Resilience and rebuilding after Cyclone Pam

Resilience and rebuilding after Cyclone Pam
TERENCE MALAPA, COMMUNICATIONS VANUATU

It’s morning recess time at Freshwota primary school in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Villa. Children pour under the small shelter, avoiding the shallow muddy puddles forming from the light rain. They begin to clap hands and sing songs outside their classrooms as they wait for the rain to pass.  
 
This scene is a stark contrast to one year ago when 500 people spent a terrifying night huddled in these very same classrooms, as the fury of Cyclone Pam unleashed itself all around them, decimating their homes.  
     
On 13th March 2015, the people of Vanuatu faced a category five cyclone – the most powerful to ever hit the South Pacific. Parts of Vanuatu faced gusts of up to 320 kilometres per hour; only 90 kilometres shy of the world’s highest recorded wind gusts.  
 
Having survived the storm World Vision staff moved into action to provide relief to some of the 166,000 people impacted by the storm.  
 
Aid organisations and the government of Vanuatu worked closely to ensure that the island nation’s remote communities were quickly reached with the supplies and shelter they desperately needed. 
 
World Vision has provided direct assistance to 62,000 people through food distribution, shelter, kitchen and hygiene kits, constructing water tanks and toilets, solar lights, school kits, tool kits, and immunising children against measles.  
 
Freshwota primary school was one of 150 schools to receive emergency school supplies from World Vision, providing children with backpacks and teachers with stationary and books to replace damaged ones.  
 
“I was watching the children while removing their stationary from their old bags and packing them into the World Vision bags,” said Year One teacher, Caroline James. 
 
“Tears began pouring from their eyes and for the first time I noticed their bags were full of patches which were sewn with fishing line…To be honest, I too shared tears with the children,” said Ms James.  
 
For the children at Freshwota primary school, the new school supplies and backpacks were a sign that school life was slowly returning to normal.
  
However, Vanuatu wasn’t in the clear yet. Six months after the Cyclone, when food and relief distributions had all been finished and World Vision had moved their focus towards long term recovery, Vanuatu faced a terrible drought.  
 
On 20th October 2015, World Vision Pacific declared a category III emergency response to the onset of El Nino. Dry conditions throughout Vanuatu were now amplifying the devastation left by Cyclone Pam.  
 
World Vision worked to help provide for villages affected by the drought but also focused on training communities to build resilience and sustainability.  
 
Instead of rebuilding traditional kitchens, World Vision has helped construct communal bush kitchens that are properly ventilated, helping to reduce the prevalence of respiratory illness.  
 
World vision engaged a local theatre group, Wan Smolbag, to perform entertaining and educational acts to teach local people the importance of good hygiene and demonstrate simple treatments for diarrhoea.  With the development of ventilated pit toilets this has significantly reduced illness.   
 
Although the devastation is still extensive, there is also progress and cause for celebration. Dressed in rainbow coloured skirts, men, women and children in Isaka dance under a giant banyan tree that once again has lush new leaves. 
 
Communities are being built back stronger and World Vision’s ongoing support has helped foster community connectedness and a sense of resilience.    
 
Michael Wolfe, Country Director, World Vision Vanuatu, notes, “Cyclone Pam showed us some of the worst of Mother Nature, but she also brought out some of the best of human nature. I have been inspired by the resilience of the people of Vanuatu – their steadfast determination, their wholehearted joyfulness in the midst of challenging times.”  
 
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