As Cyclone Gita terrorises the South Pacific, memories of 2015’s Cyclone Pam are still vivid for Vanuatu.
Thanks to relief efforts from North Otago people, children in the Mele-Devils Point area west of Port Vila now have cyclone-proof school buildings equipped with new furniture and supplies.
A Vanuatu couple with close ties to Oamaru returned last week with an update on the relief work. Steph and Rod Neilson had asked North Otago people to help with their projects to rebuild ruined schools and kindergartens near their home.
Mrs Neilson’s sister, Oamaru resident Jacquie Webby, and her Kakanui friend Sally Austin spearheaded an appeal that filled a 40-foot shipping container with desks, chairs, tables, teaching resources, reading books, stationery, and sports goods and clothing.
The shipping costs were paid by four Vanuatu residents, including Mrs Neilson, who had formed the SHaRM Pikinini Ecole Foundation to raise funds and have school buildings replaced.
SHaRM distributed the items and has continued to provide improved educational facilities ever since.
“We are on project 13 now at Takara Primary and project 14 is replacement of the roof still under canvas from Cyclone Pam – three years on,” Mrs Neilson said.
A set of new school desks and chairs sourced by Oamaru Paper Plus owner and Lions member Dick Cottier has been installed in the Suango Mele Primary School. The reconstruction there has resulted in its elevation to a higher level, and it is now called Millennium Imere Junior Secondary School.
“The efforts and donations from North Otago refurbished the furnishings for this school and SHaRM and other donors refurbished all the damaged buildings.”
“It was absolutely fantastic,” Mrs Neilson said.
“The children moved in last week.”
The teachers were “ecstatic” to have new blackboards, she said.
SHaRM was now going offshore for the first time for project 15, to Maewo Island in Vanuatu’s northern group. A container carrying a complete classroom was being shipped from Port Vila with help from a Queensland Rotary club.
It was no longer cost-effective to send a container from North Otago, but SHaRM was asking for donations of $100 to pay for a desk and chair through GoFundMe.
The furniture would be built from some of the 70,000 trees flattened by Cyclone Pam.
A sawmill was set up to process the hardwood timber, and the organisation Byond Disaster Relief had trained local people in carpentry.
A new kindergarten with toilet facilities would be built on Maewo, where it would also serve as a cyclone safe house.
Volunteers were being sought to solid-pour the concrete on-site, Mrs Neilson said. Food and accommodation would be supplied.
A retired person who enjoyed fishing would also be welcome as a volunteer overseer.
Mr Neilson, who has recently retired and become actively involved with the SHaRM projects, said he got his thanks for the charitable work “from the looks on the children’s faces”.
Since Cyclone Pam he has carried a compressor to inflate vehicle tyres when needed. When he saw school children playing with flat sports balls, he generated more smiles by inflating all the balls.
Details of SHaRM’s projects and finances are available on its webpage, www.sharmfoundation.com.