(This may not post correctly due to me using the wrong format. I fixed what problems I noticed. If anything is goofy, please come back and I will try to repair it ASAP.)
Darramy on tour No 25: Vanuatu Cyclone Pam and Aid Work
April – July 2015
More Darramy tales!
Home not so Sweet Home
After a lovely time in NZ for over 3 months and a visit home to see family, friends and Sue’s new Grandson Henry. We arrived back in Fiji in mid April and prepared Darramy for sea once again. We had watched news clips of some of the devastation that had taken place on the some of the Islands in Vanuatu caused by cyclone Pam in March. A grade 5 cyclone, (They don’t get any worse). This made us think about changing our plans for this year. We have had such a fantastic time in the Pacific for the previous three years, Sue and I both felt we would like to put something back, and maybe Vanuatu would be the place to do that.
Pam left her mark
After contacting all the usual large aid organisations and getting fobbed off, we discovered there were a couple of small organisations that were interested in what we could offer. We settled for “Sea Mercy” who although small they had the motto of giving “Health Care and Aid to Remote Islands” in our area of the Pacific. We had come across one of their medical boats last year in Fiji, so we volunteered our services to them in Vanuatu. Now medics are not our specialised subject, but we understood there were many more things that were needed besides health care. In some islands the whole infra structure had gone. Roads or tracks blocked by fallen trees, often completely washed away. Water, sanitation and shelter were a big problem.
The well known aid organisations (NGO’s) and governments of first world countries were quick off the mark to offer initial relief. All in all they seemed to do a good job, but after the first couple of weeks the NGOs apparently seemed to want to grab territory, and put their own mark on their area. We understand it became quite political, but eventually the Vanuatu Government managed to regain some control over the NGO’s, after all, it was not their country. We were still in Fiji at this time hearing various stories of what was needed, what people should take to assist. Fortunately it was not every island in Vanuatu that was devastated, Vanuatu was still open for business, don’t forget, tourism is their main source of income. But the information was very mixed and confusing. We spent time trying to source fruit and vegetable seeds, as we were told all the crops were washed away. Well after a week and what felt like I had obtained a degree in biology, we gave up it was just too hard, too many regulations, controlling imports etc. In the end we had a collection in Vuda Point amongst the Cruisers, and came to Vanuatu with some cash towards buying what we needed when we got here.
Fijian Send Off
Well we eventually got a weather window for the 550 mile passage to Vanuatu, so we left Fiji, with only two days of the boat visa left to run, and a little tear in our eyes. It had been a good place to be. We even had a farewell Fijian song sung to us by the marina staff as we departed from the Marina. (how cool is that)?
Four days later we arrived in Port Vila after a good sail, but not even a bite on the fishing line! We met the other Sea Mercy boats, two of which we were going to be with “Buffalo Nickel”, (Stan and Val) and “Persephone” (Brian and Sandy) both US flagged boats. We also met with three other Sea Mercy vessels, of whom we knew. They had just finished a three week medical/aid rotation in the southern Islands of Vanuatu. It was useful meeting up with them as they were able to give us much needed information about what they had experienced, and also an understanding of the culture and customs of the Vanuati people which is very different from our own.
Meetings are not for all of us!
Aid stuff starts arriving
We were straight into a few meetings which although useful, and probably necessary, were not what we were there for. We managed to get through our own meetings quickly and do the hands on stuff, Val took on the secretarial role to report to Sea Mercy and liaise with other NGOs, Sue and Sandy researched, the education side and the needs of women and children, as we had been given to understand that schools needed assistance, and this society was male dominated, and the females were not always on the top of the list of priorities. It did not take long for yours truly to get tired of “send me an e mail”, it seems that nothing can happen these days without everyone e mailing each other, what happened to lets just get on with it? Seems to slow everything down, and you spend half of the day at the computer screen.
Our destination was the Shepherd Islands, where the Governor of the Shepherds had asked Sea Mercy to assist on the remoter Islands. At last, right up our street.
More goodies, we left the children!
Stan’s little dinghy, large loads!
Brian, Stan and I took to procuring hardware to take with us, as we had three boats with various amounts of space to carry needed supplies. Whilst Sue went shopping, buying things for the women’s groups. Sewing supplies, material, and school supplies. There was also lot of gear donated from Australia by small organisations, and we were able to source much needed stuff from that, also going to the local hardware store for roofing nails and simple but essential building tools and supplies. Large rolls of tarpaulins anything that could be used to give improved shelter until rebuilding took place.
So, we loaded up our boats to the gunwales, and set off, we had various briefs to follow, one was from the World Health Organisation (WHO), and that was to assess outlying medial centres, and drop off lighting and water purification systems and much needed medical supplies for the temporary medical shelters that they had had erected on two very remote islands. This is the nearest yet we have come to drug running! You may recall we did some money laundering in Columbia years ago! Yes, we know how to live!
So we had a fast sail up to Emai in blustery conditions. Emai, looking at the chart seemed a good place to be based, with a reasonably sheltered anchorage from the prevailing winds.
When all three boats arrived we went ashore to meet the local Disaster Relief committee. They were please to see us and wondered what goodies we had for their communities. Well we could not tell them that as we did not know their needs, and did not want to build their hopes up by making promises we could not keep. Also we had to remember we had other places to visit, so we did a once over on the island the next day. It soon became apparent that the school side of things were fairly well cared for, apart from a few supplies everything was functioning reasonably well. We went to the medical centre, which definitely showed signs of need. One of the problems we discovered was water storage, no natural supplies of water here, just storage tanks. All supplied by guttering off the roofs. Problem: many roofs damaged, and no guttering thanks to Pam.
We also learned that a couple of the community fishing boats had been damaged, so they could not go out fishing. One in a remote village 8km away, The village used to sell the catch and make some money, but the usual problem no boat, no fish, no money. Now I could see where we could help. Can it be repaired was the question. We need to see so we all piled into the back of a truck and of course the two Brian’s ended up in the load area, whist everyone else got in the cab! It was ok we got with the local guys and had a good laugh.
Main road Emai
After 6k, the track was blocked by fallen trees that they had not yet cleared. We began to realise the devastation caused by Pam. It is hard to imagine the track had fallen trees over it for 8 solid km. Exactly like making a clearing through a jungle, just to access one village. We had to walk the last 2 km along the beach. We found our little village, and it really brought home to us all how bad it was and still is for these people. One house left standing, just debris every where, they had a tent provided for storage, and a couple of tarpaulins dropped off by NZ aid. The boat was up amongst the trees a fair distance from the shore line.
Chief George and family
So we met the chief George, and went to see the boat, It was aluminium, and although a bit bent and battered. We three blokes thought we could probably get it sea worthy again, we agreed to return the next day which was a Sunday, a religious day here, but we were given dispensation to work on the Sabbath as it was a good cause.
Important to involve the locals in our task
Buffalo Nickel had a super big tender so we loaded it up with all our supplies needed to do the repairs and aid things we were going to leave in the village. Instead of the long truck ride, we went by sea. When we found the village we had to unload our stuff and get ashore. Thankfully, some of the islanders were there to help. We had to anchor the boat then pass tools and supplies down a line of people who kept everything above their heads in the swell that was running, and carried it all ashore. We had then to dive in to get ashore to start work!
Boat repairs Sea Mercy style
Amazingly, nothing got wet apart from our clothes! At the end of the day we achieved more than we set out to do. We repaired the boat and had a naming ceremony. The boat was named “Sea Mercy” (good for our photo shoot)! We also repaired the village generator, put up some tents for those people who having to share living space in the one house.
The village team
Stan, a vet by profession, did some medical stuff on a chaps injured foot. We then had to reload the tender, a reverse of the mornings unloading and head back to the boats before it went dark. This was a really rewarding day, the village was very grateful, we felt we had done good work, and our efforts had enabled a small village to begin functioning again. We all gelled together well, and worked as a good team, even though the two American’s had a strange way of describing some tools which led to a bit of confusion and much hilarity. (Why did they insist on trying to ruin a perfectly good language)!
The night ended with a BBQ that the ladies had arranged.
It’s gutter repair time
Wheel chair user gets that sinking feeling!
We had many days similar to that one, we spent the next day repairing or putting up water catchment systems at the medical centre, attaching a sink to the wall, and generally trying to bring some normality back to their lives. There are many things still to be done on Emai, we could only just scratch the surface. We found another damaged community fishing boat in another village. Also there were plastic water tanks that had been delivered by an NGO, sadly there were no taps on them so they were just lying about unused. When you consider it is coming up to the dry season, they need the water. We started asking questions through Sea Mercy as to whom had supplied them, the NGO’s said they did not know, it was not one of theirs it all went very quiet.
It seemed sad to us but also annoying to think someone had delivered them and as they were, they were no use, a total waste of effort by all involved. We began to see more and more of, not sure if you call it incompetence by the NGO’s, certainly inefficiency, they apparently were on a lot of the islands with clip boards making notes, but here we are now over three months down the line, and besides the initial burst of activity all the people have seen is more people with clip boards making even more assessments.
WHO medical tent and lights
Tangoan children all smiles
We sailed to Tongoa another island to visit and check on the temporary clinics put up by the World Health organisation, and deliver medical supplies and lighting, and fill in crazy questionnaires (probably thought up by some fellow in an office who had no idea what life in the real world of disaster areas was about). The first clinic was really good, but then as we travelled on unmade roads we saw that there were very few houses left standing without some cyclone damage, but every village we travelled through the inhabitants all gave us a cheery wave and a big smile. Their spirit was amazing to see, and despite the fact that many had lost nearly everything, they still carried on with a positive attitude and, I say again a lovely smile. We found the other clinics, well, they were in a sorry state one was completely unusable, but sadly, so was the tent put up by the WHO. So the villagers had to walk about 5 miles to the next clinic for any medial needs. The final clinic on the island we visited had the WHO tent up, but they preferred to use their existing building which although damaged was usable. We showed them how to connect up the lighting, but we realised that if we did not install it for them, nothing would not happen, so Brian and I set about installing the lighting system, although basic would enable the clinic to function more efficiently. Oh, I forgot to mention each clinic had been issued with a new generator. At this place I don’t think they had even started it up so we had to show them how to use it, I found a whole bag of tools and spares that they had not even opened. When I asked why had they not used the tools supplied to them? They said they thought it belonged to the dispensary committee, and not them, so would not use it. Maybe I went against their custom, but it was going to get dark, and we had to get back to the boats, so I found a couple of villagers who appeared practical and armed with some tools they helped to install the lighting. At the end of the job I asked them all to put their hands in the air, this they did and I switched on the lights. Explaining the old Chinese proverb “many hands make light work”! We left them all smiling under the bright lights.
Bright lights in ward 34
Heading home at the end of a busy day
Fred, transferring our load for Buninga
We made it back to the boats just before nightfall. The weather was not being kind and we spent an extra day waiting for the strong winds and big seas to abate before heading to Tongariki and Buninga with more deliveries. Meanwhile Buffalo Nickel had headed off to Epi (another island) to pickup more supplies for Emai. We agreed to meet back at Emai in a couple of days. Persephone and Darramy set off for Tongariki, in the still strong winds. Persephone made better time than we did on Darramy, and by the time we had arrived Brian and Sandy had done 2 loads ashore. Well when I say ashore, they anchored the dinghy and dropped back on a rope to near the shore line where the waves were breaking. A team of local men waded into the surf and carried the loads on their heads often their bodies were completely submerged, but they kept the load dry. We arrived and used Brian’s dinghy to unload our supplies. Another extremely rolly anchorage that night, and the following day we were due to go to the next and final island Buninga. We had already checked out the landing place and it did not look good. The village was up a hill, and it seemed we would have to land first just to get assistance. Fortunately a local boat from Tongoa came into our anchorage to drop some people off, and we asked them if they were going to Buninga, the boatman Fred said yes. Before he knew it we had talked him into taking all our deliveries to Buninga, so that would save us having to put ourselves and boats at risk on such a dodgy landing and anchorage.
Within half and hour we had transferred all our aid stuff to Fred and were on our way to the smooth waters of Emai. It is always good to get back into a quiet and smooth anchorage. After three nights of rolling we were all knackered.
Who sent Stan to fetch a bottle of water?
The last few things to unload
The next day Stan and Val returned from Epi, and we had a busy afternoon getting their boat unloaded. They had managed to carry 4,500 litres of bottled water, 50 cases of tinned tuna and quite a bit more as well. It took 12 dinghy loads to get everything ashore. The locals all joined in and we left them with everything piled up on the beach. We were coming to the end of our Sea Mercy Rotation we had nothing left on board.
Finally unloaded over to the shore crew
The six of us had a final supper, and then the next day Persephone set off for Australia to continue their cruising, while Stan and I went to fix another community fishing boat in a village. This was a fibre glass boat, and a bit beaten up by Pam. We had no fibreglass on board, but the Green Peace ship Rainbow Warrior had been in our anchorage, delivering cement and building supplies to the Island.
Rainbow Warrior. (No Frenchies allowed)
I had previously spoken to them on our SSB radio net, so called them on the VHF and they generously offered some repair stuff. I went over in the dinghy, and was invited onboard this well known ship.
(This particular one is a replacement for the previous one which was blown up by those naughty French in New Zealand a few years ago). I was invited to stay for lunch but sadly had to decline as I knew Buffalo Nickel was due back at any time and needed to be unloaded.
Stan and I went ashore the next day to repair the fishing boat, by this time I had a nasty tropical infection on my ankle, and was not in the best of humour. However after circumnavigating local politics, we managed to repair the boat so they could go fishing. We named the boat “Mercy Warrior”
Nearly the end!
T’was only a small scratch
We headed back to Port Vila to pick up some supplies for ourselves, have a much needed rest and see a Doctor about my ankle.
But those water tanks and no taps really had got to me. So in Port Vila, we located all the parts needed and bought them. This was funded out of the rest of our kitty and a few donations from other cruisers.
Bring on the rain and fill me up!
Job well done
Subsequently, Sue and I have returned to Emai and shown them how to fix all the taps on the tanks. Thus enabling them to store over 30,000 litres of water. Good result!
Although we say it ourselves, this was a very satisfying end to a hard and tiring four weeks.
Question: Would we do it again? To right we would!
It may appear that I have a bit of a downer on these large organisations, I know we can’t do without them. Their initial response in humanitarian aid is vital. But having seen the end results, I just wish they could get their acts together a bit more. That person on the street corner in your home town with a collecting box is doing a great job, but what percentage of the collections gets to the disaster victim, how much is wasted?
So if giving a donation look at organisations similar to “Sea Mercy” there is a place for everyone and they seem to make your donation go further.
Any way for us we are going to stay in Vanuatu to enjoy some of the northern Islands for a while, do some diving, I know there is a water cistern to be repaired in the Maskalin Islands, so will be picking up some sand and cement in Luganville. Then I think we will head towards Australia via New Caladonia for the cyclone season, who knows we may even see in the New Year in Sydney Harbour. Oh, what about Indonesia I hear you say. Maybe next year!
So as usual it’s TTFN
(Delete as applicable)
*Best Wishes* *Kindest Regards* *Love and Hugs* *Cheers*
Brian and Sue
You can view this and all our previous travelogues of the last ten years on our OCC site.
So try this link, you will see travelogues 1-20, keep scrolling down and see No, 21,22,23, 24and now hopefully this one No 25. Click on the blue print and hey presto: (Boredom unlimited)!
www.seamercy.org A small charity organisation that gets a big job done.
This was sent to me by a Swiss cruiser in Vanuatu:
”Yesterday we met some French people who work here since 2 years. It was interesting to speak with them about Pam. They said: We have had 2 cyclones: One was Pam and the other was the big “help-organisations”
They came from different places: more than 1000 people, big discussions, no efficiency, Friday pm they stopped their work….because…. weekend!!!!!”
The Dream Team!
See it not just me!
A really nice post to sea, yes deliberate typo, ho ho! Nice to see a report of positive actions by excellent volunteers! Kudos to you guys, keep up the good work!