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FEATURE STORY March 5, 2018

Inspiring women in the Pacific: Villaney's story


The World Bank

For International Women’s Day 2018, we are getting to know some of the young women leaders that are making an impact across the Pacific. Villaney Remengesau is a powerful advocate for people with disabilities across the Pacific; and has served as President and Secretary of OMEKESANG, a disabled persons organization in Palau.

Tell us about yourself

I was born with a physical impairment and I use a wheelchair. I am married with an eight-year-old girl and I currently work at the Ministry of Health, Bureau of Public Health.

I have participated in numerous national and regional meetings, workshops and conferences related to disability and human rights since I was 13. I have also volunteered for these causes including serving the role as official scorekeeper for national and regional basketball games since my freshman year in high school.

My time as a volunteer at a young age raised my high interest in disabilities and human rights related issues. I like doing more for the community apart from my work with the government, so I continue to be involved with NGOs and community work.

What makes you get up in the morning? What drives you?

I think it is my daughter. When I wake up I think: ‘What can I contribute to the community that will benefit my daughter in the future’?

The answer is always community work for people, especially vulnerable populations and communities. I want to show my daughter that this is my line of work and I hope she can take on the work that I have been doing all these years.

What you consider your greatest personal or professional achievement and why?

My greatest achievement has been coming together with partners and getting Palau to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Working with others to enable them to understand the importance of the Convention was the only way to push forward with progress on disability issues and developments for Palau. All the consultations and work to ratify the Convention was my biggest achievement in terms of disability and human rights.

Also, before this, I led OMEKESANG, the National Disabled Persons Organization (DPO), and worked with them to earn its full membership with the Pacific Disability Forum, Asia Pacific DPO-United, and Disabled Persons International.

What advice would you give young aspirational women?

Life is short; enjoy the best of it – but always contribute to the community and your country to benefit people, especially vulnerable populations.

What do you see as the biggest issues facing Palau right now and how can they be fixed?

Palau is at the forefront for environmental issues, and I applaud the President of Palau as a great champion for our oceans and environment. However, the health of the environment is also the health of the people; non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and disability issues are all related to the greater health of the country and that is a serious issue affecting Palau.

I note that NCDs issues are getting less support and attention than climate change. One strategy I am focused on is to advocate for regional leadership platforms to address NCDs and disability. These issues greatly affect people in the Pacific and people are dying and we have the highest rates of NCDs in the world. NCDs are a major cause of preventable disability. The issues of NCDs, as well as disability and human rights are other major challenges for Palau and the region as a whole.

What motivational advice have you received that has stuck with you?

As a person with disability, I always know that life is short. Back in those days at a young age starting volunteer work, the advocates and activists I encountered would always encourage and push me to go forward, saying: “If you want something, try for it, keep going and don’t give up.” They would always drive me to keep trying.

What does the future look like for Palau? What’s possible for Palau?

I really hope that Palau will be an inclusive and sustainable society for all, not only for Palauan people but for other nationals living in Palau.

I hope there are also more opportunities for governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector to work in partnership to succeed and progress with their specific areas, as stated in Sustainable Development Goal 17. If we want a better future for Palau, we need partnerships. Partnership is the key to address all these regional and national issues and priorities to ensure a better future for all, where nobody is left behind.

If you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?

I would like to be remembered for who I was in the mind of those previous disability champions who supported me, and be remembered for the volunteer work I do. I want to be remembered for what I did to accomplish my goals and how I can learn from them and move forward.

What’s your favorite quote or saying?

There is a famous saying in disability work: “Nothing About us - Without Us”

However, I now think this is not inclusive enough. We need to include international and regional agencies, civil society organizations, the private sector, families, interested individuals and the community. We talk about rights in the region, but it’s not just about advocating for rights; it’s about making it happen and being a part of the change. That’s what disability and human rights is about.

So, to be an agent of change in the world of disability and human rights, we have to be a part of the conversation; but we can’t do it alone. We need partners.


* The World Bank works to reduce poverty and build shared prosperity around the world and throughout its eleven Pacific member states which includes Palau.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.