United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Director-General visits the Republic of Vanuatu

The Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, undertook his first official visit to the Republic of Vanuatu from 22 to 23 February.

Mr Matsuura is the first Director-General to visit the country since it became a Member of the Organization in 1994. Upon his arrival in the Vanuatu archipelago, the Director-General was received by a traditional welcome ceremony consisting of a wide display of traditional music and dance that represent a part of the country’s rich oral cultural heritage.

In his bilateral discussions with President Kalkot Matas Kelekele, Mr Matsuura described the areas in which UNESCO has been of assistance to the country. The Director-General explained that the Organization carries out country-specific and Pacific-wide initiatives in all spheres of its fields of competence, with the UNESCO Apia Office being the main interface with Small Island States. “Focus”, he said, “has been mainly on advocacy, capacity-building, research, policy dialogue and the provision of technical assistance in partnership with UN sister agencies and regional organizations.”

Referring particularly to culture, Mr Matsuura congratulated the President on the proclamation of Vanuatu Sand Drawings as one of the 90 Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and added that the majority of Small Pacific Island States’ cultural heritage is intangible – in the form of traditions and knowledge systems. In this regard, he noted that the ratification of the Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage would greatly help the country to preserve its oral cultural heritage. In the same context, the Director-General informed the President that UNESCO’s lead role in the International Year of Languages was to remind the world of the importance of preserving indigenous languages. “Vanuatu”, he said, “has 112 languages, which reflects the country’s rich linguistic diversity”. President Kelekele acknowledged the significance of this convention commenting that the loss of a language was tantamount to the disappearance of a culture.

Mr Matsuura also met with the Prime Minister, Mr Ham Lini Vanuaroroa, who is also Minister of Public Service, in order to take stock of the existing bilateral cooperation between UNESCO and Vanuatu. The meeting served to seek ways and means to further enhance this partnership as well as to identify other areas of mutual interest in which UNESCO’s assistance and cooperation, notably through its Office in Apia, would be vital. The Director-General congratulated the Government’s efforts in achieving the EFA goal of gender parity in primary education, as well as in reaching near universal primary education. The challenges remained, however, with regards to adult literacy and quality education. Aware of the acute shortage of qualified teachers in Vanuatu, Mr Matsuura underscored his intentions to provide further assistance in teacher training through extrabudgetary projects to be implemented by the UNESCO Apia Office in close collaboration with the education authorities in Vanuatu.

With regard to science, the Director-General emphasized the importance for Vanuatu to move from the status of observer to that of full member of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) in order to better apprise on issues concerning the oceans and tsunami warning systems. The Prime Minister recognized the importance of setting-up a national tsunami warning system but highlighted the difficulties faced by his country to raise awareness among his people.

Mr Matsuura held a joint group meeting with key Ministers and officials dealing with UNESCO matters, including Mr Edward Natapei, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Public Utilities, Ms Leinavao Tasso Thompson, Minister of Education, and Mr Joe Natuman, Minister of Home Affairs. Their discussions focused on how the Organization could assist Vanuatu in all its domains of competence, especially with regards to education, intangible cultural heritage, freshwater, and the oceans.

During his visit, Mr Matsuura visited the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, the National Museum, which incorporates artefacts from the various provinces of the country, and witnessed the unique and complex tradition of sand drawing (proclaimed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003). The Director-General was also scheduled to visit the cultural nomination called the “The Chief Roimata Site”, which is an evolving cultural landscape centred on the life and death of the legendary chief Roimata, but due to unexpected adverse weather conditions the tour was cancelled.

Author(s): Office of the Spokeswoman - Source: Flash Info N° 023-2008 -  Publication Date: 25-02-2008

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