A well-concealed look of concern from Luke, our parent builder, as he surveyed the work site - a bare patch of sand, as opposed to the promised slab and concrete blocks, albeit with a spectacular view of the neighbouring island of Emoa, to our east, with its extinct volcano and crater lagoon. A clean slate so to speak.
But after church and a fun-filled weekend meeting local families, playing with the young children and orientating ourselves to the village and “suburbs”, John Alfred’s call went out to the young fellows of the village, to extract themselves from their relaxed weekend of World Cup football, and assemble for work.
The concrete work began with the collection of coral sand from the beach, a chemistry lesson in itself, and with much laughter and graceful shovelling (inspired by our years of eurthmy), the slab was poured, blocks made and construction commenced.
While a small but enthusiastic crew rotated on the building site, others did a beach clean up and collected shells and glass for a decorative mosaic on our building.
Afternoons with Anna the local Preschool teacher, were spent weaving baskets and mats from coconut fronds and pandanus and hearing stories of how island life can be affected by the weather, especially extreme events likes Cyclone Pam in 2015 which resulted in food shortages and wiped out the pandanus, thus no woven mats for wedding business.
We helped our host families with food preparation - making lap-lap (grated cassava, yam or banana combined with coconut cream) and grating coconuts for making coconut oil. Apart from the few extras included to cater for our fussy Australian tastes, the people of Pele consume very little in the way of processed food, with the average household only spending around $12 a week on groceries - an eye-opening experience for the students, in comparison to our more extravagant lifestyles. House gardens of island cabbage, papayas, bananas and cassava supplied many of our meals.
Some of the class set out to try and map the village of Lounamoa, to help our orientation process in this new environment. Offers of gardening trips up the hill manifested into a series of excursions to harvest yams, plant cassava (manioc), kumara (sweet potato) and some advanced coconut seedlings, and before we had the chance to think about being exhausted, there was the standard offer of green coconuts to drink, tops sliced off as quick as they could be picked. Young machete-wielding children offered us ‘navel nuts’ displaying skill and dexterity, mastered from an extremely early age.
The students spent a couple of days out on a trimaran, scuba diving under the watchful eye of Gerard, Loaki and Peter, off the coast of Efete and Hat Island, where fabled 13th century leader Roymata was buried with his entourage.
Coral regeneration projects at Worisiviu involved making wire cages and concrete pads coated in sand to secure coral shoots for rejuvenating parts of the reef decimated by the crown of thorns starfish - inspiration for further research projects for some students.
Exposed to the south-east trade winds which blow at this time of year, we sought shelter some days on the lee of the island at Piliura where we drank the odd coconut and trained our hermit crabs for racing, gazing across at neighbouring islands and contemplating extending our travels (if only we had more time). Lots of walking, eating largely unrefined foods, exposure to fresh salt air, and plenty of time talking in groups had the class back to a nearly normal social standing.
Another wonderful camp, measured not only by what we take and give, but by what we can learn from these gracious, generous and welcoming people. Thanks once again to all those who support this form of education.
Year 10 Guardian
Pele Island and all that this new experience embodied gave us precious life long gifts. As we learnt about the culture of the Ni-Vanuatu, our views on the world and humanity expanded. We accomplished this by creating connections, learning from and living with the villagers who inhabited the island. Being suddenly immersed into a completely different environment and culture has its challenges, but also its overwhelming opportunities for personal growth and discovery. As the steady flow of days passed by, each day brought us new insights into their culture, day to day lives, traditional foods, practises and their relationship with each other and the environment.
One of the first and most significant things I noticed was the village’s incredible sense of community. The islanders all contribute to village life in their own way. From the moment of our arrival this shared characteristic of acceptance and belonging extended to us. We were joyfully welcomed into different families and cared for as if we were their own. This resulted in us sharing a strong bond with our families and their children over the two weeks. Despite the challenges of having a language barrier, we spent time together, getting to know each other, asking questions and sharing laughs. By the end, I can confidently say that many of us felt as if we were leaving a second family.
Another significant highlight for me was experiencing various forms of traditional Ni-Vanuatu foods. Everyday, we were met with an abundance of paw paw, lap lap, pomela, cassasva, coconut, island cabbage, sweet yam, sweet potato and a range of other foods. Some I enjoyed; others not so much. We even had the opportunity to help them plant some of their root vegetables on a few occasions.
It was interesting to observe the simplistic way of life for people in the community of Pele Island, in the developing country of Vanuatu. It gave us a different perspective on our luxurious lifestyles in Australia. The local people were content with minimal technology (no wifi), locally grown foods from the island, fishing, cooking, looking after their kids, and going to church every Sunday. If anything, it introduced a sense of newfound appreciation and gratitude into our lives, as well as getting us to question what really is of value.
The two weeks on Pele Island was a profoundly humbling experience, in which I learnt many life lessons from the culture and the islanders. I hope to bring aspects of their beautiful sense of contribution and simplicity into my day to day mindset and life.