Elison Bovu has been leading the VSPD as Executive Director for 13 years. He has a background in tropical medicine and preventative health. Elison attended primary school on his island Pentecost before graduating from the British Secondary School in Port Vila. He has a Diploma in Health Inspection from the College of Allied Health Sciences in Papua New Guinea and a Certificate in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK. He was one of the first two Ni-Vanuatu to receive a Masters in Tropical Health, from the University of Queensland. Elison worked for 14 years at the Vanuatu Department of Health in preventative health, rural health, water and sanitation, malaria, leprosy and tuberculosis. He moved to the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific in 1995 as Program Manager of Health before becoming Deputy Director. Elison was encouraged to become the VSPD Executive Director in 2001 by the board members at the time.
“I had been working in health for a long time but I never knew about the problems of people with disabilities (PWD). When I came to VSDP my eyes opened and I found my passion. Disability was an important health category that had been overlooked in Vanuatu.
“Now we’re looking at the big picture where services and rights work hand in hand. We’ve come a long way but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Arthur Simrai – Fieldworker
Arthur, from Malekula, is an exceptional role model for people with disabilities as a fieldworker, actor, sportsman and election contestant. Arthur’s leg movement was completed restricted by polio and his parents initially refused to send him to school. A priest encouraged them to carry him to school every day for one year until a wheelchair was donated. Arthur completed Year 10 at College de Santo but couldn’t continue his education because the school was wheelchair inaccessible. He worked at a Post Office and cooperative stores before attending Carrington Polytechnic in New Zealand. Arthur became one of Vanuatu’s first disability fieldworkers after completing training in Community Based Rehabilitation in 1991. He continues to visit communities around Vanuatu, identify and assess PWD, provide rehabilitation services, educate parents and caregivers, and run awareness sessions. Arthur is a founding member of the Vanuatu Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association, an actor with the Rainbow Theatre group, and is on the Vanuatu Paralympics Committee. He has represented Vanuatu in sporting events for PWD in France, England, Australia, Indonesia, China, Japan and Fiji. He was the first person with a disability to contest an election in Vanuatu in last year’s Port Vila elections and says he wanted to better represent the country’s PWD and fight for their rights.
“If I hadn’t gone to school, I think I’d still be stuck inside the house depending on my family. Education is the key to independence for PWD.
“I’m grateful to VSPD for taking me as a normal person. I want to tell everyone with a disability: don’t let your disability win over you, you must win over your disability.”
Marinette is passionate about early intervention for children with disabilities to encourage development. She completed primary school in Pentecost before attending Saint Patrick College in Ambae and Secretarial School in Port Vila. She joined VSDP in 1991 as one of Vanuatu’s first four disability fieldworkers, looking after clients in Penama province. She worked on projects including surveying PWD in Tafea province, and screening the ears, nose, throat and eyes of every child in Shefa, Penama and Malampa provinces. Marinette completed a certificate in Community Disability and Rehabilitation at the Fiji School of Medicine in 2011 but took a break from VSDP after it lost funding. She worked on the JICA Project for Strengthening Need-Based In-Service Training for Community Health Nurses, and at the Vanuatu Nursing School and Vanuatu Nursing Council. In 2014 Marinette rejoined VSPD to work on our Early Intervention program for children with disabilities.
“When you deal with a person with a disability it’s very unique and special. My heart is in this area because at the end of the day you can see the results of your work. If a child with a disability smiles then that’s a good result. If they can stand-up then that’s a great result.”
“Early intervention is my passion because you need to work with people with disabilities when they are children so they can develop and improve before they come to us in a really bad state.”
Ruth has a background in banking and counselling, along with a strong passion for helping people. She completed primary school on her island Ambae before graduating from Malapoa College in Port Vila. She has worked in customer service and administration at ANZ Bank Vanuatu, National Bank of Vanuatu, Microtech and Goodies. Ruth provided administrative relief at VSPD in 2003, also joining the board. She then worked for six years as a counsellor of women and children at the Vanuatu Women’s Centre. In 2011 she returned to VSPD as a volunteer helping out with the Early Intervention program. Ruth has helped grow the program from around three children meeting occasionally to a group of 25 who engage in developmental activities four mornings a week at the VSPD centre.
“Before, I didn’t know anything about disabled people. When I started working at Vanuatu Women’s Centre I realised I wanted to help people: first women and children, and now PWD.”