Our family first met Philemon in July 2012, waiting on the shores of Lamen Bay, watching with most of the village, as the large inter-island cargo and ferry ship, Tina1 was coming into shore. On board was our ni-Vanuatu friend Linda, who was returning from her 3rd trip to New Zealand, having finished her RSE contract for the year. We asked this young man if he knew Linda, “yes, of course he did, she is my sister-in-law and she is on the ship”. Everyone seemed to know everyone in the area; and although we hadn’t met him before, he knew who we were. This is one of the delights that we enjoy about Vanuatu, that feeling of “2 degrees of separation”.
When I decided to blog to show others a little more about the human-side of the RSE scheme, of course I wanted to speak with Philemon. My pikinini and I had enjoyed his company on family day 2013 (Boxing Day). A Motueka based family who have become the New Zealand family of many regular RSE workers had hosted a fantastic day where we had the chance to get to know more of the workers from the island Epi. It was the first time I’d seen Philemon since our first meeting on Epi the previous year.
Philemon – 30 years old, married, from Lamen Island, a small island off the coast of Epi Island, about a 1 hour flight from Port Vila (on a small plane) or as most locals will do, take the less expensive inter-island ship passenger and cargo ships, taking around 7 hours. The 2013-2014 fruit picking season, is Philemon’s 5th year being part of the RSE scheme, working in New Zealand in the horticulture industry. Philemon left Epi in November 2013 for his 6 month work placement in New Zealand. When he left Vanuatu, he had 2 daughters aged 4 and 6, but since arriving in New Zealand, his wife has had their first son, Charlie Eric.
What is your usual day like on Epi Island?
Most days Philemon will paddle the 1.5 km distance (takes about 40 minutes); from his small island to Epi, to attend to his garden, growing produce for the family’s food supply. That is his main responsibility.
What is the best thing about being in New Zealand?
Philemon said there were many things that are so different about New Zealand compared to Vanuatu and his island. There is so much to learn in New Zealand, which Philemon enjoys. There are so many cars (there are none on Lamen Island and only a few 4 wheel drives on Epi). In New Zealand there are machines for many jobs and that fascinates Philemon. Of course being able to earn money that would never be possible in Vanuatu, makes the time away from home a huge bonus to his family and wider community.
The worst thing about coming to New Zealand?
When the winter arrives, the weather is too cold in the morning and picking apples can be painful because your hands get so cold, he says with a typical broad ni-Vanuatu smile.
What will be the biggest impact for you and your family when you return to Vanuatu?
Philemon has been able to build his own house on Lamen Island with the funds saved from his previous trips to New Zealand. His house is modern with an iron roof. As his children get older, he will do what most ni-Vanuatu RSE workers do, and that is to save his earnings for his children’s College-years.