Program Officer, Melanesia
Catherine Sparks is a Canadian born community development and gender specialist who has spent over twenty-five years working with peoples’ organizations in Melanesia and the South Pacific tackling the linkages between land, environment, culture, gender, and development. She started with the South Pacific Peoples Foundation (now Pacific Peoples Partnership) of Canada where she compiled materials around militarism and colonialism in the Pacific, and then worked as the Associate Director of the Indonesia-Canada Research Project collaborating with Indigenous environmental groups to assess the impact of Canadian aid and corporate involvement on the environment and Indigenous people of West Papua, producing a video and contributing to a monograph on the issue. She then moved to Papua New Guinea as a CUSO Cooperant where she first worked with a women’s group in Gembogl, Simbu Province, in the highlands, and then with the Melanesian Environment Foundation (on a campaign around proposed Forestry Act amendments) and the Melanesian Trust (putting together a critical literacy training manual). Meanwhile, she started working as Editor and then Publishing Manager of Papua New Guinea’s National Research Institute in Port Moresby.
In 1996, Catherine moved to Lou Island in Manus Province where she lived and learned as a traditional farmer for over three years, also providing support to a local community development and environmental organization. Following a period of further study at the University of Victoria in Canada, during which she also served as Board Secretary to the Pacific Peoples Partnership, she relocated to Ambrym Island in Vanuatu in 2002 to undertake community-based research and then to Port Vila.
Prior to joining Christensen, Catherine served for four years as the Country Representative for CUSO in Vanuatu partnering and posting volunteers with a wide variety of government, civil society, community and international development agencies, focusing particularly on the revival of Melanesian culture particularly with respect to land, sea and traditional economies. She holds a B.A. in Pacific and Asian Studies from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada and an M.A. in Dispute Resolution from the same institution with a thesis entitled, “Rural Women and Everyday Resistance to Structural Adjustment in Melanesia”, based on several months of community research in Vanuatu.