Abstract Background Community engagement has contributed to disease control and elimination in many countries. Community engagement in malaria elimination (ME) on Aneityum Island has been sustained since its introduction in the early 1990s. Capacity developed within this population has led to a health empowered community response. Health Empowerment Theory (HET) can account for the innovative community actions and capacity development efforts taken to realize and sustain meaningful changes in well-being. This study used the HET framework to investigate participant perceptions of ME efforts on the island focusing on two HET elements, personal and social-contextual resources. The purpose of this study was to explore the role of empowerment as a critical element of community engagement. Methods Six focus group discussions, ten key informant interviews and 17 in-depth interviews were conducted in July 2012 on Aneityum. Both deductive and inductive approaches to qualitative content analysis were used to identify themes, which were condensed, coded and classified based on the HET elements above. Results Awareness and use of personal and social-contextual resources played an important role in ME efforts. Most participants shared their knowledge to prevent malaria reintroduction. Many participants reported their skills needed for behavioral maintenance, problem-solving or leadership. Participants who perceived a threat took preventive actions even in the dry season. Community leaders focused on second generation capacity development. A local health coalition provided ME services. Members of networks were sources of information and assistance. Face-to-face was the preferred method of communication. Barriers to engagement (e.g., financial difficulties, health literacy issues and underdeveloped infrastructure) were minimized through active collaboration and mutual assistance. Conclusions In the community engagement continuum, health empowerment develops incrementally overtime as people gain their knowledge and skills, form coalitions and develop collaborative networks (social capital) to make decisions and take action for change. Community engagement, which facilitates local personal and social-contextual resource development, has potential for ME and multilevel empowerment through community-based capacity development processes. These self-empowered communities have written and will continue to write a ‘prescription’ for sustaining high levels of engagement.