With Adina back in the water in Port Vila on the island of Efate, Vanuatu, we spent our final days provisioning, purchasing more aid using donations we had received and saying our farewells to all the lovely people we had met during our stay. Following a short trip up to Havannah Harbour in the north of Efate, we found ourselves stalled as Cyclone Sola passed south of Vanuatu bringing strong northerly winds. Finally we said our goodbyes to friends in Havannah, decided to heck with the forecasts of rain and strong winds and set sail. Adina romped along, loving the freedom after 4 months ashore.
Our destination was the island of Emae, one of the Shepherd islands to the north of Efate. We had spent time researching where we could best go and provide some help for people after Cyclone Pam which devastated Vanuatu on the 13th of March. Knowing the islands of Tanna and Erromango in the south were being looked after and that yachts leaving New Zealand in May would visit them to help with rebuilding efforts, we opted to target Emae and South Epi which were beyond the reach of local boats based in Efate.
Arriving in Emae we grabbed a few supplies, drove the dinghy to the beach and headed to the village of Tapakoro 15 minutes into the interior, where we spoke to the chief. The village had been very badly damaged by the cyclone; the majority of houses were lost, their crops were destroyed, water tanks damaged and they lost some cattle. They had harvested some crops before the cyclone (one villager told us they had about 2 days warning) and are still eating those now; they have replanted some of the crops that they saved, and already have island cabbage (like spinach) growing. One month on, they had received some water tanks (now empty), had one visit from the Red Cross, one aid drop by the government and that was it. It had been two weeks since they’d seen anybody.
What we saw was a very well organised and harmonious village. Typically positive, they have been clearing up and rebuilding what they can with the very limited materials they have. Asking them what they need, building materials and food were the biggest request. They had implemented a community project of planting quick-growing crops. No-one was starving but they were very grateful of anything and estimate it will be 3 months before crops are growing sufficiently so that they will be able to feed themselves.
We arranged to meet at the beach the next morning and in advance we asked the chief if he would help in ensuring the aid was fairly shared and to invite another village.
The next morning people from both Tapakoro and neighbouring Veima village came down to the beach and carried the supplies to a communal hall. The chief kindly thanked us for coming to help, saying it was a complete surprise and unexpected and in turn we did a speech saying the goods were from donations from friends around the world who cared about a nation blighted by a terrible cyclone.
Everything was then taken to a central point outdoors and each household had a big bowl into which all food was divided, fair and square. Simple things like powdered milk drew gasps of delight. Then all the kitchenware, plates, bowls, toiletries etc. were shared out too. There were heaps of it.
Of course it meant for moments of puzzlement and laughter as all this was being done by a man and when he saw small hotel shampoo bottles, he scratched his head but the ladies soon worked it out and told him to get on with it. Even the clothing was equally shared and caused much amusement as little bids were put in for the different items.
One child in particular was loving it, grabbing the tins of milo and helping with the distribution. They went to the extent of sharing all the nails out one-by-one and took the 600m of rope and worked out each household got 37.5m and shared it out. All axes, hammers, saws and things like tarpaulins became communal property.
Susie had emphasised the need for hygiene as we’d been told children were getting sick. She stood in front of everyone demonstrating to them it was important to wash children’s necks, underarms and groins. Squeals of laughter as they covered up their huge smiles concealing embarrassment. Susie then ran a basic first aid clinic treating around 20 people with various cuts, sores etc.
It goes without saying everyone was enormously grateful and couldn’t believe people from around the world wanted to help them. At the end the chief very kindly presented us with an island dress, an island shirt, one yam and one live chicken! Somehow we need to work out how to share that among the many donors.
After that we had planned to continue north and stop on the south of the island Epi but with strong trade winds and heeding local knowledge we were advised it wouldn’t be safe to anchor. So we headed to the south-west side of Epi and anchored in a rolly-polly bay.
We headed to the beach and visited two local villages. While we saw some damage in the form of damaged huts and roofs had been sustained, it was not at the same level as Emae. Crops have been lost but we could still see the likes of tarot growing (a common root vegetable). While it was a tough call we decided to stick to our original plan and asked a villager if we could arrange transport to get to South Epi to the village of Votlo.
A bumpy 4WD ride on poor roads ensued. We went over roads thick in mud, through streams, up and over steep hills, along coral roads, black sand beaches, and sprinted through coconut plantations, scaring horses and cattle alike. One and a half hours later we reached our destination and promptly ground to a halt in thick mud on the steep hill that marked the entrance to the village. Out came the men of the village and with shouts of ‘Up, up, up!” pushed us up the hill.
Driving through the village it was immediately evident that they sustained a lot more damage. Most houses were flattened, the school was closed due to damage, and there was no sign of crops. They had received some tarpaulins and had planted new crops but again food and water were still in short supply. Water is hauled from a distance off.
These villagers had also been hard at work re-building with the limited materials they had, using anything that was not a write-off from the cyclone. Traditional natangura leaves are often used to build roofs and while some had sustained damage they had fared better than tin roofs. The entire village of Votlo had spent the night of the cyclone in their strongest traditional hut, which survived. They simply shake their heads, nervously smile and say “it was a very bad one”.
With time short for our hired truck, in the presence of the chief and all the people of the village we handed over the aid. We opened each box and bag (we’d found big colourful ‘I love Vanautu’ bags), and explained what was inside. Susie did her hygiene talk (more squeals of laughter) and we walked around the village offering basic medical help but the chief said everyone was well. It was a real shame we had to leave but people were again very appreciative and the entire village lined up and individually shook hands and offered thanks.
Adina can only carry so much aid but with our friends’ donations we believe a difference has been made to the people of three villages. We still have approximately 20% of the aid left which we will now hand to individuals in need.
Our heartfelt thank you to all the donors for your help – we personally appreciate it and to repeat the words of the Ni-Vanuatu you have helped in such a big way ‘Tankyu tumas’ (That’s the local Bislama language and we’re sure you can work it out).
** For sailors heading this way, please see our Sailing Notes page for our thoughts on how you can help and what to expect.