For one, a woman’s insouciant reference to ‘that time I walked the Kokoda trail’ doesn’t often appear in a conversation. Secondly, volunteering to spearhead a community-based program in one of Australia’s most remote and socially marginalised communities is equally uncommon.
Yet these are the kinds of challenges that Yolonde not only seeks but thrives on.
Yolonde Entsch, based in Cairns’ verdant tropics, is a community program creator and professional speaker with a talent for empowering groups, and particularly women, toward affirmative, self-enriching action. More simply? She is a woman of the people.
“I started my programs in Papua New Guinea (PNG) with the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre. They have done a marvellous job in the Treaty Villages training Community Rangers. They asked me if I would develop a program that would help support the lives of women living in isolated villages.”
“One of their first requests was in sourcing linen. A call out to the Cairns community and with the support of Sea Swift, we delivered seven full containers. I can guarantee the linen wasn’t used to sleep on!”
Yolonde’s description of the diverse use of the material by the PNG women makes the crushed bedlinen craze seem an exorbitant opulence. Over there, the organic fibre is used to wrap babies, become slings for fractures, laid-down as birthing sheets, strewn-up for sun protection, and crafted into sanitary pads.
Later, Yolonde partnered with the Australian Birthing Kit Foundation to distribute kits throughout 13 remote PNG villages. The kits are designed to improve birthing hygiene and ultimately, reduce birth mortality rates. Beyond this, though, lay significant efforts around family planning.
“In PNG, rape is rampant. Often women don’t have a choice as to whether they have sex or not. The best thing I can do is to help ensure they have autonomy over when and how many children they have.”
“After consulting extensively with the women, we arranged for Dr Wendy Stein from Rotary International to visit the villages. Because there is no way to fill-out scripts, Implanon was chosen as a reliable form of contraception, giving up to five years of protection. Within three and half days, Wendy supported by female Community Rangers inserted 347 Implanons.”
So, what was the women’s response? “They are loving it,” Yolonde enthused, “I’ve got photos of women, lined-up in a queue, fifty in a row, waiting to receive their Implanon.”
No wonder then, that My Pathway procured Yolonde’s services to ignite community empowerment within the past missionary site of Doomadgee. Initially, Yolonde rolled-out a grass-roots project that involved setting up a pottery studio, which upon opening was “attended by over 100 people in four and half days.” For a small population where community engagement continually confounds service providers, it’s clear Yolonde’s skill-set falls outside-the-norm.
“Yes I design programs, but essentially, I don’t. The community leads me. The ability to hear what people want to do, and being facilitator to making that happen, that is key.”
Another of Yolonde’s values lies in the “power of partnerships and reciprocity in relationships.” This ideology played out perfectly when Yolonde united the women of Doomadgee, with less fortunate women in PNG.
“One of the most effective steps I can take is to share stories about what women in other communities are doing. When the women in Doomadgee learnt about the difficulties their sisters faced in PNG, they volunteered of their own accord to help.”
The Doomadgee ladies set about hand-making “‘Moon Sick Care Pads,’ which are washable sanitary pads, designed to give women in disadvantaged countries a chance to step outside of the taboo of menstruation.”
The outcome reads like folklore. And indeed, the experience so valuable that a documentary, ‘A Woman’s Calling,’ was created. Detailing not only the role the Doomadgee women played but also their trip to PNG to deliver the Moon Sick Care Bags themselves.
Off the back of the strength of outcomes in empowering women in such marginalised communities, along with the critical relationships built, what’s next for Yolonde Entsch?
“The State Government has asked me to run workshops for the Stronger Women’s Group in Doomadgee. And I’ve applied for funding to support this group of incredible women to address Domestic Violence. I’m grateful for the opportunity. The people in Doomadgee have become like family to me.”
“Plus, the women keep saying, ‘you’re not going anywhere! You’ve got to find a way to keep working with us!’”