A small congregation in East Gippsland is reaching out across the oceans to improve the health and wellbeing of women in the South Pacific islands.
Later this month two members of Johnsonville Uniting Church, which has an average attendance of about eight to 10 at its fortnightly services, will travel to the Solomon Islands to provide education and training in women’s health.
Johnsonville members Wendy Flahive and her sister Gill Trudinger will partner with a representative of SewAid, who will teach local women sewing skills. All three will be taking over a sewing machine.
Ms Flahive and and Ms Trudinger will train women from partner churches in Noro, located in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, in how to run courses on women’s and reproductive health.
The aim is that, once trained, they will pass that knowledge onto at least 12 other women and girls in their communities.
“These things run on shoe-string budgets but they actually get to a lot of people,” Johnsonville UC chairperson Peter Flahive said.
“I think it’s bang for buck, the amount of money that goes into it is not that great but what comes out of it at the other end is really, really good.”
The SewAid volunteer will teach women how to make reusable sanitary hygiene kits to be offered to local schools and community groups.
“The average teenager spends about two years out of school due to menstrual problems in developing countries,” Mr Flahive said.
“Once they get the kit and they learn to reuse and clean these products their outcomes jump significantly.”
Along with other women’s health practices, such as pelvic floor exercises to help with bladder control, Ms Flahive and Trudinger will tackle thorny issues such as human trafficking and sexual relations within marriage.
“A lot of it is around consent,” Ms Flahive said.
“Sex within marriage without consent is rape. This is something the church finds very confronting, the very traditional churches we are partner with.”
Mr Flahive said that in talking about such traditionally taboo topics, it is very helpful to have appropriately culturally tailored visual aids such as posters and pamphlets.
“What I need money for is the resources,” Ms Flahive said.
Despite not even having a minister – their services use podcasts from Glen Waverley Uniting Church in Melbourne – the Johnsonville congregation is determined to continue its ambitious mission work.
“We punch above our weight,” Mr Flahive said.
Later this year Ms Flahive and Ms Trudinger will also travel to the Vanuatu archipelago to deliver training in women’s health and gender issues.
That trip will be supported by the nearby Bairnsdale Uniting Church, through a Lenten grant for the Days with Girls program. It will also again partner with SewAid, who will send volunteer teachers and materials.
If you are interested in helping with Johnsonville’s Pacific Island ministry please contact Mr Flahive on 0418 517 900.