As I’ve said before in my blog pages, preparing for my April 2015 trip to Vanuatu, post Cyclone Pam, involved a lot of research.
What could I take to Vanuatu that would be most effective in assisting, at a practical level?
Days after the Cyclone, it was evident that the level of destruction of crops was going to be enormous, so seeds would be a practical, yet easy way of helping. I doubted that there would be enough stock in Vanuatu to meet the demand with the devastation being so widespread. The National Disaster Management Office, who were managing the immediate state of emergency, was split into several key infrastructure areas. The Food Cluster were responsible for advising which food donations were being accepted, including detailed lists of seeds that were permitted into Vanuatu. The detail was specific; which seeds would bear quick crops and which pre-approved Seed companies already had approval to import into Vanuatu. The organic status of Vanuatu was presumably being protected.
King Seeds are well known in New Zealand for providing quality heritage and organic seeds, so they were the obvious producer for me to contact. Their staff suggested the most suitable varieties from the prescribed list from the Food Cluster. Within a few days of my order the 5kg package arrived. Jess (Little Miss LK) and I pre-labelled zip lock bags so that on arrival in Vanuatu I could have the seeds divided into “family” size packages. Clearance at the border on arrival in Vanuatu was straight forward as I had documentation from King Seeds and from the Food Cluster office.
Dividing the seeds into the smaller bags was a lengthy task, made easy by the help of the Kalsrap family in Pango Village near Port Vila.
Travelling on buses around Port Vila the next morning, locals would ask what I was doing in Vanuatu and when they heard I had seeds, everyone wanted some. My goal was to gift the seeds to villages who were to receive food donations, but to also supply, friends who also needed seed to replenish their gardens. Because of Lav Kokonas link with the Vanuatu Agriculture College, I wanted to ensure that they received seeds, as no doubt their students would be planting extra crops to send supplies to more affected islands than Santo where the College is based. Johnas, the student Lav Kokonas supported in 2014 was developing a business to supply vegetables to tourism businesses in Luganville, so seeds for him would also be valuable. Wherever I went, people I bumped into, or people I had meetings with all wanted some seed.
What I didn’t realise before leaving New Zealand, was the depth of impact those seeds would make.
Seeds are of the ground and gifting seeds, no matter how small a package were regarded as a gift of life. I have to say, there was a tangible “feeling” when ni Vanuatu received the seeds. There was a deep understanding that these meant life itself.
I had acted as an informal courier for a friend in Nelson, to make a monetary gift to a friend in northern Vanuatu. By chance, Lena was on Santo when I arrived, so our meeting was easy to arrange. When I made an offer of seeds for her to take back to Tutuba, she was absolutely delighted. Their gardens had almost entirely been decimated by Cyclone Pam, despite being in the north of Vanuatu, Tutuba had suffered.
I guess Vanuatu is a fairly small population as far as a country goes – about 250,000 people, but what surprised me was how I would “bump” into people I’d met on other visits but never had planned meetings with them. I was staying at a lodge in Luganville where I had stayed the previous year – there were some students staying at the time and we’d share a few laughs and meals. Amazingly enough, one of them, Marian was completing some more studies in April 2015 – staying at the same lodge again. She lives on Ambrym and needed seeds for her garden – and so the seeds went to another island.
There were so many warm fuzzy moments in distributing these seeds. A small gift to ni Vanuatu, but one that I am so pleased to have been able to give. To see where the great majority of the seeds went to – check out the video You Tube.
#LavKokonas #PayingItForwardInVanuatu #SeedsForVanuatu #Vanuatu #CyclonePam