Celebrating International Women’s Day 2017 at the ADRA Community Centre

Celebrating International Women’s Day at ADRA Community Centre. From left to right: Suzanna, Anoulack Chanthivong NSW MP Member for Macquarie Fields, Manager of ADRA Community Centre Melissa Baleilekutu, Pastor Warwick Sawyer, Jan Nicoll. 

On March 8th 2017 of every year, millions of people around the world  celebrate International Women’s Day as it is a day that commemorates the struggle for women’s rights and an opportunity to unite and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, as visibility and awareness help drive positive change for women.

Located in Macquarie Fields, Sydney, Australia, the ADRA Community Centre hosted a delightful morning tea in celebration of International Women’s Day. This event brought together women from within and around the community to connect and engage in the sharing of stories and to reflect on this year’s International Women’s Day theme “Be Bold For Change”. The Manager of ADRA Community Centre, Melissa Baleilekutu, stated that “it was important to celebrate International Women’s Day and bring women from the community alongside women from community organisations and government, to share stories and embrace each others’ bold moments and achievement, and at the same time inspire one another to be bold for change.”   

The ADRA Community Centre’s mission is to work with people in poverty and distress to create just and positive change through empowering partnerships and responsible action. The centre offer support programs for families such as grandparents and family members of those living with an addiction. Support programs include, but are not limited to, counselling, mentoring, career guidance, case management and financial counselling. In addition, the centre hosts a homework club, an art group, mental health groups, and a women’s group. Also, emergency relief packages are available for those in need. The ADRA Community Centre is a safe place where the community can visit, connect with others and/or talk with the staff.

Upon arrival at the ADRA Community Centre for the International Women’s Day event, as one of the guests in attendance, we were greeted by staff members who welcomed us inside. As we entered, the aroma of the delectable spread wafted throughout the building which led us to the tables lined up with delicious treats. Centred on the front wall was large black print which read #BEBOLDFORCHANGE and above vibrant colours popped from the ceiling which set the scene for what was going to be a morning filled with bursts of inspiration, encouragement and light-hearted humour. 

The delectable morning tea prepared by ADRA Community Centre.
The International Women’s Day celebration began with an introduction by the centre’s Manager, Melissa Baleilekutu, followed by the centre’s Team Leader Volunteer and Case Manager Sarah Hamilton who delivered a warm welcome and an acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land, and elders both past and present, and those emerging. Next, we were asked to pair up with another person whom we have not met before and to share with each other a bold moment that we have experienced. In this instance, I met and spoke with a woman who shared with me that the bold moments that she has had in her life include raising her four children on her own. I could feel the courage, resilience and love in her words spoken. Moved her story, I applaud this Mother for her boldness. Once this sharing period was completed, different women were invited to the front to share the stories that were exchanged. These moments were uplifting and inspiring.
IWD Event 3
Celebrating International Women’s Day at ADRA Community Centre. From left to right: Barbara Faauinga, Moana Glassie-Strickland, myself, Mal Fruean, and Melissa Waaka Smith.

In following, it was time for the guest speakers  to share. I am honoured and grateful that I was invited to this event as one of the guest speakers. The other guest speakers were Kassandra Isvik from Benevolent Society, Ngapera Paki – Manager for Youth Off The Streets, Koch Centre, and Pastor Warwick Sawyer. Given that the theme this year for International Women’s Day was #BeBoldForChange, we were invited to share about a bold moment and how that has impacted change within our lives and in the lives of others. I spoke from my heart and with the purpose to encourage, inspire and empower the audience. I shared a few of my experiences as a student and as a staff member at The University of Auckland, New Zealand and more recently as a staff member at Western Sydney University, Australia. These experiences had presented me with a couple of options: 1. to give up and walk away; 2. to be bold in order to take a leap of faith. I mentioned that more often than not, I would choose the second option. However, I noted that while there are times in our lives where we can choose to be bold in order to take a leap of faith; other times will require us to allow others to be bold for us, and there is no shame in that. I acknowledged the strong female figures in my life who have influenced and empowered me as I was growing up and still to this day. Also, I acknowledged the strong male figures who alongside the influential women in my life, have supported the pursuit of my hopes, dreams and career ambitions.  Moreover, I reflected on 2014 when I had graduated from The University of Auckland, New Zealand with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education, and how I remember the smile of an 8 year old Tongan girl when she ran up to me on graduation day to tell me “When I grow up, I want to be like you“. In that moment, all the negative experiences and hardships that I had encountered leading up to that point in time became a distant memory. Her words serve as a reminder for me today that when you are bold for yourself, you can instill a sense of courage and hope in others in the pursuit of their dreams.

Celebrating International Women’s Day. From left to right: Victor Counted, Melissa Baleilekutu and myself.

Being bold for change as I understand it to be, means to place your trust in God. To uplift your hopes, dreams and career ambitions in prayer. To trust that God will lead you to where you need to be. And that when you arrive, for you to remember to be bold for others, because when you are bold for others, then change is inevitable. While over the years significant milestones have been reached in support for women’s rights across the globe, there remains a great amount of work for my generation and the next to put our hearts and minds together to advance equality, promote female voices that may go unheard, support success for women in education and within the workforce, and to impact positive change across various landscapes. In that light, I will continue to advocate for positive change and to continue to be bold not only for myself, but also for others. I concluded my talk with a quote by one of my favourite poets, the late Dr. Maya Angelou:

“Each time a woman stands up for herself,
without knowing it possibly,
without claiming it,
she stands up for all women.”
I would like to extend my thanks and gratitude to the Manager of ADRA Community Centre, Melissa Baleilekutu, and her team for organising a wonderful and heart-warming event in celebration of International Women’s Day. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and I am grateful that I was there to be inspired by other women who are supporting their families, contributing to surrounding communities and striving within their field of work. Thank you Melissa for arriving at this point in time and holding the door open for myself and many other women to walk through. Your leadership and your example to serve are valued and much appreciated.

Malo ‘aupito, ‘ofa lahi atu,

Dr. Maryanne Pale.

For more information about the ADRA Community Centre, please contact the Manager Melissa Baleilekutu on:  melissabaleilekutu@adra.org.au


  1. Loved reading this Meli.. and ADRA is close to my heart (so is Melissa lol)

    So proud to know both of you and to witness the work you do for our communities. Am rooting for you from AKL

    Ofa atu

    1. Thank you Christina. I am glad that you enjoyed the read. Melissa is definitely a blessing. I hope that you have been well. I look forward to our next catch up. ‘Ofa lahi atu xox

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