Ni-Vanuatu WLI participant Melissa Velvel Fare is a champion and activist for inclusion in sport who has been celebrated for her writing and work to promote positive development change in the Pacific region.
A skilled sports journalist, marketer, and disaster preparedness communicator, Melissa is currently Program Coordinator for Team Up; an Australian Government program supporting Pacific partnerships that enable sport to bring communities together.
While a career in sport was never part of her plan, Melissa explains that sport’s potential to drive positive social change is what keeps her in the field and led her to boost skills, knowledge and networks to lead and influence change in sport and development through the Women’s Developmental Leadership Program.
After completing her Bachelor of International Relations and Political Science; Bachelor of Business Management (International Business) at Flinders University, Melissa intends to start a sports leadership and development program for women and young people to access life-changing education and employment opportunities through sport.
Melissa explains that while sport was a big focus in her family life growing up, a career in sport was never something that she had considered.
She explains, “I was fresh out of high school and was feeling a little bit of uncertainty about university, so I decided to take a gap year and get some work experience.
“I started playing cricket and it was there that I was first approached to work in sport.
“I did not give it much thought. To me, at that point in time, I was in need of a full-time job, so I sent in my CV and got my first job as the Media Officer for the Vanuatu Cricket Association.”
While Melissa may have found herself at the right place and time to enter into the sector, Melissa says the transformative power of sport is what draws her to stay on her career path.
“As I began to understand my role and the value that cricket as a sport was adding to the lives of people, but especially women, girls, children and people with disability in Vanuatu, the more I wanted to stay,” she explains.
At the Vanuatu Cricket Association, Melissa came to learn about sports for development, how sport is strengthening communities and contributing to better health, gender equality and disability inclusion, and the fight to eliminate social injustices such as gender-based violence.
She explains, “The concept of Sports Diplomacy was also introduced to me, which piqued my personal and professional interests even more.
“I am very passionate about creating positive social change and changing the lives of people for the better and sport has been one of the most effective ways to do that in Vanuatu and in the Pacific.
“That is why I have chosen to stay and work in sport.”
In 2020, Melissa was nominated for the International Sports Press Association’s Sports Awards in the Young Reporter’s Writing Category.
And during the COVID-19 pandemic, Melissa initiated a relief drive and engaged cricket communities to raise and deliver food, clothing and other household supplies to communities on Santo that were most impacted.
According to Melissa, sport is deeply engrained in ni-Vanuatu culture and is centred around bringing people from all communities together in celebration.
“It does not matter which island you go to. Sport never fails to brings people together. Take Vanuatu’s Independence Day celebrations as an example, I can guarantee one thing celebrations across all six provinces will have in common. That is, a multi-sport competition to celebrate.
“If this does not scream peace and unity, I don’t know what does,” Melissa says.
As Melissa explains, sport is also significant contributor to the advancement of human rights in the Pacific, “especially for women and girls and people with disability”.
“Sport has been a consistent platform where negative social norms and gender stereotypes have been challenged,” Melissa explains, “Some of sports contributions are to health, education, disability inclusion, building healthy leadership and good governance within communities, and reducing inequalities in our Pacific communities.”
Through sport, Melissa wants to see inclusion ‘ingrained’ and more access to opportunities
Melissa’s hope for the future of sport in Vanuatu is that inclusion becomes so deeply engrained in sporting communities that “it just happens and we don’t need to think about doing it or how to do it, because we just do it, it’s part of who we are”.
While Melissa believes current sport programs for development do positively address “a lot of social injustice issues”, plans to progress these programs to facilitate access to employment and educational opportunities are not currently in place.
She explains, "Often, we give hope and don’t have the capacity to follow through with providing access to opportunities that are available through sport because it is beyond the scope and funding capabilities of our programs.
“Often times it is not intentional. For example, we go into communities and run programs for young girls that are aimed at promoting gender equality, these programs empower these young girls and they see that there are opportunities that they can access through our sport or sport in general, and they and their parents start having hope that they can access these opportunities.”
Over time, however, Melissa says communities can “start losing hope and trust in our programs” when they are not set up to facilitate access to these opportunities.
To change this, one of Melissa’s leadership goals is to build on the success of existing programs so that “when we go into communities and give hope, we have mechanisms in place to support sport organisations to offer these opportunities and for communities to access them”.
“I see this as a natural progression from grassroots programs to elite sports level as well. Which is, again, beneficial for the development of sport and people in Vanuatu,” Melissa adds.
She also reflects on the labor shortages faced by Vanuatu’s tourism and sporting sectors, including the loss of elite athletes as a result of seasonal worker programs, and hopes that future sport development programs could facilitate skill development and boost in-country employment prospects for youth who currently seek these opportunities overseas.
According to Melissa, this would involve working with sporting organisations, community organisations and other institutions to identify and engage unemployed youth in Vanuatu who could explore and benefit from a career in sport.
While Melissa is broadly focused on sport and development in Vanuatu to promote inclusion and equal access to opportunity through the sector, completing her Australia Awards studies is presently a huge priority.
"I am focused on my studies because the ‘one gap year’ that I took turned into eight gap years, but I am determined to start something while I am here [in Australia] studying because I have so many great resources available to me through Australia Awards and through other avenues as well,” says Melissa.
Melissa Velvel Fare is a participant of the 2023 WLI Women’s Developmental Leadership Program.