Two MBA students from QUT Business School have embarked on a gruelling Fijian trek this month and helped to raise almost $50,000 for the support of women in the Pacific.
Anastasia Armstrong and Amanda Galbraith travelled to Fiji at the beginning of September to participate in the international development program, ‘Markets for Change’, which was organised by the UN Women National Committee Australia.
Markets for Change was designed to empower women and girls across the Pacific through leadership training, financial literacy and work to end violence. Along with several other charity participants, the two students managed to raise $46,129 for the program. Ms Galbraith, in fact, was the single largest contributor after raising $7,636.23 alone. Ms Armstrong was the fourth highest contributor, raising $4,260.56 to the cause.
Ms Galbraith, an Australian Pharmacy Council Board Director studying an Executive MBA in Canberra, said the money they raised will help pay for new markets, toilets and security facilities for women who operate at local markets.
“The Markets for Change program is trying to provide safe accommodation spaces, education spaces, and safe spaces for women to store their produce and earnings,” she said.
According to the UN Women National Committee Australia, women make up between 75% and 90% of market vendors in the Pacific region. However, while these women are attempting to provide for their families and contribute to the economy, they are subject to long hours, low profits and difficult conditions. Many women also often come from rural areas and sleep at the market for three to four days, exposing them to higher risks of violence and theft.
The money raised will also help Markets for Change run workshops focusing on leadership and participation, marketing, financial literacy and entrepreneurship to help women increase sales and increase their representation in market committees.
“Most of the women were just keeping hold of their money and not recording how much they made,” Ms Galbraith said.
“One woman was taught how to run a cash flow statement and she was then able to get a loan from the bank to continue her business. She gained the financial literacy which we normally take for granted but wasn’t originally made available to her before the program.”
Supported by QUT, the two students also spent nine days in Fiji on the ‘Trek for Rights’ which aimed at encouraging donations and symbolising solidarity to the efforts Fijian women regularly go to make a living.
Making their way through Fiji’s sometimes unforgiving terrain, Ms Galbraith recalled the trek being “very challenging trek both physically and emotionally”.
“The local tour operator described the first day when we climbed Mount Tomanivi (Fiji’s highest mountain) as a five out of five difficulty,” she said.
“No formed paths; often just grabbing at tree roots to pull yourself up a vertical incline, and then of course doing the same thing down again. It was short distances for a lot of the trek but in Fiji which is a very undulating countryside; a 12 kilometre walk took us eight hours one day.
“You’re trekking through river crossing and up and down the edges of those rivers and through so many different terrains from rainforests to grasslands.”
Despite the challenge, Ms Galbraith was confident that it was well worth the effort.
“I love the Fijian people. I’ve always been amazed at how friendly and welcoming they are. It was really diverse countryside and fascinating to see.
“It might hurt but you just put that foot in front of the other and keep going until you do what you set out to achieve,” she said.
“As the trek went on you start to realise how lucky we are in Australia. Women need to dig in and help each other out. We need to make sure we are being supporting of each other.
“If I can do a little bit of something crazy and physically exerting, then I’m all for it.”