Since graduating from the University of Waikato Kerren Vali is living her dream. She is working in an area she is passionate about – gender equality for women in Papua New Guinea.
As an assistant manager for United Church Partnership Programme, a programme involving seven biggest churches in PNG focusing on strengthening institutional capacity, improved service delivery in rural communities and enhanced public sector governance engagements. She is involved in designing a strategy to successfully mainstream gender equality in the Church Partnership Programme (CPP). This programme also delivers initiatives designed to improve the lives of PNG women. For example, recently a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the United Church in PNG and a local bank – Nationwide Microbank Limited. An outcome of this partnership is the introduction of mobile banking. Kerren says this is a huge benefit to PNG women who live remotely, who may have to travel 3-5 days to physically access banking services.
Another benefit of the church and bank partnership is that women now have access to financial literacy training. This involves writing business proposals and learning how to access small grant bank loans. The long-term goal is that the women will eventually establish income-generating projects to help them improve their lives. Despite representing half of PNG’s seven million population, women represent less than 30 % of financial service portfolio in the country. Therefore, such partnership is significant to increasing and deepening women’s financial access and empowerment.
PNG has one of the lowest literacy rates in the Pacific, especially for women, which is a situation Kerren is determined to improve. As part of this vision she has designed a project titled ‘Lukautim Meri Lukautim Olgeta’ (LMLO) that encompasses adult literacy and financial literacy. “The idea is so women can be able to use the concepts learned through financial literacy training in their income generating projects. Livelihood skills training will also be incorporated into the project,” says Kerren.
Kerren states that her job allows her to become involved in a variety of exciting work.“One of the joys of this job is developing policies for the organisation. Bena Seta, the CPP Manager explains that “United Church in PNG has gone into a 40 year long term planning cycle. We are currently implementing the first 5 year plan. Kerren is part of our strategic thinkers and continues to support in the area of organisational governance. Some of the outstanding work she has done is the policy development on cross cutting issues such as Gender and Child Protection.”
This year in April she participated in the Council of World Missions Pacific regional round table discussions on Christmas Island in Kiribati which included discussions on empowering women using church as the entry points in the Pacific Islands and encouraging Pacific research on gender and other social issues. Kerren also participated in a workshop focusing on a gender equality initiative of $320 million by AusAID: ‘Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development’ aiming to improve the political, economic and social opportunities of Pacific women.
“I find it rewarding to impact the lives of those marginalised especially the women and the children, and have found that one of the effective ways to promoting gender equality is by encouraging family participation in some of the projects. This creates opportunity for family members to respect and appreciate women’s contribution to the family, community and society”.
“It’s the people’s stories and experiences that inspire me and I think they impact my life. Putting a smile on someone’s face because their lives are transformed is the reason why I love doing this. Kerren is grateful for the opportunity she had at Waikato University through New Zealand AID scholarship that paved the pathway to have such impact in PNG”.