Arriving at Bauerfield Airport with my 2 “fulup” suitcases, I duly declared everything for the border authorities and to my delight I was waved through with no fuss at all. The first task was to get some help from a family I knew in Port Vila to sort through the 5 kilos of vegetable seeds which Lav Kokonas was donating to villages and organisations across Vanuatu. The organic and open-pollinated seeds I had sourced from King Seeds in New Zealand and all met the Vanuatu government recommendations. It took us about 2 hours to sort out small bags of the varieties of beans, cabbage, watermelon, pumpkin, lettuce and cucumber. They were all ready for distribution.
Prior to leaving New Zealand I had been asked by friends and some of our loyal customers if they were able to give me money to do something that would directly help villages that I would be visiting. So this along with some other funds I was able to source, I purchased 500 400g tins of Solomon Island Tuna, 264 1.5 litre bottles of water and 70 packets of sanitary pads. This along with the King’s Seeds and the Absolute Wilderness Freeze Dried Meals was to be the “food drop” around Efate.
I had taken advice from a number of reputable sources, including the New Zealand High Commission in Port Vila, as to where to target with the small amount of food aid that Lav Kokonas and friends were supplying. Before leaving New Zealand, I promised Renee, a ni Vanuatu woman working in Motueka – part of the RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employment Scheme) that I would do my best to visit her village. I wanted to take photos there, so she could see for herself the damage that had occurred. Saama Village was on the list. An area which the NZ High Commission suggested as the peri-urban area, high on the hill overlooking the Bauerfield Airport, Erongorongo Village. Moso Island was also on my own list as I had a friend who lived there. Kalo had worked in Blenheim under the RSE scheme and knew my family there. The logistics of getting to Moso were more challenging, so we arranged that Kalo would come over to Efate and meet us.
I hired a van, and the family where I was staying were my guides for the day. Heading west on the island of Efate, the damage wasn’t as “bad” as I had anticipated, however, it certainly was significant and clearly visible. We first went to Erongorongo and were warmly greeted by Chief George, wife Nancy and one of their sons, Tavai. The damage wasn’t clearly evident here, but the village stretched a long way up to the plateau and that was where most of the damage had occurred.
Next onto a pre- arranged meeting with Kalo. He and his wife Florina came in a boat the short distance across the Havannah Harbour from Moso Island to the Eule landing. They were very happy to meet us and receive supplies to take back to their island.
Travelling East onto Saama Village where we met Renee’s family. The house had lost it’s entire roof, with some small repairs having been made. Lawrence, Renee’s husband had suffered a stroke about 9 years ago and was more or less bed-bound. Their daughter and grandchildren cared for Lawrence while Renee worked in New Zealand. It was an emotional meeting but one I am glad to have made. They were particularly pleased to receive the seeds as without their gardens so many ni Vanuatu would have very little food supplies for a long time.
The remainder of the journey along the eastern coastline was rather sobering. The family I travelled with, had all lived through the Cyclone Pam in their village in Port Vila, but had not experienced the brunt of the Cyclone that had hit this part of Efate. We were all mesmerized at the scale of the damage – the distance that the sea had travelled to dump huge volumes of sand, the size of the trees that had been uprooted; the amount of vegetation that was simply stripped off the branches of trees. Despite our shock at the grim reality of roofless homes, tarpaulins in place and little shade due to the lack of vegetation; the villagers, did as many ni Vanuatu do as you drive past – waved and called out to say hello. We had bought some joy and some sustenance, but it was a sobering day indeed. It is difficult to imagine what the place looked like in the immediate aftermath of Pam, but I am grateful to the likes of Pro Medical Vanuatu, who did so much to help the ni Vanuatu people by providing immediate assistance and cleared the roads so that military from other countries including New Zealand, could get the much needed immediate aid to where it was required.
Check out our “tour” on this You Tube clip. Around the island Supplies Drop