Myriam Malao presides over the Local Restaurant Association in Vanuatu. She is also a member of Mamas’ Market Association, which she represents on the municipality council.
Can you tell us a bit about Mama's Market Association?
Mama's Market is run by mothers from the rural areas who cook and sell in the harbour-front markets. We want to value our food. Food is part of our identity, it resides in everything – it's in our blood, in our culture and our traditions. As a member of the board of the municipality council, I represent 300 Mamas.
Do you also have your own restaurant in Mama's Market?
I do. And the Association is located at the market. There are 36 Mamas in my group, all mothers, and they are all doing business in the food sector. Back in 2014, I attended a PIPSO conference and realised that if you want to be successful everything needs to be structured. I brought 'my' 36 Mamas together to make them understand that we had to have permits and licences. Once this was achieved, the avenue of funding opened for us and there is now a number of donors who are interested to help.
What funding support do you now have available for the Mamas?
The conference helped me identify who I could an approach to help us. This year, the United Nations Development Programme and UN Women are funding a financial literacy training for us. They came to us as they wanted to help us to develop our standards and our market. The French Government will teach us about marketing and branding.
How did you become a member of the board of the municipality council to represent the Mamas?
It's a long story. I was just a simple Mama cooking at the market. There are many of us in the market and competition can be quite high. I wanted to learn about new things and innovate. At the market, I was meeting different customers ni-Vanuatu, other Pacific Islanders, tourists. So I wondered about changes we could make, new services we could offer. I discussed with the other Mamas and we decided to find a way to let people know we exist.
The Mamas selected me to represent them as part of the board of the municipality council. I am the only woman! In our culture, it's very hard. I managed to get my thoughts heard and to make others aware that we, the Mamas, exist!
What's next for the Mamas?
The Mamas have also started a theatre group called 'Island Girl.' We perform and we tell real stories. I also suggested that he Mamas write a book in Bislama; We have done it and it is translated in English and French. The French Government has agreed to help sell the books. We printed 2,500 copies and the French bought 500 of them. The next step would be to have Robert Oliver come and train the Mamas in Vanuatu so we can write a recipe book about Vanuatu cuisine.
This interview was conducted by PIPSO Communications Consultant and The Greenhouse Studio’s head, Maria Ronna Luna Pastorizo-Sekiguchi.
- Pacific island Private Sector Organisation