She may be 77, but Angeline Merle Aqorau displayed the stamina she possessed when she rose to receive her Queen’s Birthday award from acting Governor General Ajilon Nasiu on Friday at Lawson Tama.
Mrs Aqorau was a recipient of the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) award, announced at last year’s Queen’s Birthday celebration.
This was for her service to women and commerce.
“This is a great day for me and my family,” she told the Sunday Star after she was bestowed her medal.
“I want to give back the glory and honor to the Creator and dedicate this award to Him and family members as well,” she added.
Mrs Aqorau was the humble mother of prominent Solomon Islander Dr Transform Aqorau, who currently heads the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) in the Marshall Islands.
She was born on 1st February 1939 at the Kokeqolo Methodist Mission, Helena Goldie Hospital, at Munda, Western Province.
She went to School at St. Hilda’s Anglican Girls School at Bungana, Gela, and British Solomon Islands Protectorate Senior Leaving Certificate, Kokeqolo School.
She was offered a scholarship to go to New Zealand but did not take it up because of marriage. The scholarships were taken up by Agnes Jacobs of Choiseul and Effie Kevisi.
In 1958 she married Francis Talasasa (who later changed his surname to Francis Aqorau). They went to England where her husband did a course on Colonial Administration at the University of Cambridge. While in England, she attended various short courses.
In 1959 they returned to Solomon Islands and were posted to Auki, Malaita. There were no Women‘s Organizations at that stage. They moved to Kira Kira in 1962 and moved back to Honiara in 1964.
She was involved with the British Solomon Islands Brownies and Girl Guides, and the British Red Cross Society as a Volunteer.
Her involvement with the Women’s Movement in Solomon Islands began in 1965 when she was appointed Assistant Social Welfare Officer working under Jennifer Downs who was the Women’s Interest Officer.
Her responsibilities involved working to establish Women‘s Clubs in Honiara. Through her position she was involved in the establishing Women‘s Clubs at White River, Rove and JBM at the Kwan How Yuan (KHY) compound.
The Honiara Women‘s Club was established at new China Town (w here the Red Cross Society Headquarters is currently situated).
She was involved in organizing sewing, cooking lessons for the women and the very first dance at the Women‘s Interest Club.
The women who were involved were mainly house wives whose husbands worked in Honiara.
There was no public transport at the time, so women would walk to join their activities. Her main helper at the time was Helen Atei.
From 1966 to 1969, she accompanied her husband to the Gilberts and Ellice Islands where he was posted as District Officer for the Northam Gilberts.
While she was there she continued her involvement with the Women’s Organizations, taking an active role in their activities.
When she left for the Gilbert Islands, Piti Maeke assumed the position that she vacated; a position that Piti held with distinction for which she was awarded an MBE by the Queen, too.
Upon returning to Honiara, she continued to work for Hunts of the Pacific as a Tour Guide and also becoming the first female Taxi Driver in 1973/74.
This was unthinkable in those days in Solomon Islands.
The Women’s Interest Office continued to work with Women but there was no well-established organization and most of the Women‘s activities were coordinated by the Mothers Union, United Church Women’s Fellowship (UCWF), and other Church groups.
In 1975 she was appointed as Regional Secretary for the United Church of Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
This was a position in which she was in charge of the coordination, supervision and oversight of all the activities of the United Church Region in Solomon Islands.
She held this position for five years.
In 1976 she was widowed and returned back to live in her home village at Kekehe in Munda, Roviana. She continued to be involved in the affairs of the UCWF.
While she was at Munda she was asked by the YWCA to assist with the establishment of a Centre to help young girls who drop out of school.
Her involvement with the YWCA spanned 20 years from 1978 to 1998, as Coordinator of the YWCA Centre at Munda. Initially, the Centre worked out of her home until they had a permanent building constructed under her supervision and coordination for the YWCA Women‘s Training Centre.
The Centre is known as the “Merle Aqorau”.
She combined these responsibilities while raising her children for whom she saw the need for early childhood education which led to the establishment of a Kindergarten.
This was the First ever kindergarten at Munda.
The Kindergarten was eventually taken over by the YWCA which it continues to run to this day.
She was heavily involved in both Church activities, the affairs of the YWCA, and her own village meetings and activities.
The establishment of the YWCA was not without its problems.
There was lack of support from the community initially and even opposition from the United Church, but she persevered to ensure the YWCA served the young girls of the area and to overcome these hurdles.
While serving in her home with the Church, YWCA and her Village, she was sent to attend courses in PNG and Samoa.
She coordinated the installation of a windmill for the Helena Goldie Hospital and organized fundraising activities for the Hospital.
She brought together women from the Christian Fellowship Church (CFC) and SDA communities to help with these fund raising activities.
Her engagement with women was not just confined to young girls through her work with the YWCA but also other women as well from the other churches.
In the 1980s when the idea of the formation of a national women‘s organization was mooted, she was involved in those discussions that led to the establishment of the National Council of Women.
She was elected as the First President of the National Council of Women (NCW) in 1983. This was not easily accepted as well.
There were initial lack of support from some of the Provinces and the Mothers Union especially in Isabel.
The establishment of the NCW was resisted by some of the Church groups so it took some time to take root.
Guadalcanal Province was the first province to establish their Women‘s Council.
With the support of her National Secretary, Afu Billy, they slowly worked through the difficult early phases of the establishment of the NCW.
She held the position of President until 1986 when Sister Margaret Luilamo was elected President.
Her role as President of the NCW was in addition to her responsibilities as Coordinator of the Munda YWCA Training Centre.
She continued to be active in the Church as well becoming Vice President of the United Church Assembly Women‘s Fellowship in the latter half of the 1980s and 1990s.
This also involved becoming Pastor of the Gumi Memorial Church at her village in Kekehe and Village and Community leader, a responsibility that she still holds to this day.
She was also a Member of the Western Province Liquor License Board for 9 years.
In the 1980s she contested the Western Provincial Government Area Council and Provincial Elections and contested the 1997 National Elections.
She was involved in the Tobruk Peace negotiations during the crisis, representing the Chiefs and Women of the Western Province at the Talks.
In preparation for the Centenary of the arrival of the Methodist Church in Solomon Islands in May 2002, she was the only female member of the Organizing Committee and was accorded the honor as the Great-granddaughter of Gumi, Gemu, Miabule, Hingava and Yeo who allowed the Church to be established in Solomon Islands to welcome the Congregation and Guests.
She assumed the mantle for the Women‘s Organization in Solomon Islands at the time when there was indifference to women.
She saw to the establishment of the Women‘s Club in Honiara in the 1960s, and pioneered the establishment of the Women‘s organization using her heart and faith as her guide.
She opened the door for the Women‘s movement in Solomon Islands.
She faced a lot of struggles as a widow raising a family while at the same time assuming the flame for the Women‘s movement, starting them at a time when cultural and religious barriers against Women were entrenched.
She entered into the world of commerce, running her own shop, baking scones and even running a very successful Sunflower Guest House.
She did this while working for the cause of the women of Solomon Islands whom she loves and respects dearly.
By LESLEY SANGA