As Adina proceeded on her way sailing north in Vanuatu we received a lovely e-mail from Larbert Village Primary School in Scotland saying how they had been studying natural disasters and the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam and had used our blog to bring it all to life. Naturally we were delighted to hear that not just our parents read the blog but that it has even been used for educational purposes.
Mrs Leslie and the children of Class P6/5 informed us that they had decided they would like to do some fundraising to help support the children of Vanuatu and would we be able to assist by using the funds to buy aid and distribute it? What a marvellous project and of course we’d love to help.
So while the class got busy planning its fundraising, Susie and I tackled the task of how we could help in the remote northern islands of Vanuatu, researching where schools were located. In the north of Vanuatu lies a group of islands known as the Bank Islands. Within this group is the volcanic island of Ureparapara. It has a classic volcano shape but one side was blown out leaving a 1km wide entrance to the sea. This of course provides a unique opportunity for sailors to anchor in the core of what was once a volcano’s cauldron. And best of all we had read there was a village and primary school located in the bay. Reading a bit further, anchorage isn’t that easy and gusts of wind flow down the steep sides, hit your yacht and send it spinning in all directions. Of course that made us a little wary but reward does not await those who do not take some risk. Or so we’ve read.
The next challenge was to find some suitable supplies for the school as it’s been a while since our feet last graced the playgrounds of a school. Whilst based in the town of Luganville, our last stop for any decent provisioning, we asked questions and were soon directed to a stationery store and an owner who could guide us. We piled up boxes of exercise books, pens, pencils, rulers, crayons and erasers for the pupils plus flip charts, markers, stickers, drawing pins, sellotape and scissors for the school teachers. And then we heaved it all back to Adina.
As we sailed through the Bank Islands the weather gods decided to play unfair and the trade winds started to strengthen meaning we would have to make a dash to get to Ureparapara or risk being stuck inside a volcano with some very strong winds. We made it and it didn’t disappoint – a surreal experience sailing into a wide-rimmed volcano, its steep sides lush with thick green vegetation growing on fertile soils. It wasn’t too long before we could feel the gusts of wind billowing down the steep sides. We tucked into an anchorage between two outcrops of coral (so-called bommies) and made sure we were very secure as with not much room and the shore behind us there was little margin for error.
Chief Nichelson rowed up to greet and welcome us. We told him of our mission to deliver some materials from Larbert Village Primary School and we arranged to meet an hour later on the beach near to the school. There we were met by the chief, his brother and the school treasurer. It was Friday and school finishes early afternoon on a Friday so we arrived in the nick of time at the Shem Rolley School. The children had no idea we were coming and heads soon popped out of windows with smiles and waves. The school consisted of four classes with three teachers. If you recall school mathematics that is not an equal equation and indeed one teacher was left looking after the two most junior classes.
Of course, visitors are not an everyday occurrence and school promptly came to a halt. The Headmistress welcomed us and we explained everything and asked for her suggestion on how to distribute the materials. She had the brilliant idea of giving each child two books, two pens, a pencil and a wooden ruler whilst using the other materials as communal classroom kit.
The children all then came together on the grass outside one of the classroom buildings, lining up by class. Most wore a yellow uniform and most of those uniforms had a good deal of volcanic mud ingrained into them – well used and enjoyed I would say. In Vanuatu occasions like this always merit a speech and Tom explained that the supplies we brought with us were a gift from Class P5/6 at the Larbert Village Primary School in Scotland who cared about the children of Vanuatu and wanted to help them. We explained how they had done a week of fundraising including selling handicrafts, making cakes, running a sponsored ball-a-thon, and ‘beat the goalie’ competition. Chief Nichelson translated all this into the island dialect as wide-opened eyes looked on in amazement with whispers to each other and smiles. The Chief and Headmistress talked together and then told us that there was one village on the other side of the island who never received visitors and could they keep some supplies for the other school. This is what we like about Vanuatu, a sense of looking after each other. Susie proceeded to set aside some supplies.
Then it was fun time – helpers opened the boxes and we would take 2 exercise books (lined and squared), two pens, a pencil and a wooden ruler and present it to each pupil. With 53 children at this school and about half at the one the other side of the island, the numbers worked out perfectly. Some children were shy and coy, some smiled broadly, all politely said ‘tankyu tumas’ (Bislama for thank you) and then would run to their mate ahead of them and chat and admire the materials. We could quickly see the wooden rulers were the most popular items; perhaps they could double as a school ruler and toy of some kind? Some children posed happily for pictures and then at the end everyone posed for a group photograph holding up the new books and shiny pens and pencils and the special wooden rulers.
Afterwards, it was back to class for the pupils while we enjoyed a tour of the small school. The classrooms were full of displays on the wall either with material created by the teachers or the pupils. For the younger pupils, in addition to the usual alphabet, days of the week, there were things like ‘Foods of the Ocean’ or ‘Good Hygiene’. We asked questions about whether they liked school to which a chorus of “Yes” rang out and what were they studying today “Numbers”. The Ni-Vanuatu actually learn an array of languages including their own island language, as well as Bislama, a language they use to communicate between islands, and either English or French or both. So it’s not uncommon for a person to speak four languages. Education is seen as the way forward and all children attend nursery (kindergarten) and primary school; secondary school is optional. Funds are limited, parents have to pay fees and villages frequently hold fundraising events to keep the schools going. Sadly for many outer islands where families live a self-subsistence lifestyle, parents cannot afford to send children to secondary school or for further education.
Naturally the youngest children were the most excited and the teacher explained how he looked after the two adjoining classrooms. We showed them a picture of Mrs Leslie and the pupils of Class P6/5 – this drew much curiosity and excitement. We zoomed in on the screen showing them the uniforms and how in essence the children were no different – simply on the other side of the world. Admittedly one group lives in a country where facilities are better and more freely available but we admire that these are children who were looking after fellow children on the other side of the world.
We bid our farewells as children waved through windows. It was all we hoped it would be, a school that needed help, a humble and rewarding experience. How we wished the children of Larbert Village Primary School could be there to see for themselves how they had helped.
Off we sailed to later learn the children of P6/5 ended up raising far more money than the target they had given us to spend. Incredible! So now we are helping co-ordinate a contribution that will go to Tanoliu School on the island of Efate, along the same lines of the aid provided to the Shem Rolley School on Ureparapara. This will be a project run by two incredible and indeed inspiring ladies and good friends of ours, Annie Smith and Lulu Brookes-Inglis.
For Mrs Leslie and the children of P6/5 Larbert Village Primary School we have only admiration and respect. When humans reach out and help each other it is a humbling and touching experience. We were touched by what you did, you should be incredibly proud, and one day we hope you get to visit these magical isles and perhaps you too can turn up at a school and experience the joyous welcome we enjoyed on your behalf. Wouldn’t it be a little special if each first world school could hold an annual event to raise funds to help further someone else’s education in a country on the other side of the world? Children helping Children. Well done to you all, you helped support the children of Vanuatu.