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Seize the opportunity. That’s what the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (MWCSD) did when it launched its Breakthrough initiative* on Public Service Day last Friday.

During the parade and public booth display, the men and women from the Ministry used the opportunity to encourage public servants to commit to and reinforce a workplace free from violence and discrimination.

This complemented the general theme of the Public Service Day, which was ‘e tautala aso o lau tautua: the days of your service will be spoken of’.

The celebration was also a way of conveying MWCSD’s advocacy and service role in the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against women, men, youth and children.

Terms such as fear, anger, silence, disrespect and abuse were marked on the majority of the colourful balloons and marched to the government building.

With the kind support and courtesy of BOC Gas Samoa, Area Manager Joshua Leatigaga and Ame Lamositele from the Division for Women, public servants were able to see these symbolized issues in the vicious cycle of violence let go of with helium filled balloons.

One of the members of the Ministry led the way with his balloon that read “love”.

The others tied to the vehicle and held by male staff symbolized “trust”, “alofa” and “respect”.

Posters and a banner displayed positive messages of talking about issues and were held by the male employees of the Ministry.

This was a deliberate awareness strategy to reflect the involvement of our male counterparts in the public service with this cause.

The empowering and heartfelt sermon and prayer from Reverend Brenda Reed Sio reminded public servants that our team work together is not in vain.

After the prayer, MWCSD staff then said together “Taofi Sauaga” and released the balloons.

It was a moving experience for many MWCSD staff as the moment alluded to such issues taking a long time to solve in Samoa.

Watching the balloons disappear felt like we were waiting for quite some time, but eventually they were gone.

Although problems as complex and prevalent as these will not be solved over night, or even years down the line from now, with small steps and the work we continue to do - one day they will decrease and minimize. With hope and strength placed in God we also know that they will be non-existent in Heaven with Him.

An evaluation of the BTI launch from a number of fellow public servants at the exhibition found mixed reviews.

  • 94 percent of participants saw the balloons yet only 65 percent saw and remembered the messages written on them.
  • 87 percent of those who saw the balloons called the technique fresh, very wise, festive and a great idea.
  • 53 percent of those surveyed had seen the hand-made colourful posters and a number of them saw the actual messages on them.

The day before the march had male colleagues volunteer their time and talent to complete the posters.

Even a young street-vendor enjoyed colouring in posters after the office bought all his koko Samoa. The last question of the survey asked whether the messages will bring about change in the workplace.

Of the 14 employees who saw the balloons and messages, three answered yes of course, three answered yes, while three people said maybe.

Four answered no, as this initiative alone was not fully understood and could not bring about change by itself.

One public servant from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour suggested a formal training for all employees to attend and talk about key messages to implement in the workplace.

Despite the views expressed and observations made reflected in the evaluation, it is very clear that the BTI did get a lot of public servants thinking about the issue and it did trigger some ideas which we hope to take up as we progress with this BTI. We look forward to Public Service Day in 2014 where we envisage more engagement of a lot more Government Ministries and Corporations in enabling and sustaining a workplace of trust, respect and love.

*The Breakthrough Initiative is a result of the Training of Trainers on Transformational Leadership Development (TLD) delivered by MWCSD in collaboration with UNDP.

The TLD program is an exciting initiative that is being used successfully in many parts of the world to address deeply rooted development challenges. The first phase of the program began August 19th – 23rd.

This training brought together participants from diverse fields such as Non government; Church based & Private Sector organizations, Government Ministries and United Nation Agencies.

Each group was then tasked to design and implement Break-through Initiatives (BTIs) to address gender inequality and discrimination in Samoa.

There were 4 focus areas in which the different groups were given to choose from and are as follows;

  • Fostering a more inclusive society
  • Stopping violence in our society and creating safe spaces
  • Encouraging women’s participation in political and other decision-making areas
  • Increasing awareness and application of laws and policies to protect women, youth and children.
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