Tuvalu is the fourth smallest (land area) nation in the world, with a total land mass of 26 square kilometres.
The population of Tuvalu is 10,640 (2012 census). Around 6000 of those people live on Funafuti, the main island.
Tuvalu means ‘group of eight’, referring to the eight traditionally inhabited islands. Today Tuvalu compromises nine reef islands and atolls.
The country rarely exceeds three metres above sea level, making it one of the most vulnerable nations in the world to the impacts of climate change.
At its widest point, Tuvalu only spans around 400 metres.
Tuvalu’s main sources of income are fishing licences, remittances and the ‘.tv’ internet domain name. Income also comes from the Tuvalu Trust Fund (TFF).
Tuvalu uses the Australian Dollar.
Around 3,500 Tuvaluans live in New Zealand.
Language and culture
English is sometimes spoken in Funafuti (less so in outer islands). The Tuvaluan language is related to other Polynesian languages, and most resembles the languages spoken in the Polynesian Outliers in Micronesia and Northern and Central Melanesia. It also borrows heavily from Samoan, the language of 18th and 19th century missionaries. Learning some local language is important and is appreciated by the local community. VSA provides language training as part of the in-country orientation.
The traditional community system still survives to a large extent on Tuvalu. Each family has its own task, or salanga, to perform for the community, such as fishing, house building or defence. The skills of a family are passed on from parents to children.
Another important building is the falekaupule or maneapa the traditional island meeting hall, where important matters are discussed and which is also used for wedding celebrations and community activities involving music, singing and dancing.
Housing and living conditions
VSA provides volunteers with basic, furnished accommodation. Tuvalu has 24-hour power, with the occasional power outage. Tuvalu has the same electrical plug socket and voltage as New Zealand. All water should be boiled or purified for consumption and volunteers are advised not to drink well water, although some rainwater sources are safe to drink. Water bottles can be purchased for general consumption from stores in town.
There are stray dogs in Tuvalu and the can be a menace. Bending down pretending to pick up a rock to throw is a deterrent, as is a water pistol. Electronic dog deterrents (a kind of dog whistle) can also be effective.
We encourage our volunteers to dress conservatively. Loose fitting, light, cotton clothing is best. Dresses, skirts and t-shirts are commonly worn (sleeveless is acceptable) but don’t expose skin above the knee, especially when attending traditional events. For men, choose long pants, knee-length shorts and short-sleeved collared shirts.
We provide all volunteers with a thorough security briefing prior to departure and specific local issues are covered during your in-country orientation.
Precautionary measures are recommended, such as insect repellent and long sleeves/trousers in the evening if outside and a mosquito net if you are staying in villages. There is currently no malaria, zika and chikungunya on Tuvalu, although that situation may change. Skin infections can develop quickly so keep a good supply of plasters, antibiotic cream and antibiotics. There is one main hospital on Funafuti, Queen Margaret Hospital. You are responsible for managing your own health while on assignment.
Banking and finances
Tuvalu uses the Australian dollar (AUD). The National Bank of Tuvalu is the only banking company in Tuvalu with its main office next to the airport. Outer islands have branch offices. There are no ATMs in Tuvalu, nor are credit cards accepted. Everything is cash-based, and cash can be withdrawn from the bank office. All international transfers to NZ must be through Westpac Bank.
Cell phones and email
There is only one cellular provider in Tuvalu. Coverage is generally good within urban areas but fades quickly as you move to rural/island locations. Volunteers can purchase SIM cards at the telecom office and use a pre-paid package. The 4G network has reached Tuvalu as of June 2018, but there are teething problems that are still being ironed out. A dual-SIM phone is recommended for volunteers.