 20 years, during which time the companies have a monopoly of production and sale. Pharmaceutical companies argue that the protection afforded them by the licence is necessary to recoup research and development costs, but profits have been shown to far outstrip these. Moreover, companies often extend their product patents by tweaking the chemical make-up of the drugs to maintain their monopoly of production and sale.

The benefits of trade agreements are widespread but some clauses attempt to close the door on countries making essential drugs themselves

It is customary for countries to sign trade agreements to improve trading flows and boost the economy. The benefits of trade agreements can be widespread but some clauses can close the door on the possibility of countries making essential drugs themselves, while ensuring overseas companies continue to monopolise supply. These agreements substantially reduce the ability of countries to make laws that promote the local production of essential drugs, while government officials in different ministries often do not appear to know or fully understand the technical implications of some of the agreements that former or current governments have signed.

‘It is estimated that over 450,000 Malaysians are infected with Hepatitis C, and that the new treatment plan will make it possible for Malaysia to eliminate the disease by 2025’

However, special agreements made at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) give governments the legal right to prioritise the health of their citizens and so produce drugs in their own countries—even if they have subsisting trade agreements that might otherwise prevent them from doing so. Nonetheless, government awareness of the WTO agreements remains low, and those that are aware often do not know how to activate its provisions, nor do they have the required drug manufacturing capabilities and resources for research and development.

TWN Malaysia is implementing a project to tackle these factors, with support from the Commonwealth Foundation and the cooperation of the Malaysian Government. In particular, TWN Malaysia has worked with other civil society partners to provide technical and legal input to overcome the license barrier for Sofosbuvira—a drug used for treating Hepatitis C. Due to these efforts, the price of a three-month supply has now dropped from US$10,000 to US$100. This has allowed the Malaysian Government to roll out free treatment in 21 public hospitals. It is estimated that over 450,000 Malaysians are infected with Hepatitis C, and that the new treatment plan will make it possible for Malaysia to eliminate the disease by 2025.

You can read more about Third World Network’s project here.

After Cyclone Pam: rebuilding a community multimedia space

When the category five Tropical Cyclone Pam hit on 13 March 2015⁠—packing winds of up to 250 kilometres per hour⁠—people in Vanuatu were in a state of disbelief.

‘No one was ready,’ recalled Further Arts General Manager, Viviane Obed. ‘There were warnings but nobody took them seriously. At the Government level, there was little preparedness. [In evacuation centres] the quality was very poor; toilets were not working and many families were moved to them at the very last minute.’

At Further Arts’ Nesar Studio, a community multimedia space designed to train and support local artists, it was business as usual: the staff and members just expected the cyclone to pass through without causing much disturbance.

‘Half of the building’s roof was down on the road, 100 metres away [….] there was water everywhere.’

Nesar Studio is located just outside of the capital, Port Vila, on a hilltop in a residential area. The studio was created by Further Arts, a local NGO, in collaboration with youth and local communities, as a place for anyone to sign up and benefit from various media education projects and initiatives. Nesar refers to ‘nasara’: a word which translates locally as a ceremonial meeting place within a village for the intergenerational transmission of ‘kastom’⁠—knowledge and wisdom through song, dance, art, and other practices. Nesar Studio is named as such because it resembles a digital, urban nasara, imparting skills in new media so local artists can transmit messages and knowledge. Providing the community with education on these tools is a powerful means to enact change, enabling people to realise their rights to voice.

‘Before Pam hit, Nesar Studio was a centre for many youths in this area. Youth came here with interests in media, video, handling a camera or microphone for the first time, doing interviews, taking photos, and things like that,’ recalled Marcel Meltherorong, a local artist and Nesar Studio member and crew.

‘On Friday the 13th when the wind picked up, we were all at our own homes nailing down roofs and covering windows. But little had been done at the office to prepare it for what was coming⁠—we didn’t expect it to be so ferocious! Once night fell, the storm grew stronger and you couldn’t see anything… you just heard it—things breaking, cracking, landing, and crashing.’

During the proceeding cleanup, Marcel recalled that people helped one another; families helped other families to rebuild homes, and then helped to clear the roads.

When staff and crew finally made their way back to the organisation’s headquarters a few days after the cyclone, the streets were emptied out and damage to the office was colossal.

‘Half of the building’s roof was down on the road, 100 metres away. The wind had thrown it there. Most of the equipment inside was damaged, and there was water everywhere… it’s hard to describe it… I mean, this was where Further Arts and Nesar Studio was born!

‘When Pam hit, it was like this big space was just gutted. Everyone was feeling very down after that’ Marcel said.

Following the devastation, Further Arts staff and crew moved into a smaller space in town.

‘We weren’t discouraged, even though we lost the building. We kept going and didn’t give up because we were passionate about what we did,’ said Roselyn Tari, the Production Co-ordinator at the time.

Before long, Further Arts made an appeal to its key partners and donors for their assistance in rebuilding, and received generous support from many, including new opportunities for growth and activity.

‘When the idea to rebuild came about after Pam, we were all so happy—even though we had to start from zero—to train members and recreate that space. People were starting to feel hopeful again’ Marcel said.

The success of rebuilding was based on Further Arts’ deep networks and partnerships, both in-country and internationally. Working with the local community was also important to ensure that the new space could accommodate the needs of its stakeholders.

Further Arts was extremely fortunate to receive assistance from the Commonwealth Foundation so that it could continue its work. The funding supported the studio to conduct a needs assessment amongst its membership, and then purchase multimedia equipment and train members in its use. This enabled the facility to continue its work relatively quickly, which lifted morale during a very hard time.

Everyone agrees that disaster readiness and preparedness has become a major priority in the community following Cyclone Pam. Further Arts itself has begun implementing stronger disaster preparedness measures to mitigate future disaster impact to its resources and personnel.

‘It’s the work you do before the storm that is most important. Really, these storms, they’re just a part of our lives,’ the organisation’s Finance Officer, Ladonna Daniel, pointed out.

Production Co-ordinator Gina Kaitiplel believes Further Arts Nesar Studio has a very bright future because of all the work it has done supporting young people and local communities.

‘Further Arts has become a main powerhouse to support communities in Vanuatu through multimedia, arts and culture. It helps individuals within the community to know where they come from, and what the true meaning of culture is. And it does that by building the knowledge of young people in the media industries.’

This post was written collaboratively between Further Arts and Nesar Studio staff and crew.