Titahi Bay resident has been in Vanuatu, helping locals deal with the devastation of Cyclone Pam. This is her story.
It is with mixed emotions that I board the Auckland-bound plane from Vanuatu. have been here for a week assisting Save the Children, an organisation that has been working in this Pacific nation for 25 years.
That means it knows its stuff, knows what’s needed in the wake of Cyclone Pam and has the utmost respect of the local community.
We are in it for the long haul – long after the TV crews have left and long after many other agencies have flown out.
A committed staff, many of whom have lost parts of their homes or have family members they can’t make contact with, have been working around the clock to get to those who need help the most.
But it’s not an easy task. Vanuatu is an archipelago made up of 86 islands, 65 of them inhabited.
Everything in the country is imported. So relying on planes that have to land on a damaged tarmac is all that people can do as they wait for the water, food, wood, tools, chainsaws and countless other items that are needed to rebuild Vanuatu.
About 80 per cent of the agriculture is subsistence farming and all the crops have been destroyed. Even if people manage to get hold of seedlings for banana plants, mangos and manioc – the most popular crops – it’s going to be up to six months before they can be harvested.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the storm surge during the cyclone meant that many of the soils were destroyed by salt water.
A colleague, Selwyn, told me he lost his roof, but has enough food to support him and his family for two weeks. After that, he wonders how he will feed them.
Annie, who has five grandchildren staying with her after their home was destroyed, is in a similar situation, worried about what her family will eat once the fruit that fell to the ground in the 275kmh winds has been eaten. In the meantime, they rely on the international community to support them with food, water and building supplies to reconstruct their homes.
And the international community must continue to support Vanuatu in the weeks and months ahead.
This is our Pacific neighbour, a three- hour flight from Auckland, visited by many New Zealand tourists seeking a Pacific island experience. It has been truly decimated. Hence the mixed emotions.
I am incredibly proud to be working for Save the Children, which is doing everything it can to help the people of Vanuatu, in the short and long term.
But I’m saddened that I will no longer have daily contact with the people who I came to care about. I will wonder how they are getting on.