By Tupouseini Taumoepeau.
PIF: During the 2010 Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit recently held at Port Vila aspiring students aged 12 to 25 gathered around Wan Smolbag Theatre for daily classes ranging from Drama and Music to Sports and Nutrition.
New Zealand is providing the organisation with NZ$6.6 million over the next 5 years to support the development of its Programmes.
This organization was established over 20 years ago during The Republic of Vanuatu’s first decade of Independence. Since then it has grown from having only 15 volunteers to over 100 staff and 400 volunteers working with Programmes run by the centre.
Wan Smolbag theatre runs a variety of workshops which encourages local community development with a particular focus on youth development.
Programmes run by the centre include 5 main branches: Informal education, Literacy, Sports, Animation and Nutrition.
Drama is one of the centre’s main tool and through the production of a popular television drama – Love Patrol it aims to engage the audience in tackling issues currently affecting the community such as violence, substance abuse and HIV/AIDS.
Governance Programme Manager of Wan Smolbag Michael Taurakoto says the centre is currently renovating its production studio for a better filming space in the future.
The Wan Smolbag complex also includes theatre and music rooms, a recording studio, health clinic, recreation court and a nutrition centre available for students.
A core part of the centre is the health clinic. It is dedicated to the wellbeing and health education of its students. The services are free for young people in the area.
The health clinic currently has 13 peer educators who focus on health education and raising youth awareness (ages 12 to 25) within the community.
Health Clinic staff Norley Jack and Rose Nirambath say they also have a small group of staff and volunteers who specifically focus on AIDS awareness and prevention – which has been identified as a high health risk among young people.
The clinic is mainly funded by NZAID which supports the centre through the running of its Programmes and services.
The establishment of Wan Smolbag and the growth of the organisation’s work in youth support were seen as a need for the community when the base of the organisation moved into Port Vila in 1994.
At the time, as the population of Port Vila doubled, the centre was developed as a response to the rising problems of the community. This included the increasing rate of STI’s and the lack of facilities and employment available for young people at the time.
Wan Smolbag has since gained the respect of the community and acts as a major employer of youth working for youth.
The centre continues to strengthen its Programmes with assistance from New Zealand and Australia to use theatre and drama along with structured workshops to encourage discussion on current health, environmental, governance and social issues affecting the local community.
Tupouseini Taumoepeau is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at AUT University. She was recently on assignment at the Pacific Islands Forum in Port Vila, Vanuatu.