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Erima – a young woman on a mission to better her life in Vanuatu

This blog concludes my chats with some of the ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers living in New Zealand during the 2014 Apple and Kiwifruit season.   I met Erima in 2013 and visited her when I was staying in Port Vila in late 2013.  She was asked to return to New Zealand for an extended stay from December 2013.   As the time to return to Vanuatu looms close, no doubt she is keen to return home to her family, but Erima is a young lady with a lot of ambition.


Erima is a single 24 year old, ni-Vanuatu woman, from the island of Epi, based in the capital of Port Vila, Efate.  Her boyfriend lives in Port Vila too, but until both sets of parents have given their permission, Erima and her boyfriend live separately.  When permission is given, they will then be allowed to live together in their own house and will eventually get married.  The structure of the ni-Vanuatu family and wider family means that while living in Port Vila, Erima lives with her “mother”, who is actually her cousin.  This is the third season for Erima working in New Zealand.  Previously she has stayed for 3 months, but on this assignment, Erima arrived in December 2013 for a stay of 6 months.

Erima from Vanuatu
Erima in New Zealand working in the fruit industry


When living in Port Vila, Erima has a job working for a small Chinese department store.  Her position there is to serve customers and to clean, earning 170 vatu per hour, 8 hours a day.   That’s about the equivalent of $75 New Zealand dollars per week.  Erima has been asked to return to that job when she arrives back in Port Vila.  Compared to the income during the fruit harvest season in New Zealand, there is a large difference.


When not living in Port Vila, Erima would live in her family’s village of Ngala, Epi Island.  After her first work placement in New Zealand she returned to Epi, and worked in the garden to attend to crops, weaving and slept – there was little for her to do.


What has coming to New Zealand meant to you?

Coming to New Zealand has inspired Erima to do something more and given her confidence.  She recently purchased a laptop and like a lot of Port Vila based young ni-Vanuatu people, has her own Facebook page and is becoming quite internet savvy.  On the islands having access to data, which is always at a cost no matter where you live, makes connection to the world of the internet rather difficult.  Although cell phones are widely used, not many ni-Vanuatu have the need for data access at this stage, but that will no doubt change rapidly, as it has done across western nations.


Working in New Zealand for the past two years, Erima has been thrifty and saved much of her earnings.  She intends to give some money to her family in Ngala, so that they are able to build a western styled house – one without bamboo walls or natangora (woven palm fronds).  Erima estimates that cost to be about $5,000 New Zealand dollars to construct a house for her mother.


She also has plans of her own for any leftover savings.  Erima intends to put savings aside for the future of her and her boyfriend, when they become an official couple.  Erima would like to create some type of a business, perhaps a shop, selling general goods or clothes.  However, there are many possibilities that Erima has started to think about since being in New Zealand.


With you saving so much, is there anything you like to buy for yourself when in New Zealand?

Erima likes to buy westernised clothes while in New Zealand.  Many young ladies in Vanuatu now prefer to wear the western clothes.  Traditionally women wear what is referred to as a “Mother Hubbard” dress.  Made locally from cotton fabric with a lot of fabric that allows a woman to be modestly presented wherever she is.  Some young woman will wear that style of dress for more traditional occasions but for everyday wear, the young ladies seem to prefer westernised clothing.  In a lot of the villages, the Chief likes the girls and women to wear the “mother hubbard dress”, so in the more cosmopolitan areas like Port Vila and Luganville, western-style is widely accepted.


What is the house like where you live in Port Vila?

Erima lives in one of the largest suburbs of Port Vila, Freswota (Fresh Water).  The house has brick walls and an iron roof, and has a westernised indoor toilet.  Overall it is a good house by Vanuatu standards.  It is only a short walk from there to Erima’s work in central Port Vila.



How did you feel the first time you came to New Zealand?

Erima felt shy because there are so many new things to see and learn about.  The work was very different to what she was used to but two weeks into the routine, she felt really good and enjoyed the new experiences.  Erima has made only a few New Zealand friends, but does work with kiwis in the fruit packhouse.  Used to the work now, Erima is keen to return again in 2015.


What’s your favourite and least favourite things about New Zealand?

Favourite thing about being in New Zealand – like to go to the second hand shop to buy lots of nice clothes.  The most difficult thing for Erima in New Zealand – “it’s really cold for me!”

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