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Economically empowering market vendors and farmers in the Pacific

UN Volunteer Catherine Heritage is supporting women's economic empowerment in Pacific Island countries. She has been serving as a Project Assistant for the Markets for Change (M4C) project, supporting the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the past four years. "I have always admired the work of UN Volunteers. I used to read about it online, and in magazines, but as far as I was concerned, it sounded like something that could only happen overseas," Catherine shares. "So, when I got selected for this opportunity at home, it was a dream come true." 

Read more in the photo story below.

Markets for Change (M4C) is an initative of UN Women that aims to ensure that marketplaces in rural and urban areas of Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.

As implementing partner, UNDP works to improve the livelihoods of women market vendors and farmers through financial literacy and agricultural training. The aim is to improve the income and productivity of market vendors and farmers.

Four UN Volunteers support the UNDP M4C project team: three national UN Volunteer Project Assistants based in Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, and an international UN Volunteer Gender Specialist, who is working across the three countries.

The spirit and positive energy of the UN Volunteers provide an additional dimension to our work, especially to the Markets for Change project. This involves getting to know the individuals in the communities and working together over time to find the best way to achieve economic and social empowerment. Patrick Tuimalealiifano, Deputy Team Leader, UNDP Pacific Office

 

Photo: UN Volunteer Catherine Heritage at a M4C Market Business Fair in Nagado Village, Nadi. ©UNV, 2020

Catherine’s duties include Implementing eight modules on improving the productivity and income of market vendors. This includes carrying out market vendor and farmer profiling and needs assessment and preparing training material with implementing partners.

She mobilizes participants for various training sessions. Catherine oversees the logistics for training and evaluation, as well as related procurement activities.

From the articles I read, I knew working as a UN Volunteer would involve a lot of field work. This is very true for the Markets for Change project, which has components related to agriculture. We literally 'get our hands dirty' while doing market and farm surveys. It was the report writing and time spent in the office that I had to get used to. This has been a great learning experience, and I enjoy every minute of it. --Catherine Heritage

 

Photo: UN Volunteer Catherine Heritage interviewing Lautoka Market Vendors ahead of M4C Market Business Fair. ©UNV,2020

The Markets for Change project involves a lot of travel. The team in Fiji works in 12 main municipal markets over different islands. In some cases, the team visits farms, crossing rivers and trekking up the highlands to follow up on the progress from previous training.

Before each training activity, team members visit each location, interviewing and registering participants, meeting partners, obtaining required permits from local governments, provincial councils and village heads, and ensuring venues, transport and other logistics are in order.

"Coming to a Fijian village always involves traditional protocol. For example, visitors perform a special ceremony called a Sevusevu. A bundle of yagona (kava roots) is presented to the chief of the village, asking her/his blessing to allow visitors, in this case, the M4C team, to work in the village”.

 

Photo: Crossing the river at Nasau village in Wainibuka to interview a M4C participant. ©UNV, 2020

Over the years, Catherine has taken on new responsibilities, progressing from supporting in the background to facilitating training sessions. Speaking up in front of people, especially the older members in communities, was a major challenges. Catherine says her assignment has helped her step out of the comfort zone and develop communication, organizational and people skills.

One thing I learnt as a UN Volunteer is to adapt to change. There have been instances where activities we planned months in advance had to be cancelled, due to natural disasters and other reasons. With a bit of re-evaluation and flexibility, we were able to overcome these issues. --Catherine Heritage

The kind of work Catherine contributes to has a significant impact on the communities, however, it does not happen overnight. The women, men and youth who attend training are able to use the skills and knowledge they gain to improve productivity in their farms and enhance business skills that will help in enhancing sustainability and improvig their livelihoods in the long run.

 

Photo: UN Volunteer Catherine Heritage facilitating a training session on behalf of a partner who was unable to attend a M4C event in Nagado village, Nadi. ©UNV, 2020

In 2018, UNV Executive Coordinator Olivier Adam and Regional Manager for Asia and the Pacific, Shalina Miah, visited Fiji and Samoa to celebrate International Volunteer Day and launch the State of the World's Volunteerism Report. They saw the impact of the M4C project during a field trip to Nasau village, in Wainibuka, a secluded area on the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu.

"Being part of the launch of the State of the World's Volunteerism Report in 2018 was one of the highlights of the four years I served as a UN Volunteer. It was a privilege and honour to show Mr Adam the work I do in the communities, and he got to experience firsthand the long distance the market vendors and farmers must travel to get their weekly income. Although it was indirect, I feel proud to be part of a project that captured the attention of the British Royal Family. On the visit to Fiji, the Duchess of Sussex paid a visit to the Suva market in October 2018, meeting the UN Women team and even making a trip to meet the market vendors who have benefited from the project." Catherine Heritage

Catherine continues to passionately contribute to work that empowers communities through development and agriculture.

 

Photo: UN Volunteer Catherine Heritage visiting farmers with UNV Executive Coordinator Olivier Adam (centre), Regional Manager for Asia & the Pacific Shalina Miah (left), together with the Nasau Village Head Man and a participant of the M4C Project. ©UNV, 2018