A PNG educator in Vanuatu
Born and raised in Papua New Guinea, Rex Thomas Tandak is on a mission to forge closer ties between Papau New Guinea and his adopted country, Vanuatu.
A former teacher, public health program manager and now senior education quality assurance officer, Tandak has lived in Vanuatu since 1995.
“Twenty or so years ago, there was just a handful of Papua New Guineans living in Vanuatu, mainly women who had married Ni-Vanuatu,” he tells Paradise.
“Now, the PNG community population has increased drastically, through an increase in intermarriages, PNG companies establishing themselves in Port Vila, and bringing Papua New Guineans to work here.”
He says his group was set up to promote cultural, recreational, sport and education links with PNG and to encourage PNG investors to come and invest in Vanuatu.
Tandak came to Port Vila to finish his Bachelor of Education at the University of South Pacific’s Emalus Campus, after winning a German scholarship, and graduated in 1997. He stayed on in Vanuatu, teaching for 12 years at various high schools in the capital and across the country.
He is a Sikin Koep tribesman in the Aiyale Valley, from Pina Village in Enga Province. After finishing high school in Wabag Provincial High School, he went to St Fidelis College in Madang, then to Bomana Holy Spirit Seminary with the intention of becoming a priest.
“That did not eventuate, but it did build my character,” he says.
He left teaching to take up a post with the then
AusAid-funded program, TVET, an education and training project that taught young men and women the skills to gain jobs.
He then worked with a World Health Organisation funded project.
“I managed the Drinking Water Safety Plan (DWSP) program under the Public Health Department.”
In 2017, Tandak managed the transport program for the Pacific Mini Games, and then joined the Vanuatu Qualification Authority (VQA), which gives official recognition to education institutions.
His role involves doing pre-assessments of organisations that want to register with the VQA.
“What’s attractive about Vanuatu is that the people are easy to work with, access to local and national leaders is quick and it’s a peaceful country. The slogan used here is ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’,” he says.
What makes Vanuatu unique, he says, is that it was colonised by the French and English. “It’s the only country in the South Pacific where the people speak French and English along with Bislama (creole), which is an official language, and the first language for most Ni-Vanuatu (Vanuatuans).”
Tandak’s spare time is spent with his children and family – as well as swimming, fishing, watching rugby and football, as well as developing the PNG-Vanuatu Wantok Care Association (PVWCA), a welfare organisation that obtains donations from PNG organisations and individuals for Vanuatuans.
“During the earthquake in Southern Highlands Province in 2018, we did some fundraising with the help of the Vanuatu Credit Corporation and sent the funds back to PNG.
“We are well over 100 members in Vanuatu, but that will increase over the next 10–20 years,” he says.
“Earlier this year, we established a PNG Vanuatu Wantok Care Football Club, and we have plans for a rugby league club as well.”
Rex Thomas Tandak … says there is an increased presence of Papua New Guineans in Vanuatu.