She is always smiling, always cheerful. It’s hard to tell when she is serious or angry. But she is very committed and loves her job which includes improving the livelihoods of families, especially children. Meet Grace Kerepas, 44, Project Coordinator for World Vision Papua New Guinea’s Financial Literacy and Inclusion Project (FLIP) in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARoB) supported by the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and World Vision Australia.
Grace Kerepas (44), World Vision Bougainville Project Coordinator, Financial Literacy and Inclusion Project (FLIP). Photo: Paula Kari/World Vision
Grace and colleague PPAP Konnou Project Coordinator Stella Wainetti having a fun moment while en route to visit a farmers' group in Torokina. Photo: Paula Kari/World Vision
From Bove Village in Manetai, Central Bougainville, Grace has three children. Her eldest daughter is 17-years old and in Grade 12, her second born son is 16-years old and in Grade 8, while her youngest 8-year old son attends Elementary Grade 1. Grace is the second born out of eight other children. She lost her 24-year old eldest brother on January 7, 1994 during the Bougainville Crisis. It is a day she always and continues to remember, working quietly and silently each January 7.
Grace recalls that the Crisis times were very hard and challenging for their families and especially for young girls growing up and those in school.
“From 1991-1992, we were ordered by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) to move inland because the PNG Army was entering the area. We were hiding inland towards the mountains. We were away from our family gardens and it was very difficult for us,” recalled Grace solemnly.
“It was more difficult for me because I was living with my cousins further away towards the mountains and not with my parents and family. There was no way to communicate with my family. Due to security reasons, I was told it was safer for me to stay even further away from where my family were staying. And I always worried about my parents and siblings,” recalled Grace.
Grace never completed her education. One week before the Grade 10 National Exams, the BRA raided their school for food and the school was closed after that. While in National High School, Grace had a terrifying incident where she was accused of being a BRA and was nearly stabbed. She left school when she became pregnant with her eldest daughter. She re-married after her first husband became abusive and is now happily re-married.
After working with another organisation, Grace applied for the position of Savings Facilitator with World Vision in 2012. Grace recalled that she was asked one question and that was if she could do this job.
“I’ll do it, and I’ll prove it to you,” was her reply to that one question to her interviewee.
Learning and saving money in Bougainville after receiving training from Grace. Photos: Paula Kari/World Vision
Grace admitted that it was a bit challenging for her because she never had the chance to complete her education. Grace is very thankful that World Vision has helped built her capacity.
“I never complained about my job because I wanted to learn. I was the only one implementing the savings component. I did awareness on the Savings Model that World Vision would be using,” said Grace.
She added that once the communities accepted the Savings Model that World Vision introduced, four savings group were formed in Bove and Tarara villages.
According to Grace, they saved for one year in the first cycle and had their first share out in December 2013. She said it was an eye opener for others who saw the group members load a truck and went into town to do their Christmas shopping. Grace said others started talking about it and started forming savings groups.
With the savings cycle, members deposit a small amount of money which is saved in a cash box held by the Groups’ Cash Box Holder. The cash box is fitted with three sets of locks and keys, held by and additional three members of the group. Members can also borrow money from the funds deposited for income generating purposes. There is also a component called the Social Fund which the members use to assist with any emergencies needing attention by members. Loans taken out by members are repaid with interest while money taken out from the Social Fund is interest free. After 12 months, moneys deposited are paid to each member, together with any interest made in that year. The cycle is again repeated.
“Most were women and widows saving for their children’s school fees and other needs,” said Grace.
World Vision also works with producer groups to revitalise small-scale farmers improve their cocoa farms and to be able to make enough money to save. Photo: Paula Kari/World Vision
Under World Vision’s Youth Economic Empowerment Project (YEEP) funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT), Grace helped facilitated the formation of 20 youth savings groups. An additional four savings group were formed. Because of the interest from communities outside of World Vision’s target communities, staff used their own time to facilitate and conduct savings trainings for these bonus groups.
In 2017, Grace became the Project Coordinator for the ANCP Economic Development Project in Bougainville. She helped facilitated the formation of 48 Savings Groups, 10 in Buin (target 10), 12 in Konnou (target 10) and Torokina 24 (target 10).
Grace also facilitated savings groups trainings with other World Vision’s projects funded under the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) including in Health (four Savings Groups formed) and Education (two savings groups formed).
Grace and her team from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville presenting their project updates in a recent ANCP project meeting in Port Moresby. Photos: Paula Kari/World Vision
The ever-smiling Grace is now looking after the Financial Literacy and Inclusion Project supported by the ANCP which ends in 2020. The project is expected to set up 100 Savings Groups in Bougainville, Madang and Sepik over a three-year period.
Grace hopes to get many more people start getting into the habit of saving a little each time to be able to meet immediate and urgent family needs and long-term plans as well. She also hopes to be able to continue doing her part to enable that.
In a workshop session with members of her team from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Port Moresby recently. Photo: Rodney Baim/World Vision
Grace is pressingonforprogress by working with communities improving lives and wellbeing of families, especially for children. This International Women’s Day, World Vision celebrates Grace and women activists throughout the world transforming lives. The Time is Now!
World Vision celebrates Grace and all women activists incluing our staff who work to empower women and their families in both rural and urban communities where we work. Photo: Rodney Baim/World Vision
World Vision’s FLIP Project is implemented alongside World Vision’s PPAP Project, funded by the Papua New Guinea Cocoa Board with support from the World Bank. The PPAP gives farmers the knowledge and materials they need to grow better cocoa. World Vision is the implementing NGO partner on the ground, working with government and export partners to provide training and technical skills to farmers in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Sepik and Middle Ramu in Madang.