08.05.2020 I left Aotearoa, New Zealand on 9th February 2020 on what was meant to be a two year assignment in Vanuatu as a Child Protection Technical Assistant.  Six months to prepare for deployment and a major life change seemed to take forever.  I was organised and prepared like you wouldn’t believe! Six weeks after deployment I returned to New Zealand on 22nd March 2020 amidst the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. Previously when returning from overseas I’m normally left thinking - nothing has changed while I’ve been away - this time everything has changed!

In the short time I was a volunteer abroad I had begun to settle into my “new normal”. A simple but enjoyable life.  Dial-up internet speed, no car, being home at 6pm before it got dark for personal safety reasons, navigating the supermarket, money, public transport and a learning a new language and culture.   Spending a lot of time on my own had become part of this new “normal” as establishing a new social network was still in the early stages.  I had been self-employed for 2 years prior to heading to Vanuatu so working from home was not a new thing for me.  If anything, getting back into the rhythm of 8am – 5pm and working in an office was one of the hardest adjustments to make!

As I reflect on day 14 of self-isolation at home here in New Zealand – my newist “new normal” - what makes this situation so unusual is there may be millions of people all over the world experiencing similar thoughts and feelings to me right now.  Thoughts – how can this have happened?  What will this mean for the future for me, my family, my friends, my professional colleagues, New Zealand, the world? Feelings – disbelief, fear, and interestingly a feeling of human connectedness at a much larger scale than ever felt before.  Regardless of your political views, responses around the world are illuminating what those in power believe is most important. I am so very grateful that I had spent a lot time in person with my family and friends before I left for Vanuatu.  I am also grateful that my family and friends are safe and well and that I can keep in contact with them via phone, text, email and video chats. Thank you to VSA for getting me home! Sure I am wondering what this all means for the future socially and economically.  I am also curious about how we demonstrate our interconnected humanity in the meaning making process of this situation.  

The Ni-Vanuatu (people of Vanuatu) have experienced many natural disasters and are incredibly generous and resilient.  They may require our “technical” assistance, however we have much to learn from them and other Pacific countries.  Thank you Vanuatu for caring for me while I was in your land.  For now I have been called home while mother nature rests.  I am hoping that we all use this time to show compassion to ourselves, to others in New Zealand and the rest of the world, and to nature.   Tell and show others how much you care even if it makes you feel vulnerable.  It is often in the place of feeling and showing vulnerability that we allow new meaning to be made.  

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Julie Peake near her workplace

Untitled design 48Port Vila Market, Vanuatu February 2020


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Port Vila Market, Vanuatu February 2020