Building a House in Vanuatu

August 09, 2016 at 3:08 PM

With thanks to Head Boy, Edward Barry

Over the midyear holidays, a group of fourteen Year 13 students along with three accompanying staff,  set off from Auckland International Airport for what would be a moving and extremely memorable trip for all involved. Despite the flight being delayed and our lack of sleep, we arrived in Port Vila at 6am the following morning full of enthusiasm with everyone keen to get going.

Our first port of call was to Vila Chaumieres, a resort owned by Mrs Purdy – a former teacher from the College – and her husband, where we were lucky enough to stay for the morning to freshen up. On the journey through Port Vila to the resort, we could see the lifestyle of those we were here to serve as we passed by in our hired minivans. The small corrugated iron houses, stray dogs and children walking to school barefoot all showed us why we were here.

After our brief stay at the resort, which was a world away from what we had seen on our drive, we were off to our main base of activity for the trip – a small village on Pele Island, a short boat trip from the mainland. Here we were welcomed into the community by the chief and many of the local residents, including a group of children who sang us a beautiful welcoming song after we had received leis and handshakes. It was a brilliant welcome; all of us were truly honoured. That night was Friday night. The rest of that day was spent settling in to our accommodation – the lads in a bungalow and the girls in spare bedrooms throughout the village.

We were here to build a house, a task we started early the next day. The building site was a short walk from the main village, about 10 minutes’ along the beach. Here, for the first time, we met the family who would make the house we were building their home. We battled through the heat that day to erect the frame and put in the foundations for the house.

Sunday proved an enjoyable day of rest in the village. The morning’s church service in Bismali (the local language) was an experience we will all remember; the energy and faith of the local community was an inspiration to all of us. The rest of the day was spent mainly in the ocean, where we fed the fish and found ‘Dory and Nemo’ while snorkelling, and had a great time swimming on a cracker of a pontoon just off-shore!  Another local cook-up and a wide array of island fruit awaited us for dinner, where we met our canine companion for the rest of the week who we named ‘Scunge’.

Monday and Tuesday were building days; working to complete the walls and roof and fit the corrugated iron. The house was slowly coming together, which was very rewarding to see. The final touches of cementing the floor, painting and adding the water tank and door were completed on the Tuesday and at the end of that day, we could step back and see the fruits of our labour – a finished cyclone-resistant home for the family we had come to know well over our time with them.

That night we had a feast with the elders and chief of the village beside a raging bonfire in the centre of the village. We listened to the elders and Rev Smith speak and exchange gifts on what was to be our last night in this paradise with the people we had become so very attached to.

The next day we attended an emotional hand-over of the house to the family before leaving back to Vila Chaumieres on the mainland for our last night in Vanuatu. The whole experience made us all deeply appreciative of all that we have and just take for granted here in New Zealand but, most importantly, we also learnt that it isn’t materialistic belongings that make us happy. As much of a cliché as that is, learning this first hand makes it is a truth which we will all keep close to us for the rest of our lives.


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