Australia Awards alumni Fremden Yanhambath, Director of Vanuatu Skills Partnership, says the global pandemic has been the catalyst for the Partnership to reinvent itself as the context it operates in changes.
‘This crisis has given us the opportunity to do more than what we used to do before and to adapt as a program as we respond to COVID-19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold’ Fremden explains.
Part of the Vanuatu Skills Partnership’s core vision is to support small businesses, such as establishing handicraft centres in different provinces.
‘When the crisis hit, handicraft sellers were losing out on income due to a collapse in tourism, so we liaised with the centres to manufacture products that can assist those in cyclone affected provinces. Malampa, for instance, had 1000 mats made – with Partnership support, these were then procured through the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre, and delivered to other affected islands’ Fremden further explains.
Under Fremden’s leadership, the Vanuatu Skills Partnership is also working with schools and communities to address food security, as supply chains have been disrupted.
‘Given that we are supporting local businesses, we link farmers to outside markets, including schools and hospitals, and despite COVID-19 travel restrictions, we have organised for them to ship their produce to places where they are able to sell them. This is also positively influencing the nutrition of the population’ says Fremden.
Fremden recognises the significant role his Australia Awards scholarship has played in his decision making, particularly during the complexities associated with the pandemic and natural disasters such as TC Harold. Fremden adds ‘my skills in leadership and management gained under the Australia Award scholarship have helped me to realise that a crisis provides the opportunity to demonstrate leadership further by overcoming unexpected challenges. I have also been able to identify key people that we can nurture to become future leaders. COVID19 stopped the flow of international advisors, so we intensified our focus on our local team and developed their potential leadership’.
In 2013, Fremden gained his master’s in leadership and management at the University of Newcastle, with a specific focus on Vocational Education and Training. Since 2009, Fremden had been working for the Australian-government-funded TVET Sector Strengthening Program (now called the Vanuatu Skills Partnership). He started off as the Business Development Services Coordinator for Sanma based in Santo. After completing his studies in 2014, he returned to Vanuatu and secured the position of Deputy Team Leader of the Program and was then promoted to Director in January 2015.
The Vanuatu Skills Partnership that Fremden now leads is a key driver for training and business growth across the country, creating increased opportunities for knowledge, skills and attitudes relevant for employment. Through the network of provincial Skills Centres under the Ministry of Education and Training, it facilitates all kinds of formal, non-formal and informal skills development – bringing quality skills training and business coaching to the villages and production sites where people live and work.
The development of a coordinated and responsive national skills system that contributes to an educated, healthy and wealthy Vanuatu is more important than ever, as Vanuatu weathers the current pandemic and is also recovering from TC Harold. The country is fortunate to have the Vanuatu Skills Partnership and to have Fremden at the helm.