Four women on a mission to Tonga

By Shalveen Chand 03 March 2024, 7:00AM

Three Samoan and a Samoa-Tokelauan woman are heading to Nuku’alofa next week to undergo training to get their communities better prepared for disasters and make them resilient.

The training is under the UNITAR Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction Program.

Ms. Jennifer Coffin, Ms. Mariaolelosalio Petelo, Ms. Sharon Mauga, and Ms. Jewel Leao Tuitama who is also of Tokelauan descent will participate in this United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) training program. The UNITAR Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction Program is funded by the generous Government and People of Japan.

Since 2016, the program has helped train hundreds of participants from the Pacific region and has significantly attracted interest from many other regions in the world. The training took many participants to Japan to learn from their experiences and DRR approaches, however, following the pandemic the program had to shift to an online learning modality.

In 2023, the program had its first in-person training after the pandemic with Samoa as the first Pacific Island to host the event. The 2023 program marked the eighth cycle with the decision to have in-person training in Tonga.

The participants underwent a rigorous selection process, after completing a 10-week online course. Nearly three hundred applications were received for the online course, and those who completed could apply for the second phase, which is the in-person training.

A diverse group of women leaders from across the Pacific region and Asia has been chosen to participate in this transformative program. The selected participants will gather in Nuku'alofa from 5-11 March to further enhance their knowledge and skills in disaster risk reduction, with a strong focus on leadership and management in disaster response and recovery.

Climate change has exacerbated the rate and intensity of disaster events in the region, and the course focuses on the unique challenges and opportunities faced by Pacific Island Countries. Globally, the number of recorded disaster events has drastically risen due to a changing climate, impacting human lives, and bringing severe economic repercussions. Socially vulnerable people such as women, the elderly, youth, children, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, refugees, migrants, and other marginalized people become even more vulnerable in emergencies. Due to gender roles and norms, women are often left to care for these vulnerable groups. Empowering them to participate in decision-making reduces their vulnerability to disasters and benefits whole communities.

"We are thrilled to welcome such a dedicated and talented group of women leaders to Phase II of the Women's Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction program," said Dr. Richard Crichton, Regional Training Officer and Development Coordinator for the UNITAR's Division for Prosperity.

"These participants bring a wealth of experience and expertise from their respective countries, and we are confident that they will make significant contributions to advancing climate and disaster resilience in the Pacific region."

Phase II of the program will feature intensive training sessions, workshops, a tour of sites impacted by the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Haapai volcanic eruption and tsunami event, and collaborative activities to strengthen the participants' leadership capabilities and disaster risk reduction knowledge.

"Recognizing the critical role Pacific women play in DRR efforts and empowering them will benefit all members of the community and our Pacific region," said Dr. Crichton.

"Phase II of the program will provide participants with valuable tools and resources to enhance their impact and drive positive change in their communities."

The selected participants represent a diverse range of backgrounds and expertise, reflecting the rich cultural and geographical diversity of the Pacific region, whilst boosting the human resources capacity of PICs.

They will join other participants from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Palau, and Papua New Guinea from the Pacific, and Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The program will offer unique opportunities for participants to learn from each other, share experiences, and develop innovative solutions for disaster planning.

The Women's Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction program is part of UNITAR's broader efforts to support sustainable development and build resilience to disasters. By empowering women leaders with the skills and knowledge to effectively manage and mitigate disaster risks, UNITAR aims to create safer, more resilient communities for future generations.

By Shalveen Chand 03 March 2024, 7:00AM
Samoa Observer

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