Camperdown locals Tania Rowan and Penny O'Neill have returned from a stint far from home volunteering with non-profit organisation The 4North Project in the Dominican Republic, educating girls and young women about consent, health and self-defence.
Ms Rowan and Ms O'Neill left on June 17 and spent eight days visiting different villages, carrying out an Empowerment and Personal Protection Program that they developed themselves.
Ms Rowan has been teaching martial arts for 25 years and is now 4North's director of empowerment.
She said that while the focus of the program was educating girls, involving young boys and men was key to the program too.
"It's easy to teach women self defence, but it doesn't fix the root of the problem of domestic violence and sexual assault, which are big issues in the Dominican Republic," she said.
Let's teach boys and young men another way to treat women and the importance of respecting women and being kind and respectful leaders in their community and being protectors.Tania Rowan
"We thought, let's teach boys and young men another way to treat women and the importance of respecting women and being kind and respectful leaders in their community and being protectors.
"We believe that the young men in these villages are the driver for long-term change."
The women's program was designed to help young girls and women find and use their voice.
"Educating them that 'no' is a complete sentence, discussions around consent, safety and awareness skills to avoid situations and physical skills should they need to protect themselves," she said.
"These sessions were also designed to empower the girls to believe in themselves and build self-esteem.
"We delivered the programs separately but we all came together at the end of the sessions so they could see our mutual respect for each other, that we are equal and work as a team.
"We held joint graduation ceremonies that saw the girls and boys express how grateful they were to learn another way and that they have the ability to educate others in their community.
"Hearing these young men say this out loud and show that visible emotion as they hugged each other and the young women were powerful moments none of us will forget."
Penny O'Neill is a community health nurse in Camperdown and has done extensive mental health work in Warrnambool.
During the eight days in the Dominican Republic with 4North she conducted health checks, first aid training and eye exams, and said she was moved by the response from the villagers.
"It was really quite emotional, one moment that really sticks with me is I had an 80-year-old woman come in who hadn't been able to see properly for a long, long time. Through my interpreter, I was able to work out that she had come in with her granddaughter and she wanted her granddaughter's eyes examined as well," Ms O'Neill said.
"I had a Spanish Bible there for her to look at but she would only look at me. As I added each lens in front of her eyes, she just kept looking at me instead of the book.
"Each time I put stronger lenses on, her smile would get bigger and bigger.
"When she had the strongest lenses on she looked at her granddaughter and just started crying, she could see for the first time in a long time.
The whole trip had you on an emotional high.Penny O'Neill
"It was just amazing, the difference you can make with a set of glasses is incredible. The whole trip had you on an emotional high."
Ms O'Neill is now working with South West Health Care to raise funds to get glasses kits to villages in the Dominican Republic.
"Over the next 12 months I'm going to put together a kit of glasses to take over next year. Through South West Health Care I'm going to be asking for donations of the magnified glasses, from +1 through to + 3.5 strength," she said.
The pair hope to return next year and spend four weeks in Dominican Republic with The 4North Project and are calling on any locals interested in volunteering.
Project co-founder Matt Gewirtz said 4North is always looking for more volunteers.
"We need people to volunteer and to travel with us, we can't do it alone."
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