Donrita’s personal motto is “I help people find their voice”. See how she is putting this into practice, helping women in the Pacific Islands to reduce domestic violence.
 
Donrita developed her passion for helping people “find their voice” when she teamed up with mentor and soulmate, Judy Recher in Toastmasters.  Judy taught a public speaking course at Macquarie University.  She invited Donrita to help her, and eventually Donrita was able to take over the job when Judy became ill with Parkinson’s Disease. 
 
Even after she was unable to work, Judy continued to speak.  She went to public libraries all over the country, sharing her knowledge and advice about Parkinson’s Disease with sufferers and their carers.  Judy is one of Donrita’s personal heroes.
 
When Donrita moved to East Gippsland, she gave up her university teaching position.  She was surprised to receive an invitation from Newcastle University to run an online course in public speaking over a few weeks each year. This still continues.
 
As a Catholic, Donrita finds it distressing to listen to poorly read, monotonous bible readings and addresses.  She set up a Proclaimers Enrichment Group to help the church officials improve their public speaking techniques (sadly, often attended more by the accomplished communicators than those who really need the help).
 
Then last year, Wendy Flahive, a local nurse, approached our local Toastmasters Club to supply someone to travel with her to the Solomon Islands.  She takes a group each year to teach women about female reproductive health, and distribute Days for Girls packs.  There is a massive problem with domestic violence against women and girls, and the local women had asked for some guidance in how to speak up about this subject, and advocate for change.
 
With her experience, Donrita was an obvious choice as a facilitator, but funding was a huge issue.  She crowd funded for some donations, and, when she conducted a Sydney choir at Christmas, they heard of her plan and donated enough to cover about half the air fare.  Donrita made up the shortfall, and was able to make the trip.
 
The group went to Noro, on one of the smaller islands, a plane trip from Honiara.  It is a relatively prosperous town by Solomon Islands standards, with a tuna processing factory, and it was this company, Soltuna, which paid for the group’s accommodation and food.  They realise that, if they look after their employees, they will be more productive. Squalor still abounds, however.
 
The sad statistics are that 2/3 of woman have experienced intimate partner violence.   Poverty is a contributing factor, with over 20% of the population living on less than $US 1.90 per day.  The expense of sanitary items is prohibitive, and the folk lore around menstruation asserts that, if women make food for their husband or boys in the family during their period, the males will age prematurely and become sick. Girls are advised to stay home during menstruation.
 
Wendy and her nursing associates used the mornings to talk about menstrual hygiene and reproduction.  They have trained a local male (Jimmy) and female nurse to spread the message around the island.
 
They use hand made, anatomically correct dolls, and aprons with a ‘baby” concealed under a flap.  Many of the women had no idea of how reproduction works in humans.  They also explained the use of the Days for Girls kits and distributed 2000 kits.   Jimmy gave a similar talk on reproduction to the local men. 
 
After their mornings on reproductive health, Donrita then had a group of twenty women in the afternoons, for her “Speak with Impact” group.  She concentrated on teaching the women to 
  • harness the inevitable nerves that accompany public speaking
  • listen actively and evaluate speeches
  • the importance of an introduction before the speaker starts – which should be supplied by the speaker.
  • impromptu speaking, needed in interviews, Q&A sessions, social occasions, speaking up and calling out.
  • Using the voice musically
  • Using the body as a visual aid, and the use of other visual aids
  • The power of three main points – easy for both speaker and audience to remember.
 
Some of these women were unable to even stand and introduce themselves to the group at the start of the sessions, and 15 of them graduated by giving a short speech on a topic of significance to them at the end of the 5 days.  Donrita was impressed by the choice of topics the women made – their challenge was “If there was one message you wanted to get out, what would it be?”
 
Before she finished the week, Donrita helped the graduates set up a Spokeswomen’s Group.  They discussed what they were going to do, when, where, and the importance of running close to standard time if you wish to have an impact.  On follow up, a month later, the group was progressing well.
 
There is a huge need for a similar project in Kiribati, Fiji and Vanuatu. Donrita is looking for ways to fund a second trip, to Kirabati.  The flight alone costs $1800, and then there are printing and stationary expenses, and living expenses.  As she said, it is a small group of ordinary people achieving an extraordinary result.
 
Matt thanked Donrita for her talk.
Sponsors