14.01.2019 - Wendy is currently volunteering as an Adult Literacy and Numeracy Officer with the Vanuatu Agriculture College. She will complete this assignment in April 2020.
Well, all the Aussie and Kiwi Volunteer friends have taken off and landed in their home countries for a jolly Christmas, and a few of us “orphaned” volunteers remain – four of us at our now popular residence on the hill, known by us as “The Gotts”.
Working right up to Christmas Eve, I still have managed to be out and about in the community as it is fun to see how things happen here at Christmas. The shops are full of plastic fantastic Chinese goods and adults and children searching for bargains with their reusable shopping bags. The radio sings out at every corner with repeating Carols.
I helped organise our Agriculture Christmas Lunch at a wonderful restaurant on the beach. Santa dished out presents to the children and we also had parent and children’s games with spot prizes, a rugby ball was thrown around, and water polo of sorts took place.
I applied for the budget and with five bus-loads of us and private trucks to move we were able to use all the money and return $15 to the finance department... hooray.
Dec 26th is the all-important day, Family Day, and this is when all families get together to feast and share the stories of the year and celebrate new children who have been born during the year. All kinds of boats arrive at the wharf near “The Gotts”, full of families arriving home to be with family or departing to go and be with family in their home islands. It is a colourful event on the wharf, one full of patience and time to tell stories, as the ships are loaded and delayed.
Vanuatu has had two islands affected by volcanic eruptions this year, one causing 10,000 to be evacuated, 7,000 coming to Santo, and 3,000 to two other islands. This has meant lots of good-hearted donations, support and host school rolls being squeezed to the maximum. The latest volcanic eruption has caused the ground to split under houses and land and the damage assessment has just begun. There have also been tsunamis in the Southern Islands and already a small cyclone.
I am glad I am here to help, mostly around psychosocial support for teachers and students.
We had Christmas lunch at Tiffany’s, a volunteer from Australia, also living at “The Gotts”. We sorted out our roles and responsibilities between cooking ham and chicken, Pavlova, olive bread, hummus, salads and famous mum recipes, decorations for the table and veranda, and a present of less than $12. We are a fun group with assignments ranging from Pro Medical, Volleyball for Change, to Engineers Without Borders, Literacy, Planner and Fundraiser… between us we have the island covered. Christmas day was food, present getting, and a swim at the famous “Healing Waters” before back up the hill for dessert and lots of laughter.
As I enter my ninth month of assignment I reflect on the value of doing my best to be a volunteer that can adapt and support no matter what the challenges are, which may include personal, professional or climatic. Everything takes time, but in truth to work as a team and build warm and close relationships it is so important, started by just quietly observing colleagues’ ups and downs and difficulties.
In Santo I find it is important to let my counterparts lead by being humble but bright and cheerful, caring and empathetic and always positive regarding any small changes that may be happening in the work environment. I love to take time to talk, whether it be in the bus or the taxi, walking on the road or buying in a store, I have found is a great way to be accepted. The people here like to see volunteers mixing in with local activities, looking hot and sweaty, carrying bag loads of food and resting alongside others also tired in the hot sun. It is all about gaining trust and at times being able to walk in the shoes of the families living and working here without judgement.
I truly value those who have the chance to spend time in the small communities learning how the real heart of a ni-Vanuatu beats and how life really is. It takes time, but the first thing I learned once upon a time, in Tanna, was, "be careful, our people won't say much but they will watch you and decide if your 'fasin' (character) is good or not, only then will our people take you to their hearts and be able to listen to your advice"....
As I wandered around town last Sunday, I came upon woman sewing up dresses for the Christmas market and one mama said, "you love to be with the Vanuatu people don't you?" What a lovely compliment (and I was not even in “island dress”) It is nice to be here seeing families work hard to make ends meet for a nice experience at Christmas or family day, especially fun for their children. It is a privilege and I am grateful to have this opportunity, in the paradise of Santo, Christmas will be special. With WIFI around my NZ family stays very close and in touch and I miss them a lot at this time of year, but I’m grateful that my sisters will come and visit in March 2019, then I will have my Christmas holidays.
Merry Christmas and a wonderful, New Year to all fellow Current Volunteers and VSA Staff where ever you are.