28.05.2018 - Kevin is volunteering as a Marketing, Communications and Fundraising Adviser with the Elwood J Euart Association in Vanuatu. He will complete his assignment in January 2020. 

Remember to take your time. That’s what they tell you as a VSA newbie.

We’d heard it from our briefing in Wellington, from our in-country orientation, and from a friend who’d spent two years with VSA in Vanuatu.


Coming to a VSA posting near you – the 100,000 tonne Explorer of the Seas in the Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo.

Time being elastic, just what was time? Well, best guess was something like three months. Translating as, you need that time to work out what your project is about, where you fit in, and how you might start to make a difference.

This is eminently sensible and no doubt grounded in past experience.

But my first week was nothing like that.

I’m working in Luganville, Espiritu Santo, as a fundraising, marketing and communications volunteer. I’m working for the Elwood J Euart Association which is a group of mainly expats – including a couple of former VSAers – seeking to build a museum of the South Pacific war in the town.

It’s a big project. The museum and fitout will cost somewhere between $US20 million to $25 million. So external financing is a must.

The Association has already made great strides, securing a lease for the future site in Unity Park, establishing an excellent website, Facebook page, and an onsite project office.

The office is a fine way to showcase the project, with historic items on display, along with photos, and an outline of the museum plans.

I am lucky to be working with manager Alma Wensi and administrator Marina Moli with my own office, and aircon. Very lucky! As well, an earlier VSA volunteer, Heather Ware, has produced a fundraising and marketing strategy during her seven-week stint, for us to execute.

So a big task but starting with quite a bit of the famous “capacity” that a VSA presence is intended to build, already in place.

So back to that first week, or more accurately, the first five working days.

Day One was a full board meeting. Great to meet the association members and for them to meet me, and briefly, my partner Leesa.

As I mentioned, a couple of the board are former VSA volunteers, so they did point out the subtleties of the role. In that we’re not meant to be a free worker for the project, especially since two years from now we’ll be gone.

I also was able to point out that I wasn’t the silver bullet to be fired and realise their fundraising goals immediately.

What was meant to be a one-hour meeting became two, with an agenda that only vaguely resembled the original. But the enthusiasm was clearly there – with plenty of ideas.

Day Two was sitting with Alma and trying to unpick some of the fuzziness of the association’s efforts to date in getting local support from major businesses to support the ongoing running of the office. It won’t be easy.

Day Three was more of the same, and trying to get some organisation in place for my filing. Getting cc’d into emails is fine but as you know, it’s inevitably hard to make sense of who is who and why did they say what they said. That will get clearer over time.

Day Four was actually a Saturday, and the day’s task hoved into view outside our kitchen window. Literally. The 100,000 tonne Explorer of the Seas, a cruise ship, arrived and moored at the new wharf which we overlook.

There’s a welcoming band, cheers, and general hubbub. Leesa and I meanwhile are trying to hail a taxi to get to the project office where Alma is setting up. Luganville is getting ready, with the mamas having stalls set up in the park.

The ship should not be here. It’s been diverted from its other destinations because of the threat from Cyclone Gita. Their loss is however Santo’s gain.

There are something like 2000 passengers. Many will stay onboard, others will head off on pre-purchased tours to sights like Champagne Beach or Million Dollar Point. But some will head into town and wander around.

That’s our target group, and so when the first shuttles begin depositing people at the park, I wander around for a while telling them to check us out (and mentioning the air con at every opportunity!). Alma is waiting to talk to people, while Leesa turns her marketing skills to work – making sure there are some chilled coconuts on offer, that visitors are comfortable, and that they know about the small range of souvenirs.

As we say, we don’t know who will be coming through the door or who they will connect with and pass on the news of our museum. So it’s important everyone is welcomed and given what they want to know.

I veer towards the geek end of the spectrum. But of course, the tourist typically doesn’t. So when we talk to them, it’s working out where their interest and knowledge level sits.

Even then I wasn’t prepared for one fellow who knew his Catalinas from his Corsairs, and pointed out an error on a display photo.

That wasn’t a problem but a piece about Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek – and who flew bombers out of Espiritu Santo – did throw up a doozie of a question.

What was the most recent Star Trek version. Hmmm, I said I think one had just come out. Really he said? Really ?? I said yes, it’s called Discovery I think.

Turns out later I was right. Satisfied customer.

So by day five, when we had a debrief, it felt like I’d already packed in plenty. And not learned that much.

So much for the quiet start.Kevin and his partner Leesa are now three months into his project. He promises an update soon!