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Aid for Vanuatu - Cyclone Pam Aftermath

Jennifer Handley

Camdeboo
Lavranos 50 Cutter-Rigged Sloop
April 16th, 2015

Bluewater Cruising Association members who have had the good fortune to sail to Vanuatu and explore this amazing archipelago will have felt heartsick when the country was levelled by Cyclone Pam last month. Some may even have wept upon seeing photos of the devastation and hearing the stories that gradually appeared in the media in the aftermath; favourite cruising destinations, villages, schools, and hospitals were almost unrecognizable under piles of debris.

Others, upon realizing the extent of the disaster and the urgent need for international aid, immediately asked, “What can we do?” and “How can we help?” Along with international aid organizations (e.g., Canadian Red Cross, World Vision Canada, UNICEF Canada), smaller NGOs are responding to the call for assistance, as is the yachting community in general. This video, produced by Shaun O’Callaghan and published on April 6, 2015, shows the impact of the devastation on the remote islands north of Efate and the assistance rendered by motor yacht Dragonfly. An article published by Radio New Zealand (RNZ) on Good Friday and updated again on April 6, confirms that, three weeks after the cyclone struck, water, food, and shelter are still the primary needs of many Ni-Vans, but emphasis is also now being put on health and education as well.

Post Cyclone Pam: where the Lenakel Market took place; March 17, 2015. Photo Credit: Edgar Su/Reuters

Post Cyclone Pam: where the Lenakel Market took place; March 17, 2015. Photo Credit: Edgar Su/Reuters

Further to the RNZ article and the Dragonfly video, the following are but a few of the NGOs that may ‘speak to the heart’, should you wish to make a difference and help rebuild the lives of so many people in a poor nation that, in 2006, was voted the ‘happiest country in the world’ by the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index. It  should be noted that while BCA does not necessarily support any specific NGO or charitable organization, we do want to generate awareness of a region in need that is visited regularly by cruisers.

Victoria-Vanuatu Physician Project – Since 1991, ViVa has provided continuous physician staffing for Lenakel Hospital on Tanna, an island that many BCA members will have stopped at enroute to New Cal and Australia.  As other cruisers had done, we went to Lenakel when Camdeboo was in Port Resolution in 2008, and met the then-resident physician, Dr. Dan Leavitt and his family (from Salt Spring Island). As a result of that experience, I can vouch for the need of this particular project. To contribute to the rebuilding of the hospital, go to vivaproject.ca.

Sea Mercy provides disaster and critical health care services (medical, dental, and eye) to the remote islands in the South Pacific. Sea Mercy‘s Disaster Response Fleet does not have ‘infrastructure’ limitations and is able to sail the supplies directly to the coastal villages on the primary and remote islands that the larger aid organizations are unable to reach. Don Craigmyle is a BCA member from Sidney, who sailed with this organization in 2014. He writes, “Sea Mercy has certainly proven that they can get care directly to the remote islands and would be worthy of support.” See Disaster Relief Fund for Vanuatu for more information.

The Butterfly Trust (based out of New Zealand) works alongside communities in rural Vanuatu to improve access to health care and education. It has been working hard to assist with the relief effort and put programs in place for longer-term recovery.

OceansWatch was established as a registered trust in 2007 by a group of sailors and environmentalists, who saw an opportunity for people sailing the world’s oceans to give something back to the islanders whose homes and reefs they visited. Their latest newsletter reports that relief efforts are being concentrated in Temotu (NE Solomon Islands), but that they will also help the more inaccessible northern group of islands in Vanuatu, if those islanders have unmet aid needs.

In addition to the above, there are, of course, many other organizations, large and small, that have committed to helping rebuild Vanuatu. Not surprisingly, there are also individuals who feel so strongly about Vanuatu that they have started ‘crowdfunding’, raising monetary contributions via the internet from people around the world for a specific project, i.e. rebuilding a school or hospital or covering the cost of school fees for Ni-Van children who have been affected by the cyclone.

BCA applauds both the individual and cooperative responses to the disaster in Vanuatu and passes on the above information in ‘good faith’. It is recommended that those who wish to make a financial contribution do their own due diligence and check the agencies or crowdfunding programs prior to doing so.

Thanks to BCA members David Hollands, Don Craigmyle, and Hugh Bacon for their assistance with this article.

Cover photo credit: Enhanced infrared satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Pam on Thursday morning March 12, 2015. (NOAA/NASA, RAMMB/CIRA)

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  1. Hugh Bacon says:

    Hi Jennifer, thanks for outlining the many organizations that have stepped up to the plate to assist Vanuatu in time of dire need. I suppose those of us who have cruised the Islands have a much closer understanding of the absolute havoc a major cyclone leaves in its wake. When one does donate however, it is more meaningful if one can really appreciate where one’s money is going. Initially we made a small donation in the name of this crisis to the Australian Red Cross but when a very good friend of Vanuatu and incidentally of ours, Tony Jarvis, decided to try crowd funding to support a very specific need we responded positively. The specific need is to provide each child on Vanuatu with school fees for a year. So that means about AUD150,000.

    Tony who is well connected in Vanuatu having spent time there assisting the government at an executive level has told me that ” I have been in touch with the Deputy PM Ralph Regenvanue and we have agreed that all funds raised will be channeled through the Vanuatu Education and Training Trust which is administered by Sethy Regenvanue (ex MP from the Govt of Walter Lini), Dr Howard Van Trease (ex USP director for Vanuatu) plus as well as the Ministry of Education’s Director of Educational Services, Director of Corporate Services and Principal Scholarships Officer. This will ensure that these funds are directed at the specific target of providing school funding to needy children rather than going into the general aid funds administered by the Vanuatu Govt and not necessarily applied to scholarships. Your help is greatly appreciated and you can be assured that the site is safe and funding will get through to where it is needed most.”

    So with that kind of background Heather and I felt confident that our contribution would end up at the educational coal face. In fact, the crowd funding progress is not “eye watering” but a few dollars have been accumulated.

    As we all know Jennifer, the many faceted needs of Vanuatu are serviced through a multiplicity of channels some of which are identified in your article. So there are lots of choices and any contribution made through a viable conduit will make a difference large or small. Should the school fee thing resonate with any BWA members, the link is http://www.gofundme.com/rd48bk.

    Jennifer, thanks again for surfacing this issue, Cheers, Hugh

    1. Jennifer Handley says:

      And thank you, Hugh, for raising awareness of this particular opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the young Ni-Vans. Many BCA members, including ourselves, have often focused our giving on the schools in the various countries we have been fortunate enough to visit – this is another way people can help without leaving home.