World Vision staff provide people affected by Cyclone Pam with relief supplies, including shovels and rakes to help rejuvenate food gardens. Photo by Andrea Swinburne-Jones, World Vision
Coincidentally, it also marked one year since I arrived in Vanuatu to make this beautiful country my home and join the World Vision Vanuatu team.
It’s hard to believe that one month ago I was barricaded in a dark room listening to my adopted country being ripped apart by winds that sounded like an angry ocean and rain that pelted down like someone playing the drums.
In the first days after Cyclone Pam I sat with women on the top of what was once their market houses having lost the only opportunity they had to earn a small amount of money.
I stood with children in their year nine classroom that resembled a rubbish tip.
I spoke to families living in evacuation centres with no-where to call home after Cyclone Pam picked up their corrugated iron huts as if they were confetti and twisted them into unrecognisable bits of debris.
In Ohlen Nampanga, a 15 minute drive from Vanuatu’s capital city Port Vila, children like Rosalinda spent the evening that Cyclone Pam struck terrified for their life.
Rosalinda was afraid of the strong winds which reached more than 300 kilometres an hour.
“During the cyclone I was so afraid because the covers (iron roof) will fly and sometimes some of the branches will fly into the house and kill all of us,” she said.
For 10-year-old Rosalinda, Cyclone Pam didn’t just destroy her village – it tore the roof off her home and also off her school.
In just one month I’ve seen a country that was flattened to the ground rise to meet the greatest of challenges.
Last week, I watched as women moved into makeshift markets while tourists cruise ships started to dock in Port Vila for the first time since Cyclone Pam.
I have shared smiles with children walking to and from school.
I have spoken to the most grateful families as World Vision distributed essential household items like kitchen sets and hygiene kits – families who lost everything during Cyclone Pam– and the simplest of items like cooking pots and soap are making a big difference to their long recovery.
And it is going to be a long recovery. While leaves are starting to sprout, children are back at school and homes are starting to be rebuilt, Cyclone Pam was the biggest disaster to ever hit Vanuatu.
Families and communities need long term solutions to long term problems – and World Vision is working to ensure that families get the support they need for today and also well into the future.
Villages that were wiped to the ground need more than just tarpaulins to patch them up. World Vision is working to help families like Rosalinda’s rebuild their homes – and ensuring that people know how to re-build using traditional local materials and the best building techniques, to reduce damage in future cyclones.
Basic items like pots have been distributed, which mean mothers are able to boil water that has been contaminated so children don’t get sick with preventable illnesses like diarrhoea.
Many families in Vanuatu rely on their gardens to grow food to eat, but also to sell at markets. Cyclone Pam literally washed these gardens away leaving families without food and without their main source of earning money.
World Vision has distributed items like rakes and shovels so people can rejuvenate their gardens, to help re-establish their livelihoods.
World Vision has also been working with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to ensure people have access to seeds so they can regrow the gardens they once had. As a sign of new beginnings, leaves are starting to sprout in this fertile country.
It’s been one month since Cyclone Pam destroyed this country and the recovery process will take more than a year. Though it will be challenging this small country has shown big courage. While life in paradise has changed for now, I have no doubt that with the support shown from the global community and resilience of the Vanuatu people it will be paradise once more.